Howard Rich

While it lacks the panache of Patrick Henry’s impassioned “give me liberty” cry (which the Virginian borrowed from Cato, incidentally), the reality is that Republicans looking for a modus operandi in Washington next year could do a lot worse than “give us gridlock.”

In fact, gridlock is really all that they can promise voters – at least for now.

While reaping historic gains in the U.S. House, the tea party-fueled GOP wave that broke with such force across the country last week was necessarily limited in its breadth. After all, the names of President Barack Obama and nearly two-thirds of the U.S. Senate did not appear on the ballot. Also roughly the same number of Democratic and Republican Senate seats were up for grabs in 2010 – which limited GOP gains in the upper chamber (along with the fact that Democrats were defending seats in liberal strongholds like California, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, and Vermont).

Meanwhile in West Virginia – where a Republican hasn’t been elected to a full-term in the U.S. Senate since 1942 – the victorious Democratic candidate won his race by running a TV ad in which he picked up a rifle and literally shot a hole through Obama’s proposed “cap and trade” energy tax hike.

“I’ll take on Washington and this administration to get the federal government off of our backs and out of our pockets,” Gov. Joe Manchin said in the ad, sounding more like a Tea Party protester than a twice-elected Democratic governor.

In 2012, the stakes will be much higher. Not only must Obama himself face the voters but 23 Democratic Senate seats must be defended – several of them in GOP-leaning states like Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Virginia.

Having slammed the brakes on the socialist overreaching of Obama and his Congressional allies in 2010 – in the next election, limited government advocates must commence the long-overdue national U-turn back to fiscal sanity, individual liberty, free markets and constitutionally-limited government.

Michael Tanner – a senior fellow at the Cato Institute – has been an instrumental voice in dissecting the fiscal betrayal that led to the GOP’s “power loss” in 2006 and 2008. In analyzing last week’s elections, Tanner described Republicans as being like the “proverbial dog that caught the car, wondering what they should do next.”

That may be overstating things a bit given the extent to which Democrats still control the levers of power in Washington, but Tanner does offer some sage advice for the incoming Republican House Majority.

“Republicans won this time simply by not being Democrats,” he writes. “But having even a share of governing power means that just opposing the worst of the Obama agenda won’t be enough next time. Republicans need to develop and put forward a positive agenda. They need to do this even if they know that the bills will die in the Senate or be vetoed by the president.”

Indeed. And while “gridlock” may be the only result of the current congressional balance, this should not dissuade Republicans from vigorously advancing an agenda based on what fueled their dramatic gains – a reawakening of America’s freedom-loving, limited government conscience.

What should be on Republicans’ agenda?

Obviously, the low-hanging fruit includes a permanent extension of the 2001/03 tax cuts (in their entirety) and an immediate reversal of other tax increases that are scheduled to take effect on January 1. According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, preventing these tax hikes would pump as much as $6 trillion into the U.S. economy over the coming decade.

Of course it is not enough to simply stop the coming “tax tsunami,” Republicans must also mount an effort to undo the damage that’s been done by a decade of unsustainable government growth and two years of full-blown socialism. That means repealing every word of “Obamacare,” scrapping so-called “Wall Street reform” and restoring welfare laws that were gutted when the Obama bureaucratic bailout was passed.

And that’s just a start. In addition to slicing trillions off of the deficit by axing “Obamacare” and eliminating dozens of new government programs created by Obama’s bailout and “financial reform” laws, the government-cutting scalpel must go even deeper into Washington’s needless layers of bureaucracy.

More fundamentally, Washington itself must be redefined. A culture of entitlement must be dismantled brick-by-brick and replaced by a government that’s focused on core competencies. A cesspool of corruption dominated by career politicians must be swept aside in favor of clean government run by term-limited citizen legislators. And the conventional Washington wisdom which holds that “getting things done” means passing new legislation and regulations must be turned completely on its ear.

In fact, until citizen leaders committed to freedom and free markets hold all of the levers of power in Washington, “give us gridlock.”

After all, doing nothing is infinitely preferable to jumping off of a cliff.


Howard Rich

Howard Rich is the Chairman of Americans for Limited Government.