House GOP wants something to show for their efforts

House Republicans, both the leadership and rank-and-file members, are not unaware of their circumstances. After massive wins in the 2010 midterms, GOP officials started 2011 with high hopes.

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan. Republicans have seen their popularity deteriorate; they’ve failed to persuade much of anyone as to the value of their policy agenda; and most independent projections suggest the GOP will lose quite a few seats, if not their majority, in November.

With this in mind, Republican leaders realize 2011 was a horrid year, and have sketched out a game plan for 2012, sharing a legislative agenda with its caucus. Jake Sherman reports today that rank-and-file GOP members have seen the plans and think it’s “lame.”

Staring nervously at a high unemployment rate, with the November elections around the corner, GOP lawmakers are concerned that what their leadership is revealing for this year’s work is simply not enough.

In short, they’re yearning for more than Speaker John Boehner’s signature infrastructure and energy production bill, and they worry they’re going to go home to campaign with a light legislative resume.

“We need to get more done,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), when asked if what has been laid out is enough. “Our unemployment in Ohio is still too high — it’s 8.5 percent. I remember when Ohio had 4.5 percent unemployment.”

And with Congress’s approval ratings in the gutter, Republicans are sick of blaming the Senate for their inaction. They want real legislative victories, not just GOP bills that pass out of the House and go nowhere on the other side of the dome.

This is a healthy attitude for lawmakers to have, and it’s a fairly pleasant surprise to hear the perspective coming from a radicalized caucus. Right about now, there should be hundreds of House members coming to a clear realization: in about nine months, they’re going to ask their constituents for another term, and they’ll have nothing to show for two years worth of work.

Granted, Republicans won’t be eager to hand the White House any election-year victories, but at a certain point, self-interest also kicks in — voters are probably more inclined to like lawmakers who can point to some accomplishments. “Look at all the bills that didn’t go anywhere” makes for lousy campaign commercials.

But there’s an element here that the House GOP may not fully appreciate: if they’re going to actually legislate in 2012, they’re going to have to (cue scary music) compromise. There is, after all, a Democratic-led Senate and a Democratic White House. If any bill of consequence is going to become law — a big “if,” at this point — it’s going to need bipartisan support.

Are those saying “we need to get more done” prepared to accept concessions? Are they prepared for give and take? Are they ready to accept less than 100% of what they want, knowing that Democrats may get some of what they want?

“We can’t blame everything on the Senate. The average American doesn’t realize that,” Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) said. “We need to quit passing bills over here and cheering for ourselves when we know they’re dead on arrival over there.”

Yes, you do. And yes, the agenda put together by Boehner/Cantor is probably very thin and uninspiring.

But House Republicans who want to accomplish something are going to have to meet Democrats at least part-way, and for a long while, the very idea has been rejected by the GOP as unacceptable, if not ridiculous.

GOP members want to do something meaningful? It’s up to them to be responsible, take policymaking seriously, and sit at the big-kids’ table. I’m not optimistic.