Just two years after being thoroughly stomped in the 2008 elections, and being declared functionally dead, the Republican Party roared back to victory yesterday, seizing control of the House of Representatives, dramatically narrowing its disadvantage in the Senate, picking up eight gubernatorial seats (with several undecided) and a bunch of state legislative seats.
Now, having won governing power, you have to do something really radical and actually govern!
In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Tom Corbett won the gubernatorial race. He's going to have a General Assembly in which the Republicans control both Houses. Translation: incoming Governor Corbett will have no excuses!
Mr Corbett has stated that he will not support any tax increases to deal with Pennsylvania's looming budget shortfall. That's good; I approve. But that means he's going to have to do what his supposed role model, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) has done, and that's slash spending dramatically. Governor Christie has made a lot of people in the Garden State hate his guts; if Mr Corbett is going to keep his promises, he has to be willing to do the same thing. If Mr Corbett and the Republican-controlled state legislature are willing to actually take the tough decisions, including those which make a lot of people who leach off the state budget angry, the majority of Pennsylvanians will approve, and the majority of Pennsylvanians will return them to office in the next election.
The Republican wins in Congress give them more power, but the Democrats still control the Senate and the White House. We'll be told that the House Republicans will have to compromise, but what they will really have to do is present real, solid alternatives.
The first place they can start is to revamp the entire budget process. Right now, the budget of the United States is passed in twelve omnibus appropriations bills, several of which fund more than one federal department. These bills are just plain huge, and, as a consequence, legislators insert controversial items in with non-controversial ones, in appropriations bills which cover so much that they can't be rejected. The Republicans should pass appropriations in smaller, tighter bills, bills which can be read and understood and which, if rejected by the Senate or vetoed, won't shut down whole sections of the government, but which will impact the government in smaller, more narrowly tailored ways.
Along with that, by passing appropriations measures every year, the whole budget process gets stacked up and harder to review. The answer is simple: pass half of the appropriations bills for two-year periods, and then, the next year, pass appropriations bills for the other half of the budget for two-year periods. In that manner, each year the Congress will have to pass appropriations for only half of the government, allowing more time for scrutiny and consideration.
The way we do things now stacks the deck in favor of higher spending: congressmen, Republican and Democrat alike, insert their pet projects, different agencies ask for things they want, special interest groups lobby for things which they think are good, and it all gets pushed into huge bills with far-too-little scrutiny. If the Republicans were to adopt these two simple ideas, they would be well-supported, and really uncontroversial, and the Democrats in the Senate would pretty much have to accept them (for political reasons), but they would reduce the pressure on ever-higher spending.
Another thing that the House Republicans could do, on their own, without any need for the cooperation of the White House or the Senate, is to establish what I'd call the [insert slang term for the sphincter here] budget review. The Republicans need to hire a group of [insert plural slang term for the sphincter here] to go over everything in the budget, people who are hard-hearted enough to look at every little item and ask the simple question -- so simple it doesn't get asked often enough -- why do we really need this particular thing, with the emphasis on the word "need." How much stuff gets passed, like this, which might be nice to have, but with which we can either do more cheaply or do without completely?