Republicans certainly should fight to at least get something done that will matter. At present, any reading of the headlines over the past week indicates that Republicans are fighting to protect the rich and cut benefits for seniors. It may be possible to have worse political positioning than that, but I’m not sure how.
Here are a few structural reforms, any one of which would be worth fighting for in this fiscal cliff diving exercise:
• A federal balanced budget amendment. States have balanced budget laws, small businesses have to balance their budgets, and families have to do the same. This is an idea that is supported by virtually every American who does not live in the 202 area code. It’s common sense. It is also laughed at in Washington. When you mention the BBA as a solution, they roll their eyes and write you off as a non-serious person. But the American public is dead serious about it, and they should be.
• Place a cap on discretionary and mandatory federal spending by fixing a limit on it tied to a percentage of GDP. Eighteen percent is a reasonable number in my book, but almost any number would be a victory at this point. Require a super majority vote to over-ride this limit, which would allow for recourse in a time of war or other national emergency. Again, this solution makes far too much sense to be taken seriously in Washington, a sure sign that it’s a good idea. This president is rapidly making a permanently higher level of government spending the new normal.
• A super majority to increase taxes. Make it harder for the politicians in Washington to simply take more from Americans, thereby forcing them to stop growing government. Yes, Washington hates this idea, so it should be pursued with vigor.
• Term Limits. I know, I know, we can’t do that. But we should. And while we are at it, how about forbidding congressmen from lobbying for 5 years after they leave office.
This is all good stuff. Keeping the focus on us protecting the rich, even though it's the right thing to do both morally (too little argued) and in terms of the economy, is damaging to the GOP. We need to demand positive reforms. Americans think, correctly, that the Washington political system is broken. Demand that it be fixed in ways that make sense. Don't spend more than you take in. Don't spend more than what we've historically spent on government as a percentage of GDP. It should be hard to raise taxes where the government (comprised of wealthy educated elites living in more expensive cities and getting more and better benefits than most Americans) proposes to take private citizens hard-earned dollars. These are pretty basic things.
Oh, and I particularly like the last point about lobbying. I'd make it ten years, and I'd make it a federal crime punishable by prison to violate the law on lobbying after Congressional service. This is a really simple argument to make:
You shouldn't get rich by being in Congress. Period.