Republicans had an outstanding Election Day, winning control of the U.S. Senate and padding their majority in the House of Representatives.
To hear the analysts tell it, Washington won’t change much as a result. Democratic filibusters in the Senate and presidential vetoes will replace Republican filibusters and an intransigent House, the naysayers claim. Dysfunction will continue.
Americans should reject such pessimism. Next year, President Barack Obama, new Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner will not hold hands around a campfire singing “Kumbaya,” but they can find common ground on a host of issues. The public deserves at least that.
Republicans have been an opposition party for the last few years. Now they must become leaders and show Americans that, with complete control of Congress, they can pass reasonable legislation. The president must meet them halfway.
For example, the GOP base wants Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but Obama will not allow his signature accomplishment to be undone. That doesn’t mean nothing can happen. Perhaps the already-delayed employer mandate will be eliminated or changed.
“Some tweaks around the edges” could become the unofficial motto of the next Congress. On many issues, there is room for modest accomplishments, if not much more.
Consider judicial appointments. For the last few years, Republican senators have delayed or blocked many of Obama’s nominees. They now have the power to do so more effectively, but they also have the obligation to ensure a functional judiciary. The same goes for other executive appointments, including the just-announced nominee for attorney general. Obama, for his part, must choose moderates whom Republicans can confirm.
And cross your fingers that a Supreme Court vacancy doesn’t come up. That would almost certainly become a bitter partisan fight that could derail everything else.
On immigration, the need for immediate action is clear. Congress will not pass an easy path to citizenship, but Obama could and should sign reforms that would strengthen border security and improve the lot of immigrants already here.
Both sides want to create jobs and improve the economy. Investments in infrastructure should be an easy sell. That’s especially true of highways and bridges. They are crumbling, so inaction is not an option.
Tax reform is possible. No one believes our bloated, complex tax code makes sense. Republicans will not get to gut the whole thing, as many would like, but there are plenty of feasible tweaks around the edges.
Not every issue can be handled with compromises. Dealing with climate change is off the table. The GOP has made rejection of the overwhelming science behind climate change a core tenet. In fact, things likely will get worse as Republicans push to increase fossil fuel extraction.
Nevertheless, Obama and McConnell said the right words after the election results rolled in.
Obama: “We can surely find ways to work together on issues where there’s broad agreement among the American people.”
McConnell: “We have an obligation to change the behavior of the Senate and to begin to function again.”
Americans will watch to see if they put those words into action. If they don’t, 2016 is right around the corner.