One of the few bright spots on the American political map right now for Republicans is, perhaps surprisingly, the House of Representatives.
Once the source of the Republican Party’s (and the conservative movement’s) powerbase in Washington, the House is now the institution in which conservatives hold the least actual legislative power. Because of the legislative rules, majorities in the House possess somewhere between 99 and 100 percent of the institutional power of the place. While Republicans still hold the White House and can still hold their own as a Senate minority, Democrats should, under the rules, be more than able to impose their will in the people’s House.
And yet, Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and his conference just concluded what was possibly the most successful legislative year for a minority party in memory. Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and her team controlled the agenda, but on issue after issue, they could not control the floor. The Republicans united and not only beat back the most extreme, liberal bills and amendments, but they largely defined the parameters of debate as well. It really was a sight to see, but like all political successes, the House Republicans’ tremendous 2007 session only now increases the expectations and responsibilities for 2008. Now that House Republicans have merited a second look by American voters desperate for positive, principled leadership, they have a responsibility to provide it.
I believe that House Republicans, having shown they have quickly mastered the improved tactics of a minority party, need to break tradition and reassert the strategies of a majority coalition. While Speaker Pelosi will no doubt offer Republican members and candidates plenty of bad ideas to bat down, Republicans can retaliate by offering and demanding a hearing for their good ones. They can use their strategic successes to give the American people a vision of what a Republican Congress would look like, how they would govern differently than the current crowd, and why their ideas truly speak to the problems our nation faces.
Every flawed policy that comes out of the Democrats’ committees can and should be countered with a vigorous, sharply contrasted alternative. Democrats in Washington remain the only people in the country who still believe the war in Iraq is lost and that the surge has failed. Their words and votes should be used against them, and Republican leaders should produce and demand votes on legislation to extend the American people’s moral and material support for the surge strategy, Gen. David Petraeus and our troops. Let all Americans at home and fighting abroad know that the Republican Party is the party of victory.
Tom DeLay is the former House Majority Leader, the second ranking leader in the United States House of Representatives, and co-author of No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight.