Republicans haven’t been as bad as you think

David Harsanyi

Republicans, we’re told, were elected to Congress by the people, and yet they’ve done absolutely nothing.

As far as expectations go, Republicans deserve blame for making promises they couldn’t possibly fulfill — including the notion that they could repeal Obamacare. Then again, overpromising is not exactly a new political trend.

But did Republicans do nothing but surrender the last eight years?

If you oppose immigration reform, conservatives put an end to it in 2008, when Republicans controlled the White House and Democrats controlled Congress. They stopped it when Obama was in the White House and Democrats controlled both legislative branches. Republicans then filibustered the DREAM Act of 2010 and voted to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The GOP was too late to stop Obamacare, and they are partially at fault for failing to deal with health care at all. Yet only one Republican ever voted for the Affordable Care Act. The GOP sued Obama for rewriting the law without a vote of Congress and many have since lost count of how many times Republicans voted to repeal the act. They sent a repeal bill to the president’s desk.

Republicans also stopped cap-and-trade, which would have created a fabricated “market” for energy in the same way Obamacare fabricates “markets” for health insurance. Stopping it helped undermine Democrats’ efforts to make fossil fuels prohibitively expensive — which was, initially, the stated goal of this administration. When Obama circumvented Congress again, Republicans across the country sued the Environmental Protection Agency.

Conservatives in Congress also put an end to bipartisan gun-control legislation. They stopped the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act — twice — and the Paying a Fair Share Act of 2012, which would have raised taxes. They stopped the American Jobs Act bailout and the authoritarian card-check stuff. They stopped the DISCLOSE Act; and the sequestration replacement; and the Keep Student Loans Affordable Act of 2013; and the across-the-board federal minimum wage efforts. Republicans sued and won when Obama abused his power by naming recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.

This is not nothing.

Even more importantly, there is a counter-history to consider. There is no way to quantify how many Obama-led liberal initiatives would have been instituted without a Republican Congress. The Obama presidency would probably have been as far-reaching as any in modern history. The very gridlock these populists grouse about is a reflection of a divided electorate. Though I imagine that’s not the sort of argument that wins voters.

In the end, one of the persistent complaints about the GOP is that it was too cowardly facing the prospect of a government shutdown. Unlike prevailing wisdom, it’s doubtful shutting down government is always a loser for the GOP. Republicans have done just as well after shutdowns, historically.

But the idea of utilizing shutdowns regularly as means of shaping policy is unrealistic. You can shut down Washington all you like: Obama is not going to allow Obamacare to be dismantled, and Democrats are not going to offer major concessions in spending. Change takes a long-term commitment with smart policy and good arguments; Republicans don’t have them. Shutdowns just tend to prove it.

The fact is: Democrats got some of the things they wanted. But not all, or we’d be dealing with single-payer health care, carbon-trading energy markets, more union bailouts and about a dozen reforms that you didn’t even know existed.

David Harsanyi, author of “The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy,” is a senior editor at the Federalist.