Troubling Signs From New Republican House Majority

The GOP should focus on the future, not try to undo the past.

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Republicans have come out with guns cocked as they prepare to take over leadership of the House. This is natural; they've developed the kind of bunker mentality and solidarity in shared victimhood that comes from being in the House minority. As tough as it was for the GOP to be out of control in the House, Senate, and White House, it's most frustrating for House minority party members, since they have almost no real power. Senators in the minority can effectively rule the chamber by threatening filibusters; House minority members have to stand by and get rolled over by the Rules Committee, which is hyper-weighted to favor the majority party.

[See an Opinion slide show of the Republican Party’s five rising stars.]

Still, the early signs from the incoming leadership and new members are troubling. Republicans are determined to undo the healthcare reform law (or "Obamacare," as they call it, seeking to join those skeptical of healthcare overhaul and those who dislike Obama into one anti-Democratic package). True, the main power of the minority party is to stop things, but healthcare reform has already been signed into law. Trying to repeal it will fail--even if the House could pass it with a veto-proof majority, the Senate would filibuster such an idea. So again, Congress will retreat into the destructive but comfortable role of scheduling votes for political talking points rather than for addressing real problems their constituents face. Parts of the healthcare law undeniably need tweaking; a bill this big is always going to have elements that were wrongly included to get votes, or are just not workable in practice. Seeking to repeal healthcare will appease a core group of conservative voters the GOP needs to turn out in 2012. But it may also alienate the angry voters in both parties who punished incumbents last year because they got tired of congressional dysfunction. Republicans will do better in 2012—and have more credibility among voters across the spectrum—if they focus their energies on achieving things for the future, instead of undoing the past.

  • Read more about the 2012 elections.
  • Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the GOP.
  • See an Opinion slide show of the Republican Party's five rising stars.