After Nov. 2, it’ll be time for Republicans to get real

If those who are voted into office gain a reputation for obstruction, the voters will turn on them as quickly as they are turning on Obama this fall.

Obama hand in air, flag in background 311 (photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Obama hand in air, flag in background 311
(photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
It seems all over but the counting.
America’s Republican Party is getting ready to have a field day on November 2. Control of the House of Representatives seems to be in the bag, signalling an end to President Barack Obama’s legislative agenda.
There is even a chance of achieving a bare majority in the Senate, though the prospects for that – never likely – have receded in the past 10 days.
Some voters seem to be having second thoughts. American voters are likely to repudiate Obama, but some seem not quite sure that the Republican and conservative candidates on offer are exactly what they want. I count myself a Republican and a conservative, and can understand their hesitation.
Some of the conservative Republican candidates likely to be elected this November are in a combative mood.
Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Mike Lee, who enjoys a comfortable lead in his race for a Utah Senate seat, says he’s willing to block Obama’s budgetary agenda even it leads to a shutdown of the federal government, as partisan conflict over the Federal budget did following the elections of 1994 (the last time the Republicans took control of Congress).
Now, if Republicans who are voted into office next month gain a reputation for nothing more than obstruction, the voters will turn on them as quickly as they are turning on Obama this fall. Lots of Democrats are counting on Republican obstructiveness to ensure the reelection of Obama in 2012, and the restoration of Congress to Democratic control. Surely that is not what today’s Republican candidates have in mind. Republicans can get elected this fall by opposing Obama, but they can’t stay in office simply by opposing him. They have to engage the American voter.
What are the Republicans for? Candidates associated with the Tea Party movement seem to have the clearest principles. They’re against government spending. They want to deny funding for Obama’s health-care law, and perhaps cut defense spending as well.
That’s a good start, but it’s not good enough. There are two federal programs that must be cut if the US is to return to the fiscal balance that conservative candidates claim the country needs: social security and Federal health care for the elderly. These are considered the most untouchable of government spending programs because everyone benefits from them.
 Republicans are especially reluctant to even talk about cutting them, because most older Americans vote Republican.
And yet these programs represent obligations the federal government is going to have to reduce if it is ever to get spending under control. If the matter is not dealt with in 2011, it will become an issue in 2012. If it is not dealt with in 2012, it will haunt the American economy with greater force than ever in 2016. The US can run away from the problem, but it has nowhere to hide.
OTHER COUNTRIES have dealt with, and are dealing with, political challenges of similar magnitude. Britain’s coalition government is committed to cutting the national budget by onesixth.
That can’t be done without severe cuts in social services. Here, at the height of the economic crisis of 2003, finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu slashed social welfare spending and dismantled two divisions of the IDF. He reduced the obligations of the country’s pension funds while increasing the pension withholding tax.
Many Israelis suffered. The country sorely missed those two divisions in 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, and again in 2009, during Operation Cast Lead. Netanyahu and his party were punished heavily by the voters in the elections of 2006. And yet those drastic cuts were what enabled the economy to prosper today in the midst of a global recession.
So America’s Republicans and conservatives face a double challenge.
They are going to have to work with Democrats, because it’s simply impossible to make the kind of changes that have to be made without bipartisan support. And they are going to have to sell the American people on the need to sacrifice some of their personal welfare for the sake of their children and country.
That is going to require brave and candid leadership, leadership that appeals to country, not to party. If they don’t do this, Obama will waltz home to a second term in 2012. And that would certainly defeat American conservatives’ purposes, because Obama is the last American politician who still believes America can afford everything.
The writer heads the Israel Policy Center, whose mission includes reinforcing Israel’s character as a Jewish, democratic state.