What a Republican Majority Can Accomplish

Even if they have made big promises, Republicans will probably try to work with this administration, not against it.

With the Republican Party now in the majority in the lower house of Congress, for the next two years, the party must stop boasting and prove that it can govern again.

Republicans have offered some clues of what they will do with their halfhearted Pledge to America. But other than promising to rein in spending somehow for the past two years in opposition, the party has largely refrained from suggesting concrete measures to reduce the deficit. Nevertheless, here are some things Americans can expect.

Budget

Republicans talk of fiscal responsibility but their track record and plans are anything but encouraging. Their Pledge to America contained almost no new proposals to seriously rein in spending. Rather their plans may add more than $700 billion to the debt.

Real proposals on spending cuts will not come from Republicans in Congress. They may come from the president’s bipartisan fiscal commission which will report its finding on December 1.

Tax cuts

Both parties have refused to compromise on the tax cuts they inherited from President George W. Bush. Republicans want to perpetuate the existing tax rates. Democrats want to cap any extension to middle incomes. If nothing happens before the end of this year, the tax cuts will simply expire and neither party wants that.

The two may be able to reach a compromise by redefining the difference between middle and high income. By extending the cap upward, Republicans can boast that they’ve saved the tax cuts for almost 99 percent of incomes while Democrats get to tax the very rich.

Energy

Even after BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, Democrats failed to enact energy reform. But the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to start implementing stricter regulation of power plants nonetheless which are the country’s top polluters.

While skeptical of climate change, Republicans do like the prospect of energy independence. With a majority in the House of Representatives, Republicans may be able to expand nuclear energy while as Speaker, John Boehner could seek to put together a legislative package that combines subsidies for renewable energies with provisions for additional drilling for hydrocarbons in Alaska and the Gulf.

Vast reserves of oil and natural gas are waiting to be exploited beneath the Atlantic coastline and northern coast of Alaska and on land, in Colorado and Wyoming. Combined, these regions hold over two hundred billion barrels of oil and 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that are recoverable with today’s technology. That’s more than most OPEC nations. If fully developed, it would be enough to free America from the import of foreign oil for almost fifty years.

Health care

Although Republicans campaigned aggressively against health-care reform this summer, they’re unlikely to repeal it. Their Pledge to America promises to make health care better but even with control of both houses of Congress, they haven’t enough seats to override a presidential veto against outright repeal.

Instead, Republicans may try to undercut the federal government’s ability to implement the least popular part of the law — the individual mandate which forces people to buy health insurance. By withholding funds for the IRS and health department in the House Appropriations Committee, which has to approve all federal spending, Republicans could try to “starve the beast.”

In any event, a vote to repeal Obamacare is possible, if only to satisfy the more aggressively anti-reformists in the new Tea Party caucus.

Afghanistan

The two parties don’t usually disagree on the outlines of foreign policy but recently, Afghanistan, and in particular the president’s July 2011 deadline with withdrawal, has given Republicans cause to complain.

Democrats may be able to win some allies on the issue however as Tea Party candidates pour into Washington this fall. They claim to be fiscal hawks and tend to be more isolationist than traditional Republican lawmakers. But only the most libertarian of tea partiers, including former presidential candidate Ron Paul, have vocally opposed the war. What is more, aside from rejecting overseas interventions, these Tea Party candidates also staunchly support the military and are unlikely to strike a deal with Democrats while the rest of their party cries “surrender.”