The current session of Congress first convened approximately two months ago on January 3, 2017, three weeks prior to President Trump’s inauguration.
During the Obama administration, Congressional Republicans consistently opposed Democratic policy proposals and discussed the action they would take if they were not obstructed by the Democratic majorities and administration. Now, Republicans finally have the best chance to pass conservative legislation and policy goals since George W. Bush and a Republican Congress assumed office in 2001.
Yet, during the past two months, what have Republicans done to further their goals?
The only noteworthy actions have been the confirmations of President Trump’s nominees to fill various positions in government. While this task is important to achieve conservative goals, such as reducing the size and scope of government, legislation is far more powerful, direct, and long-lasting. Congressional Republicans have offered dozens of legislative reforms during campaign events and interviews.
Where are all of these proposals now? Where are all of the bills that Republicans promised that they would introduce on “day one”? Where are all of the solutions to the issues that Republicans raised with President Obama’s and Congressional Democrats’ actions and proposals in the previous eight years? By and large, these concrete proposals have yet to be introduced in Congress or even presented to the public as well-thought-out ideas.
To me, there is only one explanation for Republicans’ lack of action: they were entirely unprepared to govern. Republicans have Congressional majorities, the White House and a chance to appoint a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, so they have the political capability to accomplish long-sought-after conservative goals. However, despite having eight years to prepare for this opportunity, Congressional Republicans have no concrete plans to accomplish anything that they promised conservative voters.
There are three particular issues on which Republicans have campaigned but now show no plans to follow through on their tough talk:
There is no subject about which Republican leaders have complained more in the last seven years than Obamacare. The House has voted over 60 times to repeal Obamacare since assuming majority control in 2010. Romney, Trump and practically every Republican candidate for any national office has made repealing Obamacare, or “repeal and replace” (once the exchanges opened in 2014) a signature issue of their campaigns.
Remarkably, Speaker Paul Ryan has continuously pushed back the unveiling of an Obamacare replacement on multiple occasions, despite promising a replacement for over a year. The continuous delays and vague comments about the specifics of a replacement have caused widespread doubts that Republicans can actually draft a functional replacement bill.
It is completely inexcusable that Republicans did not have a well-crafted and vetted plan ready to unveil on day one of the new Congress. Republicans have had seven years since the initial passage of the Affordable Care Act, and over three years since the exchanges opened at the start of 2014. To not have even considered a replacement, despite campaigning on it, is completely dishonest. Paul Ryan even had the audacity to say that “[the situation] will keep getting worse unless we act,” despite his obvious inability to act on the problem.
Next to Obamacare, Republican leaders have focused their efforts on both corporate and individual tax reform. Across the board, Republicans have promoted lower tax rates and a simplified tax system through various measures such as a flat tax, lower rates, removing deductions and loopholes and reform of the earned income tax credit. As expected, the Democrats have resisted efforts to reduce taxes on large companies and on more affluent individuals, stopping any tax reform efforts.
Again, Republicans finally have the opportunity to either reduce the tax burden, change the way the individual or corporate tax codes are structured or both. But despite vague allusions to methods of accomplishing each of these goals, Republicans clearly never prepared any plans to actually implement. In the Republicans’ defense, President Trump’s unfortunate obsession with tariffs and punishing companies with offshore jobs has complicated the tax reform process.
Even so, all parties involved agree on the concept of individual income tax reform, particularly on the idea of removing the so-called “loopholes and deductions.” But when it comes to specifying the deductions to be removed, the gung-ho Republican representatives suddenly disappear.
Without exception, Republicans running for public office at any level consistently allude to the need to reduce the size and scope of government and remove red tape. Like taxation, this is an admirable goal, but identifying the exact regulations to be altered or removed, or government agencies to be reformed, is much more difficult. Admittedly, this area requires extensive cooperation with the President since the regulatory agencies are the enforcement arm of the executive branch.
For all of their talk, the only progress in this area has been Ted Cruz’s proposed bill to eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a regulatory agency created by Dodd-Frank in the wake of the financial crisis. This is an objectively important action in the wake of an appellate court’s ruling that the bureau was “unconstitutionally structured” and lacked any checks and balances.
However, Congress can go much further to curtail regulation vis-à-vis the power of the purse. By defunding certain programs or aspects of various agencies, Congress can de facto eliminate regulations by making them unenforceable, all while adhering to the Constitutional process. The only downside is that this requires careful planning and study to understand which funds to cut in order to affect specific regulations.
Truly, this Republican Congress is the least prepared and most ineffective Congress in recent history, regardless of any individual ideology. Republican leaders have talked endlessly about all that they would be able to accomplish if they controlled all the branches of government. Well now they do; yet, this current cast of Republicans was more concerned with fundraising and winning elections than actually accomplishing any public policy goals.
Regardless of party, Americans rightly expect their leaders to have plans to address the most important issues facing all citizens. Republican leaders campaigned on countless policy promises, but their actions now show that these words were nothing more than hot air.
For conservatives, Republicans are squandering the opportunity to rectify the wrongs from the Obama years and to accomplish long-sought after policy goals. But for Americans, Republicans are refusing to tackle the most pressing problems facing our nation. And nothing could be worse than a government which does not govern.