Phillip Klein | Setting realistic expectations for Obama’s second term

As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, intra-conservative conflicts over the proper Republican approaches to the “fiscal cliff” debate and the “debt ceiling” impasse have ultimately come down to a broader question: what should conservatives realistically expect from Republicans in President Obama’s second term?

During the primaries and throughout the general election, my position was always that conservatives should try to elect as many small government Republicans to the House and Senate as possible, in the hopes that they could push a Republican president to actually govern as a conservative. In fact, after Mitt Romney won the nomination, I wrote an ebook based around this premise. Had Romney become president, I argued, the goal of conservatives should have been to pressure him to overhaul the tax code, reform entitlements and repeal and replace Obamacare with free market reforms. If he didn’t make progress on these fronts – even with a GOP Congress – I would have been part of the chorus of voices blasting Republicans for abandoning small government principles and being all around useless as a political party.

After Obama was re-elected and Democrats maintained control of the Senate, however, I adjusted my views of what was possible in the next four years. But many of my fellow conservatives have not.

To be sure, I think the fact that Republicans maintained control of the House still means that they can and should prevent sweeping new expansions of government from being enacted. But I don’t think that they can achieve meaningful reforms to entitlements, the tax code or health care. In tangible policy terms, the existence of a Republican House means that Obama’s second term isn’t going to see a repeat of the type of big bills we saw last time – an $800 billion economic stimulus, financial regulatory reform and Obamacare. House Republicans have the power to block gun control, “cap and trade,” and new stimulus legislation. But they aren’t going to get any policies passed that reduce the nation’s long-term spending trajectory in a meaningful way.


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