The Capitol Hill Agenda: What Not to Do Now That You Control Congress

Capitol Hill Agenda
Capitol Hill Agenda

Dear Republicans,

Congratulations on taking control of the House of Representatives. While we’re skeptical about the efficacy of politicians to improve our economic plight, we are willing to believe that you are well-meaning folks who want a better and more prosperous America.

In order to demonstrate that our belief is not misplaced, you will have to resist calls to journey down two paths that are sure to be political dead-ends.

(Note: this is the second of our series on the agenda for the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Our first calls for reader submissions to NetNet@cnbc.com)

The first path will be laid out by business interests' lobbyists, who view each new change of power as an opportunity to win special favors for their clients. Many Republicans are easily bamboozled by arguments that seem to demonstrate that having the government adopt policies that favor, say, the interests of General Electric (the parent corporation of CNBC) is equivalent to creating an economic environment favorable to businesses, jobs and economic dynamism.

In truth, many of the policies proferred on Republican lawmakers by business interests will be economically stultifying, aimed at erecting barriers to entry for start-up competitors or providing subsidies to entrenched corporations. Hopefully, the scandals and political collapse of the last House majority will have taught the Republicans leaders to avoid this path.

GOP symbol and cash
Mike Kemp | Getty Images
GOP symbol and cash

The second path toward political suicide goes in the opposite direction: toward politically impossible reforms favored by wonks. With the White House and the Senate still in Democratic hands, very little progress is likely to be made in reforming Social Security or Medicare. The Democrats will demonize any serious reforms as heatless attacks on the elderly and the sickly, preferring to score political points than to ameliorate the coming budgetary disasters promised by entitlement programs, as currently envisioned.

Given the certainty of irresponsible Democratic recalcitrance, forays into reducing the budgetary burdens of these popular entitlements are likely to do much damage to the Republicans, without producing any real effects on the government’s balance sheet. There is no honor in undermining the elections' political opportunities by dreaming impossible dreams of instituting sustainable and responsible entitlement reforms. Fools' errands should not be confused with the exercise of political prudence or principled leadership.

The road forward for the Republicans lies in not a compromise between the contradictory excesses of the Way of the Lobbyists or the Way of the Wonks. Instead, the Republicans should look with new eyes at the challenges the country faces—and the opportunities presented to them by the political scene.

In subsequent posts on NetNet—written by our editors and our readers—we’ll lay out a far more specific agenda for you as you take control of Congress.

Thanks for much for your time and attention,

John Carney

Editor,

NetNet

CNBC.com

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