Op-Ed: Steven Law & Brian Walsh: Time for Washington to Start Working

Time for Washington to Start Working
By Steven Law & Brian Walsh
Real Clear Policy
January 27, 2015

Now that the 2014 elections are behind us, the big question is: What will Washington do with its time? A new national-priorities survey commissioned by American Action Network and Crossroads GPS found surprising agreement among voters of all political stripes regarding the issues they see as most pressing for President Obama and Congress to tackle this year.

That's mostly good news for Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress and have pledged to advance a reform agenda by restoring the collaborative legislative processes that were mothballed by former Senate leader Harry Reid. It's also a warning flare for President Obama: Americans are eager for results, not more speeches and veto threats.

But Republicans need to tread carefully as well. While GOP priorities like budget reform, eliminating the inheritance tax, and rescuing Medicare from bankruptcy get broad support, voters are likely to splinter over specific policy prescriptions. There's also a wide enthusiasm gap between Republicans and other voters on Obamacare: The law remains as unpopular as ever, but repealing it is a less urgent priority for independents (and Democrats) than it is for Republicans. That's why the government shutdown over Obamacare flopped: Voters want the law scrapped or changed, but not by precipitating a national crisis.

Does that mean Republicans in Congress should chart a muted middle course? Not at all. Many of voters' top-ranked issue priorities share a common theme: It's time to clean up Washington's festering messes. Issues like requiring the federal government to adopt an annual budget, tackling fraud in entitlement programs, and drug testing and work requirements for welfare all speak to the public's growing intolerance for the dysfunction, incompetence, and waste they see in Washington. This is where Democrats face the greatest risk. Harry Reid's solution-stopping obstructionism yielded them nothing but an electoral knockout punch. Democrats should think twice before buying tickets to the sequel.

Our national poll identified two other front-burner issues that Republicans and Democrats shouldn't ignore: rising college costs and immigration reform. Democrats wisely seized on the first issue, but their solution would exacerbate the problem. Instead of just subsidizing college more, Republicans should formulate market-based responses to automatic tuition increases and out-of-control compensation, like Elizabeth Warren's $429,000 salary at Harvard.

Then there's immigration reform, which voters across the spectrum rate as a top priority for action. It could even be an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation. In our poll, voters gave high marks to GOP initiatives like stricter border security and cracking down on employers of illegals. But they also want to resolve the status of immigrants who are here illegally.

Surprisingly strong majorities of Republicans, independents, and Democrats would support an immigration plan that combined real law-and-order improvements with a framework for earning legal status — but with far more exacting conditions than those in 2012's “Gang of Eight” bill. There is also solid support across the political spectrum for protecting the ability of states to require personal identification to vote, despite the Obama Justice Department's campaign to invalidate and stigmatize such requirements.

Overall, Americans are in a sober and strikingly unified frame of mind: concerned about the direction of the country and impatient for change. If the president and Congress take those concerns seriously and act on them together, we could begin to solve a number of important problems — and restore a little faith in our democratic system.

Steven Law is president and CEO of Crossroads GPS, and Brian Walsh is president of the American Action Network.

Courtney Parella

Communications Director