Republicans wrestle with how they would govern if they win back majority

Republicans are beginning to publicly wrestle with how they would govern if they capture control of Congress two weeks from now in the midterm elections. 

As polls show the GOP within striking distance of winning back the House and the Senate, Republican lawmakers are facing competing pressures to either work constructively to help govern or to live up to their electoral promises. 

One senior Republican, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), on Tuesday questioned whether the party's approach to one of the biggest issues in the election, the new healthcare reform law, is a good one. 

"I don't think starving or repealing [the healthcare law] is probably the best approach here," Gregg said on the Fox Business Network. "You basically go in and restructure it."

The comment from the retiring GOP senator reflects not only a shift in his own thinking, but also the tensions facing his party as it prepares to possibly retake the reins. 

Republicans say their recalcitrance on fiscal issues led to their defeats in the 2006 and 2008 elections. They often mention they were "fired" by voters those years and have promised to adhere to conservative principles should they regain control of either chamber. 

Many of the established Republicans are facing their "last shot" with the party's voters, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) said on Monday. Palin, who led an insurgency against establishment GOP figures earlier this year with Tea Party groups, said if Republicans don't follow through on their promises, voters might start asking, "Why not a third party?"

The House GOP's new governing agenda, the "Pledge to America," looks to enshrine many of the conservative principles on which Republicans would try to act if put back in charge. 

But a Republican majority would still be forced to handle the political realities of its newfound power. President Obama will remain in the White House for at least another two years, and if the GOP retakes the House — which is seen as their most likely victory this fall — they still might not pick up the net 10 seats needed to win a majority in the Senate. 

If they were to win back the Senate, Republicans would also be forced to reckon with many of the procedural hurdles they've used successfully in recent years to stymie the Democratic Party’s agenda.

Those political realities could make it very difficult for the party to pursue a repeal of healthcare reform in the manner hoped for by many GOP voters. But a lack of meaningful action on the issue could stoke the ire of those same voters in two years, when control of the White House will be at stake.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who ran at the top of the 2008 presidential ticket alongside Palin, said he agreed the GOP is "through" if they don't act on their vows to voters. 

"What Sarah is saying is that we've got to get a fiscally responsible majority in Congress of Republicans and act in a fiscally responsible way," McCain said Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

One of the areas in which Republicans are already being tested is the issue of a possible government shutdown should an impasse over the federal budget emerge between congressional Republicans and the White House. 

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said earlier this month that the country doesn't "need or want a shutdown" in the mold of the 1995 standoff between House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) and President Clinton, which resulted in a temporary suspension of government services. Republicans suffered with the general public for having forced the shutdown. 

A shutdown scenario could conceivably play out again in 2011, forcing GOP leaders to choose between possibly alienating some centrist voters, as Republicans did in 1995 with their shutdown, or alienating the Tea Party voters who could propel them to power Nov. 2.

Again, Gregg warned his party against making what he said would be a "mistake" with such a maneuver.

"The government shutdown was probably a serious mistake, tactically and substantively," he said Tuesday morning on CNBC. "Government shutdowns don't work. We'd all like to do it in theory, but as a practical matter, there are certain things the government has to do."

And as if to add to the benchmarks by which a Republican majority would be measured, retiring GOP Rep. John Shadegg (Ariz.) reminded colleagues to "keep their word."

"If the Republicans retake the majority ... they've got to keep their word," Shadegg said on CNBC.