By Jed Babbin
Today the Senate will drop its huge lump of coal in our Christmas stockings by passing Harry Reid’s version of the Obamacare bill. And when it’s done, its members can join the already-recessed House for their much-anticipated if not well-earned Christmas vacation.
Congressional recesses, especially the Christmas break, were short vacations from politics until Bill Clinton invented the never-ending campaign. And Barack Obama has made the Clinton method a thousand times worse. In the “crisis for sale” environment Obama created, there is never a respite.
And in the few weeks between today and January 19 when congress reconvenes there will be none. Staff talks have already commenced and the moment they’re back the House-Senate conference on the Obamacare bill will begin. Who can doubt that the “crisis” in healthcare will be more urgent than ever when congress reconvenes?
So in those 26 days Republicans — especially the congressional leaders — have a lot to accomplish. They need to reach out to the voters — embodied by the Tea Party movement — that the Dems have not only failed to listen to, but refused to hear. The Republicans need to act upon the idea that right now — in less than four weeks — they can start the political tide that can stop Obama’s agenda and return them to congressional power.
This Christmas recess is more important than — and different from — previous recesses this year. Since President Obama was inaugurated, Republicans have been able to rely on the grass roots opposition to everything from the so-called “stimulus” package to Obama’s bill to nationalize healthcare.
The grass roots responded enthusiastically, focused and encouraged by talk radio and conservative media such as we. But let’s not take too much credit here: so much of the Tea Party uprising in the August recess, in the town hall meetings and the subsequent marches on Washington was fueled by the Democrats’ insistence that the Tea Partyers were “Astroturf”, phony grass roots, that had to be ignored. Which only made the protesters more angry and intent on delivering their message of opposition to Obamacare.
The difference now is that Republicans have to lead, not follow, the Tea Partyers and the Republican base. This summer’s uprising was a role reversal that allowed the voters to lead the leaders. Now, going into an election year, the leaders have to lead by convincing the potential followers to follow.
It shouldn’t be difficult. The Democrats have made it almost easy. The Dems are so isolated from reality that they think voters will not take revenge in November for everything from the failed “stimulus” that created the “jobless recovery” to their intramural bribefest in which Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) openly and proudly bought support for the healthcare bill from his fellow Dems with political bribes that would have brought a blush to Boss Tweed’s cheeks.
These bribes aren’t earmarks: this isn’t small-time stuff. These are structural changes to the nation’s healthcare system and how we are going to pay for it. These bribes are things such as Ben Nelson’s deal to sell his purported opposition to abortion funding for a Medicaid exemption saving his state $100 million at the expense of other states. It’s probably unconstitutional, but to Nelson and the Harrycare crew, who cares?
Max Baucus, Tom Harkin, “Countrywide Chris” Dodd, Mary Landrieu, Bill Nelson, the Hawaii Dans — Akaka and Inouye — as well as Byron Dorgan, Kent Conrad and others all lined up at Fast Harry’s payoff window to get their shares of the US Treasury.
With the national stage thus set, what can the Republicans do? As one radio talkshow host told me yesterday, the Republicans are making lots of great speeches, sending out press releases by the hundreds, writing op-eds and so forth. True enough. But to little avail, because the mainstream media has erected an electronic blockade around them in Washington.
There’s great danger for Republicans as well as opportunity. The danger is in misdirecting their fire, or in not explaining why some of their normal allies are doing so. Too many are outraged by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) using courtly language to describe Harry Reid and making a deal so that the final healthcare vote would take place Christmas Eve morning rather than that night.
But what they overlook are the six votes Reid promised McConnell on January 20, 2010. All of those votes will be recorded to show the Democrats increasing the federal deficit when Americans are still suffering 10% unemployment, fiddling while the economy continues to burn. President Obama is planning to give his State of the Union address on January 26, his chosen theme economic responsibility.
Which is going to be entirely laughable coming six days (or more if Obama delays) after McConnell’s six votes. McConnell’s maneuver may cost the Democrats more than one senate seat next year. He should be congratulated, not condemned. As should some of the House Republican leaders.
At a House Republican conference meeting on December 16, Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind) presented an aggressive media plan for the recess which required members to give up some of the time they’d otherwise have with family and friends. About two-thirds of the Republicans immediately embraced the plan (and more are reportedly coming on board.)
They’ll be out there — on radio, television and in print — all through the recess. And what makes this most important is that they’ll be doing it locally, breaking through the electronic blockade the national media has thrown around them in Washington.
This is the key to turning the political tide: get around the national media and speak directly to the voters. Ronald Reagan did it. House and Senate Republicans can, if only they invest enough time and energy in pursuit of that goal.
Pence gets it, and so do the other members of the Republican Study Committee, the official conservative caucus in the House. But, again, there is danger of misdirected fire.
After the December 16 meeting, more than one member of the Republican caucus called me to say they were worried that Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Oh) wasn’t going to put enough energy behind Pence’s plan. But when I spoke to Boehner the day after the December 16 meeting, he said that he’s totally on board with Pence’s plan and pushing it hard.
Leadership is vastly different from management. Few people even understand the difference. Part of it is to accept the fact that you’re often going to be challenged and responding to the challenges positively and creatively.
Republican leaders should be challenged to do more and held accountable at every milestone. But let’s not forget that we have carrots as well as sticks.