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Republicans hope to win trifecta in 2012

Republicans arrive in Tampa, Fla., hopeful that their party’s dream of an electoral Triple Crown is within reach: control of the House, the Senate and the presidency.

With a victory by Mitt Romney and a gain of the Senate majority, a return to Republican power would represent a remarkable four-year turnaround for a party that was routed in 2006 and 2008. And it would carry enormous expectations for the GOP.

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Conservative activists want Romney and a Republican Congress to swiftly repeal President Obama’s signature healthcare law and enact a long-term fiscal plan modeled on the one authored by the party’s vice presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). After that comes a broad tax overhaul that simplifies the code and lowers rates across the board.

Yet the prospect of full control of the government also has Republicans mindful of lessons from the examples of one-party rule in the last decade, when voters turned on Republicans and Democrats in quick succession.

With any Senate majority the GOP might achieve likely to be slim and subject to filibusters from Democrats, Republicans are already warning they will need bipartisan help to enact their agenda.

“There would be a reality that many of these issues would have to be done with some Democratic support,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the vice chairwoman of the House GOP conference and the House liaison to the Romney campaign.

Republicans say a key objective for a potential Romney administration and a GOP Congress should be to act first on items that the party campaigned on.

“I think you move on those things where you have broad consensus within the modern Republican Party and those things that you’ve talked about in the campaign,” said Grover Norquist, the influential anti-tax activist. “By doing the things you ran on, it tremendously makes it easier for the American people to be supportive of the project and for Congress to vote along with.”

Norquist set a high bar for Republicans, saying that with control of Congress and the presidency they should be able to repeal the 2010 healthcare law within the “first couple weeks” of a Romney administration, through the budget reconciliation process. 

Comprehensive tax reform, he said, could “easily” be achieved in the first year. Norquist also said Romney should move quickly to implement a “Reaganesque hold on all pending regulations” and undo as many of Obama’s executive orders as he can.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said the timetable “sounded optimistic” but did not discount it as implausible. “I like those goals, and I would like to see it accomplished in that time frame,” said Barrasso, who as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee is a member of the party leadership. He added that a major energy package would also be a priority for Republicans early in 2013.

Romney has already set an ambitious agenda for the opening days of his presidency, should he be elected. In his economic plan, the presumptive GOP nominee pledges to submit five major job bills to Congress on his first day in office, and sign executive orders to reverse Obama-era regulations and instruct Cabinet agencies to limit the implementation of the healthcare law.

First, of course, Republicans must win in November. 

Obama has retained a slight edge in polling through the summer, but Republican lawmakers have said they are optimistic that the weak economy will turn the election toward Romney once voters start paying closer attention during the conventions and the fall campaign. And while political analysts expect Republicans to hold their House majority, the party’s path to victory in the Senate became harder after GOP leaders failed to push Rep. Todd Akin (R) out of a crucial Senate race in Missouri. Before Akin’s candidacy imploded, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) had placed the party’s odds of a Senate takeover at 50-50. If Romney wins and a Vice President Paul Ryan provides a tie-breaking vote, Republicans would need a net gain of three seats to assume a Senate majority.

Yet as Obama and Democratic leaders would attest, sticking to a tight campaign agenda in a new administration is easier said than done. In late 2008 and early 2009, the collapsing national economy forced the new president to embrace a dramatically larger stimulus package than he had backed during the campaign.

While both parties voiced support for a stimulus package to address the deepening economic crisis, Republicans fault Democrats for jamming the $787 billion measure through Congress without hearings and with minimal bipartisan support.

“They shut the Republicans out of the process, every step of the way,” McMorris Rodgers said. “From the beginning, it was a ‘take it or leave it’ approach.”

Democrats counter that Republicans decided to oppose the stimulus en masse purely to deny Obama an early bipartisan victory. Ultimately, the bitter fights and political horse-trading involved in the recovery package and then the healthcare bill soured the public on the messy legislative process.

Republicans won control of the House in 2010 pledging not to repeat those mistakes. With congressional approval ratings at dismal levels, McMorris Rodgers said the party must maintain an emphasis on an orderly and inclusive process if the GOP gains the Senate and White House this fall.

“We’ve shown that we are committed to it,” she said. “We believe that it is very important in restoring that trust in Congress and the legislative process.”

Barrasso said the same commitment to “regular order” is needed in the Senate. He said Republicans should not try to use a slim majority to overturn filibuster rules requiring 60 votes to advance major bills.

Passing major elements of the Romney agenda will be easier, Republicans say, because much of the groundwork has already been laid by the House GOP majority, which has already voted successfully to repeal the healthcare law and approve a budget plan authored by Ryan.