This op-ed was originally published at the Washington Examiner on January 19, 2015.
Republicans have held full control of Congress for a little over a week, and some members of the new majority are already demonstrating that they do not deserve the power voters handed them. Sure, they like to campaign on limited government rhetoric, but they are governing like the very big-spending progressives against whom they ran in the fall.
The legislative agenda that Republican leaders put forward after the election is trite and underwhelming. Instead of a big, bold agenda, they have been talking about pushing through “small ball” measures — such as authorization of the Keystone XL pipeline and repeal of Obamacare’s medical device tax.
Some of the policies that Republicans plan to act on may have some merit, but, too often, they appeal more to K Street and the army of lobbyists that descend on Capitol Hill. Ambitious ideas that have bipartisan support, like reforming the National Security Agency or passing meaningful reforms to a broken criminal justice system, are not even part of the agenda, at least to this point.
This is among the reasons why the grassroots mobilized itself against Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The real, bold ideas are not coming from politicians who have fallen in love with the marble in the hallways of Congress and are always looking to make deals that compromise limited-government principles.
The ideas that have driven the Republican resurgence are coming from reform-minded legislators — like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., as well as several others — who are fighting for less spending and taxes, more individual liberty, and an end to cronyism.
Unfortunately, the GOP leadership and much of the caucus has demonstrated no intention of governing as the fiscal conservatives they so frequently claim to be. Before they even took their oaths on Jan. 6, some Republican lawmakers — including Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn. — began pitching the horrible idea of increasing the federal gas tax. Others are circulating draft legislation to allow revenue-hungry states to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases from businesses located in other states.
And now, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is floating the possibility of raising taxes to avert sequester cuts to defense. Those “cuts” he is fretting about, in real terms, are not even cuts over the long-term.
Each of these tax-hike proposals is driven by lobbyists looking to weed out their clients’ competition or get a piece of government largesse through high-dollar transportation or defense contracts.
Eight and then six years ago, Republicans were slapped down twice by an electorate that had lost confidence in their ability to govern. The GOP was mired in scandals, an unpopular war, and had almost completely abandoned its limited-government principles. Fiscal conservatives in Congress often said that the Republican Party had lost its way and deserved to spend some time in the political wilderness. Unfortunately, that time seems to have been poorly spent, and the lessons appear to be already forgotten.
Voters handed Republicans its largest majority in the House of Representatives since 1923 and Senate control. Those voters expect more leadership from Republicans than what President Obama and Democrats had offered them in proposing tax hike after tax hike. And yet Republicans seem prepared to give them a leaderless, tax-hiking, big spending Republican majority unlike anything the grassroots worked so hard to achieve.
With the next election cycle just around the corner, Republicans do not have much time to begin to demonstrate that they can govern effectively by the limited government principles upon which they run every cycle. Actions speak louder than words, and, right now, there is little more than a superficial difference between either party.