Top conservatives have a message for GOP leadership: Tax cuts alone won’t stave off a Democratic wave in November.
While they have disagreements about what should come next on the 2018 agenda, conservatives say Republicans need to keep their foot on the gas pedal. That means continuing to push “bold” new legislation — on things like infrastructure, criminal-justice reform and pharmaceutical reform — while also selling their historic tax overhaul that Trump signed into law in December.
The warnings from conservatives come as a new CNN poll found that 54 percent of registered voters said they would back a Democrat in their congressional district this year, while 38 percent said they would support a Republican. The new figures mark a shift toward Democrats; in January, Democrats led Republicans on the generic ballot by just 5 points, 49 percent to 44 percent, following the GOP’s tax cuts becoming law.
“History shows it’s a very difficult cycle in general for Republicans, the party in power, but especially for the House,” said Tim Phillips, president of the conservative outside group Americans for Prosperity, who has been sounding the alarm about a possible blue wave in November.
If Republicans lose a net 24 seats, “we’ll have [Rep.] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] back as Speaker, which is a terrible thought for anyone who wants freedom and prosperity and the economy to keep moving forward,” he said.
GOP leaders need to “keep driving bold policy and policy victories that are significant,” he added.
Both Phillips and Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, are urging leadership to press forward with criminal-justice reform. A Baptist preacher, Walker believes many of America’s systemic social problems, including poverty and what he sees as the breakdown of the traditional family, stem from a broken justice system paralyzed by high incarceration and recidivism rates.
“I don’t know how sexy that’s going to be here. … It’s not a red meat thing,” Walker told The Hill. “But those issues need to be talked about by Republicans.”
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has promised for months that Congress would act to ease the threat of deportation for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children. And in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting, President Trump is now demanding Congress take action on gun restrictions, including expanding background checks.
Those issues — immigration and gun control — won’t play well with the conservative base, and they could crowd a quickly diminishing midterm election–year calendar. The House shortened its current workweek so that the Rev. Billy Graham, who recently died, could lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. Last week, both the House and Senate were on recess.
Not all conservatives are on the same page, however, when asked what Republicans should tackle next in year two of the Trump presidency.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who is close to Trump, said the president’s $200 billion infrastructure plan will probably be the next big-ticket item that congressional Republicans tackle. But Meadows, a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he’d like to see that plan coupled with legislation to make the tax law’s temporary tax cuts for individuals permanent.
“We need to turn to making the tax cuts permanent. I think you’ll see a vote on the House floor by April 15,” which is Tax Day, Meadows said in a brief interview.
“I think everybody believes they need to put in a full day’s work,” Meadows said of the broader 2018 agenda. “That doesn’t mean that they coast between now and November.”
Former Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) echoed Meadows on that point: Republicans can’t grow complacent.
“Things are moving too quickly to think you can just sit here for nine or 10 months and do nothing,” said Huelskamp, who is now president of the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank in Illinois. “I mean, they might end up doing nothing, but it’s a new world. People are demanding more.”