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The Rodney Dangerfield Republicans

ADVANCE EDITORIAL from the JULY 29, 2013 issue.

2:34 PM, Jul 18, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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House Republicans don’t get no respect. Has there been in recent times a more derided, mocked, and pitied bunch? Establishment types think the backbenchers are Neanderthals, grassroots activists denounce the leadership as a bunch of squishes, and the media can’t find enough bad things to say about all of them.

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But you know what? The House Republicans deserve some respect. They’re doing okay.

At the beginning of the year, they navigated the perilous waters around the fiscal cliff without doing much damage to themselves, the economy, or conservatism. This week, they went on the offensive, showing tactical intelligence and nimbleness by forcing a vote on suspending Obamacare’s employer and individual mandates, in response to President Obama’s announcement two weeks ago of a delay of the employer mandate. They presented a united front, pried loose two dozen House Democrats, gave Senate Republicans legislation with which to make trouble in the near future, laid the groundwork for moving against Obamacare’s exchanges and subsidies in September, and more broadly began the process of putting Obamacare front and center for the 2014 election. In sum, the House GOP leadership seized the chance to move in a substantively sound and politically shrewd way to highlight the train wreck that is Obamacare, and they got the members to follow.

Meanwhile, in the face of Senate passage of the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill and massive pressure to get on board that potential train wreck, House Republicans refused to panic. In this instance, it was backbenchers, most prominently freshman Tom Cotton, who took the lead and pushed leadership not to bring anything to the floor in July, and to commit at least to wariness with respect to a potential Senate-House conference. Many traps lie ahead, but the immediate ones have been averted, and momentum for comprehensive reform has been slowed to a crawl. And House Republicans seem ready to make the case against the bill in a forceful and substantive way, avoiding foolish and damaging anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Everyone dumps on the House, but for the last few weeks, it’s been Senate Republicans who’ve been doing damage to conservatism. It was two Republican senators, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who, in response to a pseudo-crisis of military sexual assault, popped up to support Democratic legislation that would upend the military judicial system and strip commanders of authority. In their effort to placate the forces of left-wing legalism and feminist political correctness, these Republican senators buy into the calumny that the military officer corps is full of individuals who couldn’t care less about the men and women under their command. By contrast, it was the House Armed Services Committee​—​with the active participation of Reps. Martha Roby and Kristi Noem (elected in 2010) and Jackie Walorski (class of 2012)​—that ​took sensible and serious steps to address the problems that might exist, without damaging the authority of military commanders.

It was also the House Armed Services Committee, under the leadership of Rep. Buck McKeon, that at least tried to minimize the damage from reckless cuts to the defense budget. And it’s the House Foreign Affairs Committee that has passed tough sanctions on Iran. By contrast, the signal contribution of Senate Republicans on foreign policy came when some of them decided to grandstand about drone strikes on Americans in cafés. 

Lest we forget: It’s House Republicans who are unraveling the IRS scandal. In the face of the Gosnell revelations, it’s the House GOP that sailed into the teeth of a pro-abortion media onslaught to pass a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks​—​laying the groundwork for a national debate on the abortion issue that the pro-life side can win. Meanwhile, it was Senate Republicans who capitulated to Harry Reid’s threats on the filibuster, providing the votes to put bad nominees into powerful executive branch jobs.

 

Over the next 15 months, many things could go wrong, and some undoubtedly will. But conservative prospects look considerably brighter today than they did six months ago, and House Republicans deserve much of the credit. Not that they’ll get it. The House GOP is in the unenviable position of a long reliever in baseball who has to keep the game close in the middle innings. In this case, the tying runs won’t come to the plate until November 2014, and the winning run won’t cross the plate until November 2016. And in the event of such a victory, the contributions of House Republicans will be forgotten. But the cognoscenti will know. And while they don’t get much respect for now, House Republicans, like Rodney Dangerfield, will have the last laugh.

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