The Biggest Question in 2013 Public Policy—Do House Republicans Want To Accomplish Anything?

A blog about business and economics.
Nov. 11 2012 12:01 PM

The Biggest Question in 2013 Public Policy—Do House Republicans Want To Accomplish Anything?

51971477
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 15: Before the annual dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association in Washington 14 March 1995, US President Bill Clinton (R) poses with House Speaker Newt Gingrich as President Clinton shows Gingrich a plastic utensil known as a 'spork.'

Photo by PAUL RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

People tend to take a very president-focused view of the political system, but looking ahead I think the biggest question in public policy for 2013 isn't about Barack Obama it's about John Boehner and his colleagues. The question is: Do House Republicans want to accomplish anything? In other words, are there any important conservative policy goals they're hoping to achieve in the next two years.

One possible answer is no. Clearly the outlook for conservative public policy isn't that good with Democrats in the White House and the Senate, the 2014 midterms will almost certainly strengthen their hand, and the GOP controls most of the state governments in the United States so there's ample room for conservative policy initiatives of a non-federal nature. Under the circumstances, viewing the congress as primarily a bastion from which to block liberal initiatives and create conservative messaging points is perfectly reasonable.

Advertisement

But maybe there are things House Republicans really want to do!

For example, maybe someone out there really does want to end federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I bet they could get that done. In fact, I bet they could come up with a longish list of small programs that don't speak to the core functions of the federal government and say "we'd like to scrap these." Say, "look you created this big Dodd-Frank framework in your first term and you know we don't think it was a good idea. But if you think it's truly as important as you say, show us you mean it by offering up some of these small-bore programs and we'll use those savings to fund implementation." Nice deal. The White House would go for it both because they like Dodd-Frank, because some liberals think the GOP is right on the merits about PBS, and most of all because Obama thinks bipartisan dealmaking makes him look good.

And he's right. Which is one reason Republicans spent his first term trying to make sure no deals got done. Why should they want to do things that make him look good?

Well it turns out that there's potentially one good reason. Since bipartisan deals make the president look good, and since the president wants to look good, congressional Republicans can take advantage of that fact to broker deals to advance their policy goals. Welfare reform in 1996 is a great example. Many liberals viewed that bill as a sellout on substantive terms, and many Republicans viewed it as a sellout on political terms. Bill Clinton's ability to deliver a bipartisan deal on welfare made it harder for Bob Dole to beat him in November. But then again, Republicans' willingness to let Clinton deliver a bipartisan deal on welfare got welfare reform passed. As it happens, the 1996 election wasn't even close. Clinton almost certainly would have won even if Newt Gingrich had been more supportive of Dole's political goals. By the same token, the obstruction strategy of 2009-2012 succeeded in denying Obama feel-good moments of bipartisanship but it didn't cost him the election. If Republicans are willing to give up those warm fuzzies any president craves, they'll be able to actually move the ball forward on some issues.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.