The Weekly Watchman: A failure of leadership and the path forward

· November 13, 2018  
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Mitch McConnell
Zach Gibson | Getty Images

The House outlook

It’s been one week since the midterm election, and it went largely the way forecasters predicted. The GOP lost its House majority of the past eight years and expanded its Senate majority by two seats (depending on the outcome of the dubious Florida recount). For House members, there should be several lessons learned to guide the policy-making moving forward.

Lesson one

The motto espoused by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, must be taken to heart: “Do what we said we would do.” The House’s primary accomplishment while under GOP control was passing a mediocre tax reform package that few Americans had as a priority.

Members who ran heavily on tax reform, such as Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., all lost re-election last week. There must be a fundamental retooling of the conservative agenda. While the GOP has solidified rural voters and is well on its way to securing a realignment among blue-collar voters, it is bleeding suburban voters, which used to be the lynchpin constituency of the party. Therefore, a conservative policy agenda should be refocused on five main priorities:

  • Health care freedom: Beyond just repealing Obamacare, conservatives must advance direct primary care free from third-party interference that lowers costs, expanding sharing associations, expanding health savings accounts, returning health insurance back to actual insurance as a catastrophic backstop, and making insurance something that is owned, portable, and not tied to employment.
  • Immigration reform and border security: Building the wall is critical, but this also means defunding sanctuary cities, ending chain migration, restoring a proper definition of credible fear and reforming our asylum process, ending the diversity visa lottery program, and implementing a merit-based immigration system that is fair and lawful.
  • Curbing the national debt: Stop using our men and women in uniform as a cudgel to rapidly increase the size and scope of Washington. Conservatives must reject dollar-for-dollar increases in non-defense discretionary spending for increased defense dollars. It’s accelerating our debt crisis and funding progressive priorities.
  • Safe communities: Conservatives must reject the Soros-backed, Koch-funded, ACLU-driven “criminal justice reform” agenda that would put more criminals back out on our streets. Many of these offenders have been peddling the opioid-laced drugs that killed nearly 30,000 Americans last year.
  • Fighting judicial supremacy: Rogue judges threaten the rule of law and our very sovereignty. Conservatives must embrace holding Article III courts accountable through jurisdiction stripping, impeachment of activist judges, and defunding of circuits that routinely flout the Constitution.

Lowering health care costs, a secure border, a reduction in the national debt, safe communities, and an all-out offensive against the progressive judges undermining the rule of law and the role of the courts are a guaranteed winning agenda among rural, blue-collar, and suburban voters. The result of this agenda would be a thriving civil society that is free and secure.

Lesson two

Health care remains the top issue for most Americans — specifically the high cost and the diminishing access to good doctors.

The House went through multiple iterations of Obamacare “repeal” in 2017 — all of which lacked actual repeal and maintained the original sin of Obamacare by keeping federal insurance regulations intact — and passed a final version of hodgepodge legislation that failed to cleanly repeal something that they had promised to repeal for eight years.

Republicans got stuck on the nonsensical notion of replace at the expense of repeal. There has never been consensus on replacing Obamacare. Indeed, the entire idea is absurd to many conservatives, as it would mean permanently ensconcing health care policy in Washington.

The very phrase “repeal and replace” was coined by Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a desperate bid to win a messaging war. Holmes even admitted he was just tasked with creating a phrase and stated, “I don’t do policy.”

Yeah, we know. That became all too evident during the repeal fiasco, as the promise of repeal clashed loudly with the scurrilous idea that “pre-existing conditions protections” could be kept at the federal level. Those “protections” are the very regulations (guaranteed issue and community rating) that have caused premiums to double or even triple since Obamacare went into effect in 2013. In other words, pre-existing conditions mandates are Obamacare. You can’t keep them and repeal the law.

There remains widespread consensus and support among the Republican electorate for repealing the law. But conservatives must paint a vision that goes beyond just repeal and articulates a health care freedom agenda that restores the patient-doctor relationship, removes third-party bureaucrats in government and big insurance companies, and lowers costs through competition and markets so that people can receive high-quality care at affordable prices.

Lesson three

New leadership is desperately needed. As it stands, there is a mad scramble to hold leadership elections this week and do what Washington does best: fail upwards.

Conservatives must reject this move. While Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and other conservatives like Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., and Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., are all looking to compete for leadership positions, there should be time taken to truly assess what happened on November 6.

