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Making political reform winning issues for Congressional Republicans

By Bruce Walker
web posted February 4, 2002

Democrats, who have been unable to get any traction on policy issues or to portray President Bush or his allies as monsters, have fallen back on the single arrow in their pathetic: imply that President Bush and Republicans are up to their necks in shady support from big money and "the system." That is why "campaign finance reform" and "Enron" are brought up as often as possible.

While none of this really touches President Bush, who is as magnificent as president as Bart Starr at quarterback or Jolting Joe DiMaggio at the plate. His State of the Union Address - correctly long on principles and themes and short on laundry lists - is another grand slam (or maybe just a triple) and even Hillary! seemed compelled to smile (a little) and nod.

Republicans in Congress are another matter. The President's popularity will help Republicans across the board, but simply parrying Democrat thrusts on campaign finance reform is not enough: Republicans need to go on the attack, and they need to do it on the same issue Democrats have raised "the political system."

Let us remind the American people what House Republicans did the first day that they had power: completely overhaul the corrupt House of Representatives which had given America a convicted felon as Chair of the House Ways & Means Committee (arguably the most important committee in Congress) and the huge stench of the House Banking Scandal.

Although Republicans had only a slender majority, these reforms passed by overwhelming margins. Why? Because the existing system of Democrat feudal rule was absolutely indefensible.

The Democrat bosses of the House of Representatives had prevented these internal reforms from even coming up for a vote.

These real reforms did not require Senate approval or the signature of the President. No House member has seriously suggested that the House return to the "good old days" of Jim Wright, Dan Rostenkowski, and Tom Foley. House Republicans should aggressively remind people why respect for Congress as an institution was abysmal in 1994 and is high in 2001. How? Here are some ideas.

Speaker Hastert should bring before the House a few weeks before the November election those same reforms which Republicans passed in January 1995, and he should insist on a roll call vote. Let each House member cast a vote endorsing the reforms which the Republicans instituted or rejecting those reforms (and showing what Democrats would do if they regained power). It is a win/win situation for Republicans and a lose/lose situation for Democrats.

House Republicans should then challenge those Democrats who have just voted to endorse the way Republicans have been running the House by taking a public pledge not to modify any of these reforms should Democrats retake the House. If Gephardt claims to be offended by this, simply point out: "Dick, you were Majority Leader before 1994 and you have the chance to implement these rules. We just want the people to know you see that what we did in this area was right, and that you will not go back to the old ways." Or something like that.

Then the Speaker should propose new House Rules which address in ways supported by Republicans those campaign finance issues which Democrats profess to champion. Campaign finance reform and related political reforms do not require a federal statute: each House of Congress can by rule create sanctions for how its members act.

Should labor unions be allowed to contribute to campaigns of members who oversee their organizing? Should non-profit organizations be allowed to give in-kind support to members who deal with appropriating tax dollars for these "worthy" activities?

How about term limits - the ultimate equalizer of Congressional power. The House of Representative cannot compel House members to only serve three or four terms in Congress, but it certainly can pass House Rules which say that any Congressmen who serves eight years will be denied any committee assignment.

Perhaps a House Rule that any House member under suspicion of murder should be denied a committee assignment and half his staff reduced by half. There are many good ways to put the corrupt Democrats on the defensive and keep them on the defensive, specifically in how they ran the House of Representatives.

Democrats will moan, of course, that this does not go far enough. House Republicans can respond that neither party has been able to enact statutory laws because of gridlock, but the modification of House Rules requires a simple majority of House members.

These can become potent tools against House Democrats in the November elections, and should utterly defang the rather limp argument of Democrat-inspired campaign finance reform. But there is even more good to be done than this.

Speaker Hastert and Minority Leader Lott should then challenge Plurality Leader Daschle to "Go thou and do likewise." Senate Republican leaders should come out in the Senate adopting the same good rules that the House of Representatives has already adopted. Daschle, of course, would not want these changes and he could not get them passed by the Senate anyway. The Senate is one giant squabbling society. One "version" would be offered and then another Senate nabob would introduce another "version" and so on.

At this point, the President can step in by issuing Executive Orders that largely mirror those reforms adopted by the House of Representatives. So the Republican White House and the Republican House of Representatives would have actually done something positive, while the Democrat Senate just sits and complains.

Republicans are already building a pretty good case against a "do nothing Senate" and this is the perfect opportunity to take that last, risible complaint of the Democrats - "reforming the system" - and turn in into another Democrat vulnerability. That party stands for nothing for power and tenure: Let us make that crystal clear to the American people before November 2002. The House of Representatives and the President can do that, and they should.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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