House Republicans are pushing a new message: We have ideas too.
“I think in order to maximize our year, it’s important that we show the American people we’re not just the opposition party – we’re actually the alternative party,” House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday at a press conference kicking off a GOP strategy retreat in Maryland.
“I think Republicans have to do more to talk about the better solutions we think we have that will help the American people grow their wages, have better opportunities, get a better job – and clearly, have a better shot at the American dream,” he added.
It’s a pivot for Republicans, who want to have something to show to voters (beyond last year’s government shutdown) in this fall’s midterm elections. The party is sensitive to attacks premised on the record-low productivity of Congress in 2013, and Democrats’ labeling of the GOP as simply a “Party of No.”
The shift has been reflected somewhat since that government shutdown, which bruised the GOP politically and helped Boehner reassert authority over rank-and-file lawmakers. Since then, the House has passed a compromise budget agreement and offered final approval just this week to a new Farm Bill, a massive piece of agricultural legislation.
And Republicans are expected to mull a statement of principles on immigration reform, a major priority during this Congress and a politically-sensitive issue for the long-term health of the GOP as a whole. And House Republican leaders wrote President Barack Obama on Thursday to highlight areas of common ground in the president’s State of the Union address on which they and Democrats could work together.
To get there will require GOP leaders to conquer some familiar demons.
Republican leaders’ primary challenge involves managing the Tea Party wing of their own party. The past three years have seen repeated instances in which GOP leaders’ best attempts at advancing legislation were undermined when conservatives balked and Democrats refused to offer their support. Boehner and Cantor won’t be able to transform the GOP into the party of alternatives unless they are able to rein in their conservative flank.