GOP Must Turn Up the Heat on Senate Democrats

Republicans can't govern the country from one House of Congress, but they can make great mischief for the Democrats who control the Senate.

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Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) stands with incoming freshman members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, on November 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. He was joined by (L-R) Tim Kaine (D-VA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Angus King (I-ME). (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stands with incoming members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, Nov. 14, 2012.

We all know the narrative by now: Things are bad, bad, bad for the Republicans in Washington, and life couldn't be better for the Democrats.

President Obama has a 52 percent approval rating; House Speaker John Boehner is at 18. Indeed, just 26 percent view Republicans favorably. And yes, that was the steamroller you heard cranking up during the inaugural address on Monday.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

President Obama methodically shredded his own image—created out of whole cloth by his handmaidens in the media—as a pragmatist with a centrist bent. Indeed, the president left no doubt he wants to cement his legacy as a big-government social Democrat, bring an end to Reagan-era thinking in America, ignore the truly pressing fiscal issues of the day—spending, debt, jobs, the economy and runaway entitlements—and pick and win a partisan brawl for the entirety of his second term.

It will be tempting for Republicans to double down on the dig-in-at-every-turn strategy. The base loves a good fight. The urgency to reduce spending cannot be denied. And it does at least slow the march toward Greece.

But they should resist this strategy—not because it's not best for America but because there is a better way. Americans don't like the GOP, but they are comfortable—by large majorities—with much of what the party stands for. Nearly half the 243 Republicans in the House can reasonably be described as Tea Party adherents, and nearly three fourths of Americans say government spends too much and the president does not show sufficient concern for this.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

So, if dig-in-our-heels is not the answer, what is? If being the "Party of No" won't work, what will? Republicans can't govern the country from one House of Congress, but they can make great mischief for the Democrats who control the Senate. It's time they force the Senate to do its job. For as low as Boehner's approval ratings are, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's are even lower—down to 16 percent in a recent poll.

Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal says Reid "hides divisions among Democrats by turning the Senate into the world's least deliberative body." It's time to force the Senate to do some deliberations.

It can start by producing a budget. House Republicans took a good first step when they decided to ignore the debt ceiling until May so long as the Senate produced a budget by then. The Senate has not produced a budget in more than three years, and polls show Americans are tired of their country being run on a series of short-term continuing resolutions.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

The Senate won't approve budgets because budgets are about priorities, and the Democrats who run the Senate aren't on the same page when it comes to priorities. They don't agree on fiscal matters. They definitely don't agree on the raft of gun control policies that are coming our way in the wake of Newtown. They don't agree about the environment, entitlement reform, or even social issues—a.k.a. pretty much all the issues President Obama dwelled on in his speech.

And while President Obama never again has to stand for election, senators do. Six Democratic Senate seats, in fact, are up in 2014 in states—Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia—where the president claimed less than 42 percent of the vote last November. Four others are up in states likely to be battlegrounds in the 2016 presidential election—Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, and Iowa. How vigorously can these senators support the president's sharp turn to the left?

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

The country doesn't know it now, but it needs Republicans to resist the urge to die on this hill or that. It needs them to accurately assess the levers of power and to push and pull on the right ones. Because this is not about hills. This is about mountains of debt, peaks of popularity, and the ugly valleys of electoral politics.

Choose incorrectly, and the president might well achieve his goal of destroying the Republican Party as a viable electoral force. Choose correctly, and 2014 and, especially, 2016, could be bright years indeed.

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