The GOP must show its constituents that it wants to empower rank-and-file members, learn lessons from its failures, and have an open and honest debate within the conference about the direction of the party and the vision for the future. Anything less than this will only double down on the failed approach that sent the GOP into the minority in the first place. Indeed, why should conservatives trust Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., when he says he’ll fight to secure the border when he helped pass multiple big-spending bills that all took a pass on doing just that?

Summary: There is a cynical likelihood, now that the GOP is in the minority in the House, that every Republican will rediscover his or her fiscal conservatism and small government bona fides. It’s imperative that the American people not fall for such hollow gestures and continue to hold their elected officials accountable.

It’s also critical that new members help the Freedom Caucus forge its own identity separate from the squishy, muddled messages of the GOP establishment. This is the moment for conservatives in the House to lead.

The Senate outlook

The Senate is expected to return today and move to vote on Michelle Bowman to serve on the board of governors for the Federal Reserve. Senate Republicans should be thankful that Brett Kavanaugh exposed the Orwellian progressives for the American people to see mere weeks before the election. The fascist left-wing mobs that rose up during the Kavanaugh confirmation debacle certainly went a long way toward helping the GOP expand its Senate majority.

However, the Senate must resist the temptation to merely confirm judges for the next two years and instead help House conservatives leverage their battles against Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her radical progressive allies.

In the short term, this means backing away from “criminal justice reform” bills like the FIRST STEP Act, which would allow left-wing judges to ignore mandatory minimums for “non-violent” drug offenders. Politically, passing this bill would reward the bad behavior displayed in the Kavanaugh hearings by likely presidential candidates Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. It also doubles down on the “soft-on-crime” agenda of the Left that suburban households are unlikely to be comfortable with — especially when many of these “non-violent” drug offenders have peddled the very opioids that have been killing tens of thousands of Americans.

Additionally, Senate Republicans must ensure that big-spending bills coming from House Democrats are rejected and that conservative policy riders on border security, health care, and spending reduction are included. The Senate should be more than willing to reject bills laden with progressive priorities even if it means a temporary lapse in government funding. And the president must provide the rhetorical cover for Senate Republicans to do exactly that.

Senate Democrats used their majority to block House Republicans all throughout the Obama presidency. It’s time for Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to put up or shut up when it comes to the idea that he is a savvy and effective leader. Yes, he has helped put judges on the bench. That’s the absolute bare minimum threshold to clear. It should impress no one. He is a far cry from former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, who used his Senate majority to crush conservative opposition in the House for four years and ensure that the liberal agenda was solidified into statute.

McConnell’s legacy rests not on confirming judges, but rather on advancing liberty in divided government. If he cannot do this, while keeping his expanded majority together, then no internet meme will be able salvage how history will view his tenure.

Liberty outlook

Summary: Both chambers are back in this week following last Tuesday’s elections. There is a frantic effort to vote on House GOP leadership positions as Republicans prepare to enter the minority next Congress. This is hasty and precisely the kind of unprincipled Washington insider nonsense that angers normal people. Additionally, there is continued discussion about potentially passing “criminal justice reform” during the lame duck. Therefore, this week’s congressional Liberty Outlook is: Code red.

Call your representatives and let them know that after the loss of the House majority last week, now is NOT the time to reward failed leadership with automatic promotions without any debate or discussion.

The Weekly Watchman

Welcome to the Weekly Watchman, a regular series at Conservative Review where we highlight and analyze legislation pending on the House and Senate floors so that you know exactly what your representatives are voting on — and the impact those votes will have on your freedom.

The truth is that every single vote cast in Congress either advances liberty or diminishes it. And in all the noise on social media and 24/7 cable news chaos, it can be difficult to keep track of what is really happening on Capitol Hill and what it means for you and your family.

Patrick Henry once stated, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”

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Author: Drew White

Drew White spent three years at Heritage Action for America as a legislative strategist covering domestic policy issues. He then served as Sen. Ted Cruz’s domestic policy adviser for two years, working on issues including Obamacare repeal, educational freedom, elimination of federal agencies and departments, and defunding Planned Parenthood. Most recently, he served as senior federal policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He currently resides in Austin, Texas, with his wife, son, and golden retriever, happily clinging to his guns and religion.