The gifts have been unwrapped, the tree has been untrimmed, and the decorations have all been put away. It’s now time to move away from Christmas lists and begin thinking about New Year’s resolutions. It’s a time for admitting hard truths and identifying things that need fixing, but it’s also an opportunity to start with a fresh slate.
There is no doubt Republican leadership on Capitol Hill is going through much the same thought process. They accomplished much in 2015, of that there can be no debate. They passed the longest-term highway funding bill in nearly two decades, they came to the aid of servicemembers by passing the National Defense Authorization Act, they passed the first bicameral budget since 2009, they gave the president trade promotion authority to secure completion of the Trans Pacific Partnership, they reformed the broken education bureaucracy by replacing No Child Left Behind, and finally, they passed a bill that essentially repeals the Affordable Care Act.
But in some ways this year was about clearing the decks of must-pass legislation in order to set the stage for the real show: 2016, which will be crucially important to presenting voters with a vision for conservative governance. How are Republicans planning to do that? Well, here are some resolutions:
1. Map Out a Conservative Agenda
Now is not the time for timidity or confusion. If we truly believe that conservatism has the answers to the problems that are plaguing the economy and society then it’s time we put them to the test. As Speaker Ryan said recently, “We owe people the right to decide if they want to stay on this path or not.”
That strategy comes with risk, especially as Democrats look for wedge issues to help them recapture the Senate majority. But, if done right and messaged correctly, it also presents Republicans with the opportunity to put forward a positive, bold vision for the future.
“We’ve had an election every two years right on schedule since 1788,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “And my view is, just because there’s an election coming up doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to do anything.”
2. Unify the Conservative Movement
As discussed earlier, this was a productive year, but not everything that was ushered over the finish line was beloved by conservatives. It’s impossible to make everyone happy, but this year should be a tremendous opportunity for Republicans to find issues that unify the party going into a crucial election season.
“My goal is to help unify the conservative movement so we can unify the Republican Party so…that the citizens of this nation get to choose in 2016 what kind of country they want to have in the 21st century,” Ryan said. “It’s nothing short of a generational defining moment we are facing next year.”
3. Return to Regular Order
Both the House and the Senate have made significant moves to get things back to normal by allowing more debate and more amendments, but thus far getting back to “regular order” on the budget has eluded Republicans. That looks to change this year.
“What will happen is the bills will start out the way we like them; in order to move them – we’ll probably have to make compromises,” McConnell said of the twelve appropriations bills he hopes to pass to fund the government in lieu of an omnibus package. “That’s the way the legislative process works when it’s functioning.”
4. Decentralize Power
A majority can only be strong if the rank-and-file members feel empowered to effectuate change. Unfortunately, Democrats’ have done everything possible to stymie this effort, centralizing power in Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and then forcing them to the negotiating table. But this year, Ryan and McConnell are promising to return policy decisions and bill drafting to the committees.
“What I did was sort of decentralize the power,” McConnell said. “Try to move all of the decision-making out of the leader’s office – I have enough power; I don’t need anymore – and try to empower people to make a difference.”
“I expect a bill, or bills, to come up and fail,” Ryan said. “What this place always used to do is try to predetermine everything, down to the amendment, and I just don’t think the speaker’s office should have that kind of power. I think that it should be decentralized and pushed out to the membership.”