Feehery: Time for Republicans to channel the revolutionary spirit of the class of 1994

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) addresses reporters during his weekly on-camera press conference on Friday, March 18, 2022.
Greg Nash
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) addresses reporters during his weekly on-camera press conference on Friday, March 18, 2022.

Voldymyr Zelensky is being hailed as latter-day Winston Churchill by both Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats newfound embrace of the former British statesman is interesting, given that it was only a year ago when Joe Biden banished a bust of Mr. Churchill from the confines of the Oval Office.  

Biden was following the lead of his former boss, Barack Obama, who didn’t think Churchill deserved being honored in such a way.  

Winston Churchill once said of one of his political rivals, “he’s a humble man with much to be humble about.”  

Churchill’s quote rings true to me in the sense of what Republicans should be preparing to do once they take the majority this coming November.  

My old boss, Denny Hastert, used to have a mantra when he was Speaker of the House about the utility of underpromising and overdelivering.  

Republicans often tend to overpromise and underdeliver.  

For example, during the tea party years, they frequently promised to balance the budget, reform entitlements and repeal ObamaCare.  

Similarly, when George W. Bush won reelection in 2005, he promised to fundamentally reform the Social Security program.  

The Contract with America made many bold promises for the 1994 elections, which they published as a supplement to the once popular TV Guide magazine. But you had to read the fine print to really understand what Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey were promising to voters. They weren’t promising that their radically common-sense agenda would be signed into law. They were promising that it would get a vote on the House floor within the first 100 days of Republican rule in 1995. 

Much of what the Newt and his gang promised had nothing to do with a policy agenda. It had everything to do with cleaning up the House itself, which had been used and abused for four decades by a rapacious Democratic majority. And so the Republicans promised crazy stuff like requiring all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply to Congress, selecting an independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of the House, cutting the size and the power of the committees by a third, limiting the terms of committee chairmen, banning the casting of proxy votes in committee, and requiring that committee hearings be open to the public. 

In the context of today, none of these things seem all that revolutionary. But back in 1995, cleaning out the House of Representatives and bringing power back to the people was seen as truly game changing.  

Twenty-seven six later, it is time for the Republicans to channel the revolutionary spirit of the class of 1994, focusing first on fixing the process and then getting to the policy items that differentiate the GOP from the Democrats.  

Fixing the process is essential because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats have completely trashed it ever since they took over in 2018.  

First, they have to get rid of proxy voting on the House floor. The purpose of having a Congress in the first place is bringing people together. You can’t bring people together if they can work for home.  

Second, they have to fix the budget and appropriations process.  The president still hasn’t submitted his budget for the year and it is almost the end of March.  

Third, power needs to flow back to the members and away from the leadership. There needs to be a return to regular order, where the committees are given the opportunity to find solutions to problems and not have their jurisdiction subverted by a power-hungry Speaker.  

Fourth, members need to be able to offer amendments to the legislative process. The rights of the minority should be protected. 

Finally, no member should be banished from serving on all legislative committees. What Pelosi and the Democrats have done to kick members that they dislike of all committees is despicable.  It disenfranchises the hundreds of thousands of constituents who live in the districts of these members.  

When Republicans take the House majority, they should be modest in their policy goals but aggressive in fixing a broken process. It won’t be easy to get major things done with a closely split Senate and a president of the other party. Cleaning up the House should be far easier and today is far more important.  

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.). 

Tags 1994 Republican Revolution Barack Obama Dennis Hastert Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Newt Gingrich Party leaders of the United States House of Representatives Proxy voting Republican wave

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