Substance over Style: Things the 112th Congress Should Do

And What We Need to Do to Support Them

The new session of Congress has just begun, and Speaker Boehner and the Republican Majority are off to a great start.

The shooting in Tucson, the forced ‘lesson’ about the ‘toxic rhetoric’ and call for unity now being trumpeted by the media and the Democrats are attempts to deflect the Republicans and move the agenda back to the left.

If the Republicans are smart, they won’t take the bait — this shiny new lure of style over substance aimed only at the conservatives.

The new Republican majority in Congress has made a great start at dealing with substance over style, and they should continue.  The first thing they should do next week is reject the most recent ‘style’ suggestion: to mix the Democrats and Republicans seating during the State of the Union Address.  This is an attempt to disguise the deep, substantive divisions that do exist regarding the future of the country.  To pretend for the purpose of political theater that these divisions are absent is to attempt to fool the American people and the world — and we’re not buying it.  This seating arrangement also has the intended purpose of showing submission to the President (as it will tend to force unanimous ovations and such), which is clearly not the opinion of about half the public.  The engagement of millions during the last election was about making the equal branches of government work together for the benefit of the nation — not for Congress to capitulate and accommodate the Executive Branch as it went far adrift of Constitutionally granted powers. The American people want results that benefit the country in the end, but our history and tradition are solidly supportive of differing viewpoints working out that course, and separation of powers to ensure that course is aligned with our Constitution.  Squelching debate or differing opinions should not be the goal — allowing the public to see and understand the dissent in the clear light of day and informing the public’s choice should be the goal.

The Republicans should work for substance over style as they craft the budgets and laws during this session.  They should hold the various committee hearings, largely in the open, and show the American people the intent of the laws being drafted and the reasons for them.  They should call witnesses, both pro and con, who offer facts, not political theater of victimhood or feelings about what might be.  Where the facts are subject to interpretation, they should understand the risks of various alternatives, and strive to choose the option with the greatest chance of securing our liberty and prosperity.  They need to run the committee hearings as ‘a tight ship’ and get the facts needed to craft the bills and move on.  They need to allow dissenting opinions, and then reject them when the opinions call for action that is not based on Constitutional principles–and be unafraid to do so.

The Republicans should institute rules that properly treat the process of legislation as the serious task that it is (I think they’ve already accomplished this, but we need to ‘trust and verify’ that the rules are followed). No more bills that no one reads; no more 2,000+ page monstrosities that delve into every nook and cranny of people’s lives and freedoms; no more ramming legislation through in the dead of night; no more ‘no budgets’ before the end of the fiscal year; no more inserting language in bills to authorize pork barrel spending on things that were not identified in committee hearings.  They should operate under one simple premise: a bill is ready to hit the floor when there is nothing left to cut out of it, rather than there’s nothing left to add.

Finally, the substance that over 70 percent of the public wants to see is thoughtful and deep reductions in spending.  This is going to be hard; the media and various interest groups are going to come out of the woodwork to demonize and deflect the attempts to end programs and reduce funding.  The Republicans in Congress must simply steel their nerves and walk into the disaster that is the federal budget and attempt to salvage our future.   If they are consistent and fact-based, and they communicate continuously while they’re at it, we can and will support them. And that support must be vigorous, active and personal.

They will win in the end, because there is one simple fact:  there is no more money.  We either cut spending or collapse as a nation.  The Republicans need to expose any Democrats that are ‘deniers’ about the budget just as tenaciously as the Democrats  do battle with Republicans on global warming and other favorite causes.

When they find Democrats that are of like minds regarding liberty, prosperity and the Constitution, by all means they should encourage them to join in the effort and work together — but the Republicans must not allow themselves to be brow beaten into submitting to half measures in the name of bi-partisanship.  Working to be only $850B in debt instead of $1T isn’t what the country needs; negotiating over half steps to appear bi-partisan is unwanted.

In the end, the Republicans need to convey the message that they are fighting for the future of the nation. They need to wage a campaign (there goes that violent rhetoric again — deal with it)  of substantive actions that are meant to restore our liberty and prosperity, and not simply try to win style points for civility and bi-partisanship.

At the same time, those of us who desire and fight for limited government must be right behind the Congress in with ideas regarding how to address some very real problems without the help of the federal government.  We acknowledge that the homeless, the unemployed and the sick need help, but our message is always washed away by the media.  We need to confront that and demonstrate that we are doing things to assist people — and that we have even more ideas now.  Instead of ‘National Day of Service’ exercises to feel good for a day, we must show how people right now are making a difference every day — and help them establish the means to continue.

As Vassar Bushmills has written in an earlier post, this isn’t going to be easy for the 112th Congress. I believe they can pull it off if they go for substance over style, but they will need our help.  As President Bush said after 9/11 to the military leaders during his speech to the joint session of Congress, “Be Ready.”