- - Sunday, October 30, 2016

The results of the November 8 elections will not only determine who lives in the White House, it will also decide the composition of Congress. There are only a handful of possible outcomes: A majority of Congress will be held by either the Republicans or the Democrats, or the majority will be split with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a Democratic-controlled Senate. Each of these scenarios has its own possibilities and challenges given the consequences of a Trump or a Clinton presidency. Putting aside the intrigue and significance of the presidential election, let’s focus for a few minutes on Congress.

For starters, don’t forget about the post-election lame duck session. We join with other voices decrying the illegitimacy of a lame duck session of Congress. Except for dire emergencies, we cannot imagine a circumstance where senators or representatives should make decisions that are binding on the very people who just voted to remove them from Congress. Nevertheless, Congress has manufactured an emergency by failing to fund the government beyond December.

So, the first order of business for the lame duck session is to pass a funding measure that resists the temptation to spend more money than is needed to keep the federal government open. The second order of business is to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). With men and women in uniform, facing the enemy in harm’s way, it is unconscionable that Congress left this important piece of legislation undone until after the election. Congress will be tempted to pass other bills during the lame duck session, like the 21st Century Cures bill, the energy bill, and a bill to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bill. But the need to pass routine legislation during a lame duck session rings hollow when the congressional calendar only scheduled 111 days of work this year.

That brings us to next year’s 115th Congress. If Secretary Clinton becomes president and the Republicans retain the majority in Congress (even if they only retain a majority in the House of Representatives), we should expect more than what we’ve gotten over the last several years. History can be our guide on this score.

During the presidency of Bill Clinton, a principled Congress passed conservative legislation like welfare reform. They balanced the budget and created a funding surplus. The federal government cost about $2 trillion back then. But Congress abandoned conservative principles during the presidency of George W. Bush, even when Republicans controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. They broke the bank and dramatically grew the size of government. Under the presidency of Barack Obama, things only got worse. With a Democratic majority in Congress, we got Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, a gross litany of federal regulations, and more debt than all the previous presidents combined. The federal government now costs $4 trillion, more than twice the cost of the federal government of Bill Clinton.

We need a principled, constitutional conservative House and Senate majority that can accomplish what their predecessors did. During his 1996 State of the Union address, President Bill Clinton described it best: “The era of big government is over.” We need a Congress that will shrink government and return to an era of balanced budgets and prosperity. A good place for Congress to start is with the Republican “Better Way” agenda. Frankly, the GOP should have started this many months ago; it would have given them something to campaign on. The Better Way agenda includes innovative efforts on tax reform, national security, poverty, and health care reform. It would help to usher in a new era of small government.

If the Democrats gain a majority in Congress under a Clinton presidency: Katy, bar the door. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, would become speaker of the House and Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, would become Senate majority leader. More spending, more taxes and more government would be the order of the day. Senate Republicans could try to use the filibuster to block as much legislation as possible, but their options would be limited. Conversely, if the Republicans retain a Congressional majority under a Trump presidency, all bets are off. The first order of business would probably be some type of Obamacare repeal or immigration restrictions.

No matter what the November 8 election delivers, mending fences will be a major priority for Congressional Republicans. And even if the GOP retains a majority in Congress, their numbers will probably shrink in both chambers. A narrow Republican majority only increases the importance of what we’re saying. As we approach the November 8 election, don’t forget that Congress, as much as the president, will determine the future of our country.

Allen West, a former member of Congress from Florida, is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and is the executive director of the National Center for Policy Analysis, where Brian Williams is legislative director.

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