Mike Needham on the future of the Tea Party and Republican Establishment
This month, Mike Needham wrote an article for National Affairs on the growing tension between the Tea Party groups and the Republican establishment entitled “Building a Real Reform Mandate”.
The excerpt below summarizes the conservative hope for Congress in 2015.
Unified Republican control of the Congress now presents an opportunity for a reset, perhaps making possible a fresh start for collaboration between the grassroots and the Republican leadership that has long been reluctant to govern from one house of Congress.
Having faced years of charges of obstructionism, Republican leaders are no doubt anxious to demonstrate to the American people their competence for governing. They will have opportunities to do so early in the next Congress by generating bipartisan coalitions on consensus issues like approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, potentially sending legislation to the president’s desk for signature.
They must, however, keep in mind that conservatives expect more than bill signings, particularly ones that primarily serve the interests of the business community. We got plenty of those in 2009 and 2010. The biggest problem facing the American people isn’t gridlock in Washington; it’s stagnation in America — slow growth in wages, poor economic mobility, weakening social cohesion, a high cost of living exacerbated by government distortions of crucial markets. The Republican Party’s primary concern must be advancing policies that change these trends and, to the extent that the policies of the Obama Administration are to blame, turning the page on the last six years.
The president and his party will naturally be reluctant partners at best in such a project, and Republicans therefore must conceive of their most important efforts as designed to operate around them. The prospect of enacting legislation, tantalizing as it may be, will be more of a distraction for the remainder of the Obama presidency than a tangible goal.
Winning the Senate should not cause the GOP to trim its own sails to accommodate the realities of the upper chamber. The budget reconciliation process allows conservatives an opportunity to bring legislation on an issue of maximum contrast like Obamacare to the president’s desk with 51 Senate votes. Meanwhile, conservatives maintain the power to advance a broader policy agenda without concessions to the left by passing bills and resolutions through the House alone with simple majorities.
This mechanism for internal consensus-building and platform development led in 2011 to the party’s embrace of premium support for Medicare. The House should continue this pattern in 2015 with an optimistic agenda addressing the real concerns of working-class Americans: the price and quality of health care; the state of our school system and the affordability of appropriate higher-education opportunities; unaffordable prices for food, gas, and housing; and the availability of well-paid jobs.
We know a Republican Senate would at least take up the pieces of this agenda if received from the House — an important departure from years past. The gridlock ensuing from a Democratic filibuster, while not ideal, would still provide opportunities to educate and persuade the nation of the merits of our vision — though only if the party offers a reasonably unified front championing solidly conservative legislation.
Through it all, the Tea Party can be an asset to conservative lawmakers committed to using their platform to articulate a reform agenda. As Democrats saw at their 2010 town halls, these activists can be a force to be reckoned with when turned on a recalcitrant left — as would ideally be the case in the event of Democratic filibustering of popular House-passed measures. But the Tea Party can devote its efforts to such tasks only if the Republican Party is discharging its own duties appropriately. Otherwise, it will continue to serve as a pressure mechanism on the right, demanding that conservative legislation be brought to the floor in each chamber, criticizing deal-making that undermines conservative priorities, and holding risk-averse Republicans accountable for squandering opportunities for productive interparty conflict.