3. Cut Spending, Not Just Taxes. Republicans have promised to cut taxes, including extending all of the Bush tax cuts. That makes both political and economic sense, especially during an economic downturn. They should also follow through on other tax cuts, including those for businesses. While some types of tax cuts do increase economic growth, it is a mistake to pretend that all tax cuts simply pay for themselves. Nor is there any evidence that you can “starve the beast.” Unless we want to keep marching toward the day when government consumes 45 percent of GDP while the debt continues to grow, Republicans are going to have to make the tough choices to cut — really cut — spending.
4. Ban Earmarks. True, they don’t amount to a lot of money, just 1.2 percent of federal discretionary spending. But earmarks are an important structural and symbolic component of government spending. Republicans imposed a moratorium on earmarks in 2010, but it expires next year. If that were to happen, voters could rightly conclude that Republicans were not serious about controlling spending. At the very least, Republicans should renew the moratorium. Even better would be a permanent ban on earmarks.
5. Level with the American People. One of the driving sources of the anger felt by so many voters this year was the feeling that government at every level lied to them. Republicans should take a lesson from their British counterparts and be honest with the American people. Balancing the budget and reducing the debt are going to require hard, painful choices. People are going to have to give up some of their favorite programs. But the American people are adults — they can handle the truth.
6. Offer an Alternative. Republicans won this time simply by not being Democrats. But having even a share of governing power means that just opposing the worst of the Obama agenda won’t be enough next time. Republicans need to develop and put forward a positive agenda. They need to do this even if they know that the bills will die in the Senate or be vetoed by the president.
7. Investigate … Carefully. Certainly a little bit of oversight is long overdue in Washington. Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) will be in charge of the Government Oversight Committee with its investigatory and subpoena power. But Republicans need to remember that overzealousness during the Clinton years hurt them. Too often, investigations appeared partisan and mean‐spirited. They need to hold the Obama administration accountable, but in a careful and restrained way. Any discussion of impeachment or Obama’s birth certificate is an automatic disqualifier.
8. Tackle Entitlements. It is impossible to seriously reduce government spending without tackling entitlements, notably Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Pre‐election, Republicans were less than a tower of courage in this regard, but the report of the president’s bipartisan debt commission, expected in December, provides an opening.
9. Don’t Fear a Shutdown. Republicans in the House have the power of the purse, meaning that they can control taxes and spending if they stick to their guns. To counter that, the president can threaten a Clinton‐style government shutdown. But Obama is no Bill Clinton. Republicans should not be prematurely deterred by a shutdown threat.
10. Remember, the Tea Party Is Still Out There. It became almost a mantra for Republicans to say that they understood that they “lost their way” during the Bush years. This time they were different, they insisted. They wouldn’t get caught up in the “business as usual” ways of Washington. If they do — if they fail to deliver on a smaller, less costly, less intrusive government — then the same forces that swept them into power will sweep them right back out.