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Becoming a Governing Party

The meaning of John Boehner's remarks today.

10:55 AM, Sep 8, 2010 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Less than a week ago, on September 2, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor had an op-ed in USA Today. It was a perfectly good statement of GOP opposition to President Obama's plan to raise taxes on upper-income Americans. Though Cantor mentioned GOP alternatives, his piece was fundamentally a statement of opposition: "Republicans categorically oppose hiking taxes in times of economic crisis [emphasis added]." And it presumed--perhaps for rhetorical effect--that Republican opposition would (unfortunately) be ineffectual: "Next year, President Obama is going to preside over one of the largest tax increases on families and small businesses in American history."

Becoming a Governing Party

Today, the GOP begins to move beyond expressions of lamentation and opposition to proposals for governing. During an appearance on Good Morning America, House Minority Leader John Boehner laid out the core of the short-term GOP governing agenda: A two-year extension of current tax rates, and a cut in domestic discretionary spending back to 2008 levels. Boehner presents this as something he--and Republicans--would like to see legislated, certainly in January if they take control and he becomes speaker, but even this month, if Democrats and the Obama administraton will cooperate. Thus Boehner's statement this morning that he is willing to work in a bipartisan way with Democrats--and with the Obama administration--to make this tax and spending freeze law now.


He says this despite the fact that if Democrats in fact took Boehner up on his offer to move this legislation now, thereby allowing Democrats to vote this month against a tax hike and for a spending freeze, it might well help Democrats in swing districts and competitive states this November.

But Boehner is right to make the offer, and to insist that he would be happy to move on this legislation now. It marks the beginning of a necessary transition from GOP opposition to the outlines of GOP plans for governing--a transition the GOP will have to make in any case in November, and a transition voters will be reassured now to see the GOP is capable of making.

Boehner's proposal is only the beginning of this transition, of course. Right now, Republicans can emphasize the short-term need to act in a simple and achievable way to stop the damage being done by Obama, by freezing taxes and spending. In January, Republicans will have to go further, seeking in the medium-term to improve our situation by repealing Obamacare, halting various regulatory burdens, and perhaps proposing a payroll tax holiday along the lines laid out by Mitch Daniels in today's Wall Street Journal.

Then in April, Republicans under the leadership of Paul Ryan, who, if all goes well in November, will be chairman of the House Budget Committee, will have to lay out a comprehensive budget, one that should embody a serious and long-term program of re-limiting government and restoring economic health. This budget will and should be more radical than Boehner's and Daniels's proposals.

But with Boehner's remarks today, we now see the outlines of a three-step GOP political-economic strategy that is at once sensible and bold, and that avoids the twin temptations of mere tactical opposition on the one hand and Obama-like overreach on the other. What we might call the Boehner to Daniels to Ryan three-step will be tricky to pull off. But it is the necessary prelude and prerequisite to what is ultimately most important--a credibly bold GOP presidential agenda in 2012.

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