- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

House Republican lawmakers face some tough decisions when they return to Washington in January for the beginning of the 110th Congress. Most pressing are how to respond to their new minority status and how to reconstruct a positive brand image among voters. For a party that spent the last 12 years speaking as the majority in an institution where the minority’s voice is often muffled, it’s an unfamiliar road filled with some obvious as well as hidden potholes.

Here are some ideas about traversing this new terrain without breaking too many axles along the way: First, accept your new status without bitterness. I remember watching and talking to many Democrats after the 1994 election who were incredulous and resentful about the Republican ascendancy (granted, they had controlled the House for 40 years). “It’s like the Beverly Hillbillies have taken over,” one urbane liberal told me. Many Democrats believed Republicans neither possessed the intellect nor the temperament to manage the Congress. To them, the Democratic majority was an entitlement and the Republican victory in 1994 was a fluke. This elitist and condescending attitude reminded many why voters wanted Congress under new management in the first place. Republicans should avoid sending similar signals. A dose of humility about what went wrong and why voters imposed some congressional management shakeup is clearly what the doctor ordered.

Second, acknowledge that regaining the majority will be challenging and the path back more complicated than just opposing every Democratic initiative. Besides smaller offices, fewer staff and more difficulty attracting media attention, managing life in the minority includes some tough tactical decisions. Some will argue that it’s the job of the Republicans only to obstruct the Democrats. That’s a necessary, but not sufficient criteria to win back the majority.

Granted, part of the Democrats’ success in painting Republicans as incompetent came from blocking legislation, particularly in the Senate. But the Democrats were also lucky. An unpopular war that looks like it only includes two options (continue on an unsuccessful course or withdraw and fail), highly publicized ethical wrongdoing by some Republican lawmakers and perceptions of a lack of accomplishment on a host of items, helped Democrats paint the Republican majority as a mosaic of failure.

The GOP cannot assume that level of good fortune. So, just as in 1994, Republicans should develop a program of new positive ideas to promote in tandem while aggressively trying to stop Democrats’ bad proposals from becoming law. Only through this legislative yin and yang of pointing out shortcomings while offering commonsense alternatives will Republicans maximize their chances of reclaiming the majority in the House.

Finally, remember the next election is two years down the road and we’re in the midst of a political breather, with some time to develop some creative new ideas. Most Americans have a case of electoral fatigue. Daily workouts of partisan sniping, advocacy advertising and talking heads have left the body politic aching. Americans need some electoral Advil and a little rest. As one House Republican told me recently, “Most people I talk to don’t really care who controls the majority. They want us to get things done and stop making excuses.” Democrats will lead with policies that appear — at least superficially — popular with the middle class. Raising the minimum wage, lowering prescription drug prices and cutting college costs are among their opening gambits. How will Republicans respond? Are there smarter, better ways to achieve these goals and will the Democrat ideas lead to unintended negative consequences? What about other big ideas? Republicans should think outside the box and spend time developing rational goal-oriented ideas consistent with their philosophy. Propose a plan to balance the budget, develop policies to free America from dependence on foreign oil, expand competition to drive down health care costs and cover the uninsured.

Republicans now possess a rare legislative luxury: freedom from managing the day-to-day operation of Congress. This is a gift that should be exploited, a currency used to replenish the vault of new ideas. If done right, these new proposals will guide both the GOP’s opposition strategy, as well as their constructive alternatives. Republicans may be tempted to respond to their minority status with anger, denial or other remedies aimed at a quick fix. Voters will react poorly to any of those strategies. The GOP’s problems were not created in a matter of weeks: They won’t be fixed that quickly or without some new ideas either.

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