What You See Is What You Get

It was bad enough that House Republican Leader Eric Cantor’s Great Big Speech at the American Enterprise Institute on February 5 was largely barren of anything like the new policy ideas it was advertised to offer. The worse news, from Roll Call‘s David Drucker, is that the speech was a template for a host of “messaging bills” House Republicans intend to introduce and promote in the weeks and months ahead:

Cantor said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that bills on the topics he discussed in the speech, including education, economic growth, health care and immigration, would be rolled out in the coming weeks and months. And, in fact, sources said Monday that the Virginia congressman vetted the speech with Boehner, GOP committee chairmen and other leaders before delivery to secure support for moving legislation through the House.

Republicans are still bracing for brutal fights over federal spending, enacting a fiscal 2014 budget and raising the debt ceiling, and many are relishing the debate.

But just as Obama has moved to broaden his agenda beyond fiscal issues and turned to executive orders to implement change opposed by the GOP, House Republican leaders hope to take control of the political debate by eschewing fights with the president and pursuing a more diverse policy course than that which guided the first two years of their new majority and focusing attention on what they would do if they ran Washington.

Interesting parallel, eh? Obama’s moved to executive actions because congressional Republicans have obstructed any legislative progress on any of the country’s big problems. Congressional Republicans are moving to “messaging bills”–which unlike executive actions have no impact whatsoever–because they have obstructed any legislative progress on any of the country’s big problems.

More generally, the coffee’s really getting stale in the waiting room for Republican “new ideas.” Yeah, they can dust off school vouchers, block grants, tax subsidies for child-bearing, tax bribes for corporate investment, and so on and so forth, but at some point they have to move from anecdote and example to an actual agenda. Since the Ryan Budget is the closest thing they’ve produced to one of those in many years, that’s all we’ve really got to go by. Otherwise, what little you see is what little’s you’ll get.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.