What should the new Congress do? Or, more specifically, what should the House majority do, because we already know the Senate majority is going to confirm judges and preserve the funding they established during the previous Congress.
Let’s start with the things we know will need to happen.
Sometime in the next 24 months, Congress will reauthorize the farm bill, reauthorize the Federal Aviation Act, increase the debt ceiling (probably in the third quarter of 2023), pass the National Defense Authorization Acts for both fiscal years 2024 and 2025, and pass funding measures for fiscal years 2024 and 2025. Each of those legislative journeys will provide the Republicans in Congress with opportunities to drive their agenda.
Given their recent track record of failing to engage in any fights — either for messaging or other purposes — over the last two years, it seems safe to say that the Senate Republicans will have no interest in using any of the opportunities that fate or the calendar will present them.
As recently as last week the Senate Republicans failed to use the opportunity provided by the omnibus to advance any policy agenda or message, and several Senate (sort of) Republicans made it clear that they preferred to cede policy territory to the Senate Democrats rather than join with the newly-minted Republican majority in the House in January to negotiate a meaningfully bipartisan omnibus.
This should not have been a surprise. Senate Republican leadership has made it clear that it has no intention of ever providing any clarity with respect to its policy preferences in the event they ever preside over the Senate again. The only Senator (Rick Scott) who tried to provide any kind of an agenda was immediately pistol-whipped.
The House side is no better. The one House Member (Jim Banks) who tried to offer a substantive agenda was defeated in the race to be Majority Whip. Not coincidentally, House Republicans have made it clear that they plan to focus their new majority on oversight, which means they, too, have nothing in mind in particular with respect to policy.
Despite all that, let’s imagine what the House Republicans could do if they wanted to take advantage of their opportunities this Congress. Remember that the Republicans were given the majority in the House by voters specifically to do something about inflation, border security and crime.
Let’s start with inflation. All of the money provided for in American Rescue Plan, the infrastructure legislation, or the Inflation Reduction Act has not been spent. For example, the Congressional Budget Office has indicated that about one-third of the cash appropriated in the ARP ($650 billion) will be spent over the next 8 years.
The need to increase the debt ceiling and the appropriations process for fiscal year 2024 both provide excellent opportunities to revisit some of that spending and send clear messages — and perhaps do something — about the inflationary pressures associated with excessive federal spending.
Similarly, the farm bill is an ideal forum to improve border security and impose e-verify requirements on employers. The NDAA(s) and the FAA reauthorization are natural places to bring forward cybersecurity issues and make sure that we’re keeping the pressure on China, whether that means preparing Taiwan, banning TikTok from the U.S., or excluding the genocidal, slaving communist China from our capital markets.
Appropriations are always an optimal moment for both messaging and substantive amendments. Government shut-downs and the specter of such have been substantially discounted by voters. By now, they know it is all kabuki.
Congress can and should use the appropriations process to direct issues like the pending Treasury guidance on the domestic content provisions of energy tax credits. Congress should instruct the Department of Homeland Security to defend the border, and compel the Department of Justice to enforce laws and preserve public safety in those places where local authorities either have not or cannot.
There are, of course, numerous examples, but you get the point.
It would be refreshing, but probably well beyond the ability of Congress to avoid the now traditional end of the year legislative omnibus.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Congressional Republicans need to create a new Church Committee to set right what has gone wrong at the FBI and our intelligence agencies. The crimes committed — perjury, using one’s official position for political purposes, violating citizens’ rights under the color of federal law, subverting the electoral process — are considerably more grievous that those examined by the Jan. 6 committee.
But before any of those opportunities can be taken, the Republicans — especially those in the Senate — need to overcome their aversion to engaging in policy disputes. Or they need to get used to being in minority.
Michael McKenna is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
All republished articles must include our logo, our reporter’s byline and their DCNF affiliation. For any questions about our guidelines or partnering with us, please contact [email protected].