Judd Gregg: The GOP must tread carefully

Judd Gregg: The GOP must tread carefully
© Greg Nash

It is distinctly possible that House Republicans will kick away their opportunity to accomplish anything of significant value in the next session of Congress before it even begins.

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The chances of the Republican Congress governing effectively next year could be all but over by Christmas of this year if their performance over the last two weeks, or their preview of coming attractions for the coming week and next year’s sessions, are true indicators.

Rarely in the annals of democratic government has a time of so much opportunity been so promptly and effectively eviscerated by those to whom the opportunity was presented.

President Obama challenged the House Republicans right out of the box with an executive order on immigration that was not meant to be anything other than a political taunt.

Self-proclaimed conservatives in the House seem to have been taken in by this ruse. They have taken the bait and have called for chaos in this year’s operation of the government as a response.

Maybe the folks over at the Heritage Foundation who appear to be calling the plays have gone to too many Washington Redskins games. Their approach will guarantee a loss via self-destruction.

Or maybe they could just care less. Since the money they are raising from the folks across the country keeps flowing in and they have gullible House members who will follow them down this dead-end street, they get what they want: attention and funds.

Now is hardly the time to be setting a tone of confrontation on a marginal issue. Doing so will only leave a public perception that these guys — Republicans — are not ready for prime time. And that perception would be legitimate.

This fight should not be about whether some backroom agency of the federal government — in this case, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the body which deals with immigration matters — is funded through the first three quarters of next year.

That is not the issue. The president knows this, and that is why he has set up this sleight of hand using immigration.

The Democratic leadership wants nothing more than to have the American people see that the Republican Congress, even before it convenes, cannot govern and has instead wrapped itself in knots on issues of petty gamesmanship relating to immigration.

What Republicans ought to do is simple. Fund the government.

Show you are bigger and more responsible and more committed to addressing the people’s problems than are the president or his allies.

This is the chance to set the agenda.

Take on the immigration issue, but do it straight up. Make the debate mature and win it on the merits.

The GOP is correct on the issue: the president is stepping outside the legitimate boundaries of his powers. Do not lose focus or give up the high ground by becoming embroiled in a petty fight over funding some agency for nine months.

Take on tax reform, straight up. Take on regulator excess, straight up. Take on making it easier for small businesses to create jobs, straight up.

Take on education reform, teachers’ unions, charter schools and federal school loans, straight up.

Take on energy policy, straight up. And for goodness’ sakes, take on redoing and rewriting Obama-Care, straight up.

Republicans have the better ideas on all these issues. But those ideas will not coalesce or be effectively explained to the American people if they are instead obscured by a no-win debate over funding the day-to-day operation of the government.

Bring these big issues forward in an orderly way, so that the American people can see that the Republican Congress is serious, directed and responsive to the popular frustration that led to the dramatic win in November.

Force the Democrats to talk about these issues and defend their lack of ideas.

Do not let the president, with the assistance of the folks who shout from the corners such as Heritage, send the Republican Congress on to a sidetrack of bickering and small ball.

This is an important message for the Republicans in Congress and the Republicans who will soon be there: Make this your Christmas present to yourselves, and the country.

Fight the big fights, promote the big ideas and force a debate on changing the course of this nation.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.