That wasn’t a wave. That wasn’t even a tsunami. Tuesday was a Category 5 political hurricane in which the American people effectively wiped out the entire agenda of President Obama and the Democrats.
The only alternative the voters had was to trust the Republicans with the power to stop the president and his party, and provide an alternative, constitutional agenda that will release the American people to build a prosperous future for their families. The Republicans have to earn that trust by delivering a positive agenda that earns at least 60 percent of the people’s approval.
I know one thing we as Republicans must not do, and that is listen to the all-too-predictable counsel coming from the mainstream media that voters want to see “compromise” in Washington, that the Republicans should “reach out” to the president to find areas of common ground over the next two years. Even Mr. Obama tried to push that narrative in his press conference the day after the debacle for his party. Compromise with whom? The rejected president?
It’s a preposterous argument, one that House Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader-in-waiting Mitch McConnell should reject out of hand.
The negotiations that must take place in the coming weeks and months should be between the new Republican majorities and the American people, to settle on a series of priorities and legislative goals to restore constitutional government, rein in an out-of-control executive branch and bring regulatory and tax relief for consumers and businesses. Pass some bills and send them to the president’s desk; if Mr. Obama vetoes them, try to override him (it will take only 45 House Democrats and 12 Senate Democrats in the next Congress) or pass the bills again and make him veto them again.
That’s how Republicans forced President Clinton in the 1990s to sign — with a few cosmetic, face-saving changes — a massive welfare reform and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. (Mr. Clinton now likes to take credit for those laws, but those of us who were there at the time know better.)
With its agenda totally repudiated by the voters, even in blue states such as Maryland and Massachusetts, the White House hasn’t earned a place at the table for the coming negotiations. Instead, I’d advise GOP leaders on the Hill to reach out to the 30-some senators up for re-election in two years. I’d include the nervous House Democrats who just held on to their jobs Tuesday with less than 55 percent of the vote. I’d give them a preview of the 2016 ads that will echo the devastating 2014 spots targeting Democrats who “voted with Obama” 95-plus percent of the time.
I would then point out to those Democrats that over 100 of their House colleagues and 28 of their fellow senators who voted for Obamacare in 2010 are no longer in Congress.
THEN I would start the negotiations.
The idea that Republicans cannot dictate the political agenda with a Democrat in the White House is belied by history, again involving Mr. Clinton.
For the six years of his presidency when Republicans ruled Capitol Hill, Mr. Clinton did not sign a single major piece of legislation that he initiated. Every major legislative achievement came from the Republican ranks.
Republicans set the agenda repeatedly in those years, forcing Mr. Clinton to react. We did not fear vetoes; we actually welcomed them as a way to clarify the issues and spark a national debate. We were happy to pass our bills as many times as needed until the Democratic president found a way to sign them.
I had thought Republicans needed to set out an agenda before the midterm vote in order to score big gains, but that turned out to be wrong. Just being against what the president wanted on Obamacare, foreign policy and the economy was enough to win the Senate and give the House GOP its biggest caucus in generations.
But too often Republican leaders in Congress start negotiating among themselves instead of taking on the other side, disarming themselves in advance instead of insisting on their own agenda. Strong leadership is needed now more than ever to ensure that the Obama agenda is dead and buried for the next two years, and the change that the voters are demanding doesn’t get lost in the false clamor for compromise.
The very first bill that goes to the president — HR1 — in 2015 should be the repeal of Obamacare. Let him veto it and then vote to override. Put the pressure of the American people on the Democrats. That will send a message to the nation! Are you with the people or Mr. Obama?
A strong, consistent conservative agenda, dictated by the Republican majority in Capitol Hill, will set up an even better result: a bigger wave in 2016.
• Tom DeLay, a former congressman from Texas and House majority leader from 2003 to 2005, writes a weekly column for The Washington Times and www.washingtontimes.com.