The Blank-Sheet Congress

Bill Scher

“Last Thursday, a group of House Republicans filed into Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s Capitol office suite and received a blank piece of paper labeled ‘Agenda 2014.'” So reported Politico this week.

Now, the Republican intention is to fill that blank piece of paper before Election Day. But the fact that they are literally starting at Step 1, one year since the last election, three years since Republicans took control of the House, is revealing.

In 2012, House Republicans wrapped their entire agenda in their budget, a vision of gutted government and the end of Medicare as we know it. Mitt Romney named the architect of the budget, Rep. Paul Ryan, as his running mate. It didn’t work out so well.

But instead of responding to the defeat of their vision at the ballot box in 2012 with fresh policy ideas, Speaker John Boehner responded with this: “We should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”

By Boehner’s own metric, Republicans are a failure: they haven’t repealed a single thing.

And by making “repeal” the benchmark for success and not actual legislation, Republicans have also failed to invest any intellectual effort into developing plausible ideas for solving challenging problems like long-term unemployment and widening inequality.

Just this week, The Washington Post caught up with Ryan, who it reported is “trolling center-right think tanks and intellectuals for ideas to replace the ‘bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs’ that Ryan blames for ‘wrecking families and communities’ since Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty in 1964.”

What does he have so far? “The takeaway for Ryan, a Catholic, has been explicitly religious. ‘You cure poverty eye to eye, soul to soul,’ he said last week at the Heritage forum. ‘Spiritual redemption: That’s what saves people.’ How to translate spiritual redemption into public policy? So far, Ryan’s speeches have been light on specifics.”

Why is it so hard for them? As Bruce Bartlett told the Post: “They want to care. But they’re so imprisoned by their ideology that they can’t offer anything meaningful.”

Having took themselves out of the race of ideas for so long, Republicans find themselves stuck near the starting line. And it still doesn’t look like they are trying to run all that fast.

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