A Republican Congress could take up the suggestion of recently appointed Florida Sen. George LeMieux to cut spending back to 2007 levels. The 2009 stimulus package raised the budget baselines of many domestic programs. They could be cut back again.
But beyond that loom the problems of ever-expanding entitlements: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Rep. Paul Ryan has advanced a "road map" to cut spending by means-testing benefits, replacing Medicare with vouchers to pay for health insurance for beneficiaries currently under age 55 and providing refundable tax credits for health insurance premiums for the non-elderly. It would allow but not require employees under 55 to set up personal retirement accounts in place of the current Social Security program.
Barack Obama has called Ryan's road map interesting, but there's zero chance he would support it -- in which case Republican congressional leaders would probably be unwilling to advance such substantial changes, which are already under attack by Democrats.
But there is a case for boldness. The architects of George W. Bush's victory in 2004 and of Barack Obama's victory in 2008 dreamed of establishing permanent governing majorities for their parties. But as political scientist David Mayhew has argued, and as the events following those victories suggest, a permanent majority is a will o' the wisp.
Better to put into place public policies that will be enduring as party majorities come and go. This is what the Republican Congress elected in 1946 did: It repealed wartime wage and price controls, it revised labor law to reduce unions' powers, and it provided bipartisan support for Harry Truman's Cold War policies. Democrats won back congressional majorities in 1948, but Republicans' policies stayed in place, shaping prosperous postwar America.
Americans have rejected the Europeanizing policies of the Obama Democrats. Republicans may get a chance to put us on a better American path. They need to be prepared to do so.