First, thanks to those of you who are preparing to retire having given to your service in the United States Congress. It is a great job but not usually an easy one, especially when the phones and email boxes are jammed by angry constituents.
Which, it appears, they are about to be. For those of you on your way out, I realize it is so much background noise. What matters to many of you is your Christmas travel plans, and a few of you care about your relationships with leadership as you prepare for new lobbying careers.
This memo is really to those who are staying for the new Congress and who hope to stay many years beyond 2015-2016, and in the majority. Here is some unsolicited advice –do you ever actually solicate advice from non-Beltway staffers and “experts?”– on how to avoid squandering your enormous political momentum with the base even before the new majority takes its collective seat.
First, do not cut the expected hike in the military housing allowance or increase the deductible applicable to medical services for military families on active duty. I would hope the GOP learned its lesson last year that your base is deeply committed to the proposition that the active duty and retired-career military should be the last category to receive benefit cuts, not the first in line to get whacked. If any of you missed that message, consult with your constituents. Once branded as indifferent to the impact of such moves on the career military, it is very, very hard to shake that reputation off. Don’t earn it. Simply refuse to vote for a National Defense Authorization Act that imposes those changes and cuts. “Keep Your Promise” was the rallying cry last year and it will be as potent this time around.
Next, do not vote for a Continuing Resolution that is other than a stop-gap measure. Allowing a lame duck Congress to set spending for the balance of 2015 just after the country voted overwhelmingly to reject the authority of Harry Reid and his allies over that process would itself be a rejection of the people’s vote. I and most voters understand your reluctance to shut down the government, but if the president and Harry Reid refuse a reasonable resolution of the December 11 deadline –one which does not gut the new Congress of its full authority– then close down and come back when Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell control every bit of the agenda.
If the federal government closes over Christmas there will be some inconvenience but no major catastrophe –just as 2013’s closure yielded no major disruptions of services or any lasting political damage. What will cause lasting political damage is a cave-in now that sets up a cave-in in September. No one cares about “tax-extenders” or terrorism insurance, but appearing to empower Harry Reid beyond early January is a huge strategic communications blunder. Standing firm on the proposition that America just voted for change, not to empower lame ducks, is a huge strategic communications opportunity. Please don’t blow it.
Look, this president only knows how to do one thing, which is how to make the Congressional GOP look bad –very bad in fact. That is his goal, his entire reason for being for the next 24 months. The president intends to force a shut down next fall, and no matter what you try and do between now and then, he will force that shutdown. The only thing you can do successfully is frame his incipient irresponsibility by quickly passing an updated version of the Ryan Budget –one which removes the sequester from the Department of Defense– and then follow up with the appropriations bills that conform to that budget, communicating every day of the year that you are acting responsibly and the president is refusing to do so.
a CR by the new Congress may be necessary in January if the president overreaches right now, but that will be crafted by the Speaker and Leader McConnell, not the Speaker and Harry Reid.
If you cave now and give the president everything he wants because you are afraid of some bad press over the Christmas season, all hope of standing firm next year will be gone.
So please, no hits on the military and no round heels on the December CR. This isn’t hard. You just won a huge victory at the polls. Act like it. Act like winners, not losers, and be confident that the Beltway media isn’t fooling anyone as it sides with the president even after the shellacking he received on November 4.
GOP and independent voters delivered a huge majority. Wait for it to arrive in town and then use it. And if the 40 days between then and now are full of unpleasant columns on RealClearPolitics.com, recall the same thing was true in the fall of 2013 and meant nothing at all in the fall of 2014. Get the narrative established now, not next fall when the president hopes to replay 2013 and keep that drama going as long as he can.