6 November 2010

Learning from experience

A thoughtful article in The Weekly Standard argues that Republican John Boehner, soon to be the new Speaker of the US House of Representatives - which is the chamber that controls the money - has learned from the last two occasions the Republicans were the House majority party.
What exactly has he learned? The overriding lesson from the Newt Gingrich era is that you can’t govern from Capitol Hill. It’s self-destructive even to try. Another danger to be avoided is allowing oneself, as Republican leader, to become the center of attention in Washington. Gingrich did. Boehner won’t.

When Tom DeLay was de facto leader of House Republicans - Denny Hastert was speaker - he was seduced by the entrenched culture of spending in Congress. He promoted earmarks to aid Republicans in securing their House seats, a tactic that famously failed in 2006. Boehner, in contrast, wants to take advantage of the current, though possibly short-lived, culture of spending cuts.
The Republican strategy, says TWS, is to approve a series of individual spending cuts in the House and send one a week to the Senate. Should Majority Leader Harry Reid refuse to allow a vote, Republicans intend to use an arcane Senate rule to bring them to the floor, forcing a vote.

All well and good, but something else experience teaches is that if the Republicans prevent tax hikes, reduce spending and the deficit, and prevent the implementation of expensive new health care and financial industry regulations, the economy will respond favourably - and Obama will get the credit.

After all, it happened before - when the Republicans forced welfare reform down Bill Clinton's throat, it was the turning point for his presidency and he went on to win a second term.

Of course the British parliamentary system is very different, but the dilemma is familiar. Why clean up the Augean Stables if after all the hard work is done, the electorate will vote the fiscally irresponsible horses back into the stables to gorge on the re-filled mangers and to shit all over everything again?

I'm not sure there is a solution. Politicians may learn from history, but voters do not.

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