By the end of this week, the House and Senate GOP will have branded themselves in the eyes of many millions of activists, especially with the tea partiers hot-wired into the lame-duck doings and worried that all of their work and all of their money will have produced just another group of Beltway Republicans.
Speaker-designate John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have been fighting to establish the new GOP’s credibility on a range of issues, but House seniority imperils the Boehner effort, while the Senate’s legendary ability to deafen an individual senator to public opinion is at work even on GOP senators facing perilous roads to re-election in 2012.
On the House side, the selection of three chairmen for three key committees this week will telegraph the depth of the GOP’s resolve to tackle the nation’s problems. If Alabama’s Rep. Spencer Bachus is named chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, every Sarah Palin supporter will instantly conclude that Boehner is against them. When Bachus slammed Palin last month, he made this chairmanship contest a test of Boehner’s commitment to the new activists.
If Georgia’s Rep. Jack Kingston isn’t leading the House Appropriations Committee by Friday, the message will be that, while spending may be curbed for a moment, the old bulls are simply biding their time.
The likely election of Michigan’s Rep. Fred Upton to head the House Energy and Commerce Committee will not damage the leadership’s credibility with the grass roots if California’s Ed Royce takes over Financial Services instead of Bachus and Kingston gets the gavel at Appropriations.
But if Upton rises with Bachus and California’s Jerry Lewis atop of Appropriations, the message will be loud and clear: The Beltway Republicans have returned.
Boehner has a huge choice before him, and throwing himself into the fight for reform will mean a tough conversation with some old friends, but the new speaker will never get a second chance to make his first impression.
On the Senate side, the letter from all 42 members of the GOP caucus on the need to extend all the tax rates was a great start, but individual senators immediately began to announce their own positions. A two-year extension coupled with massive spending will be seen as a major collapse of the GOP.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., is pushing to railroad ratification of a crucial international arms accord, START, a terrible idea for a lame-duck Congress under any circumstances. Lugar is a fine public servant, but this crusade at this time will almost certainly draw for him a destructive primary challenge.
Then there is “don’t ask don’t tell,” which must now be amended to add “don’t debate.” If, as reported in some places, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., vote to rush a repeal in the lame duck, the insult will be immense to the activists of their states who worked and spent to support successful candidates across the country who should have a vote on this major issue.
The lame-duck Congress ought not to be deciding anything of consequence. That is the deep-felt position of the GOP base, and the Beltway GOP should honor it.
Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.