Just days before the 2010 midterm elections, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich confidently predicts a seismic shift in the political landscape. “I think this election will reverberate all around the planet,” he told a packed auditorium of investors at the New Orleans Investment Conference on Saturday. “We are somewhere between a very substantial Republican victory and a catastrophic disaster for the Democrats.”
Gingrich, who is busy evaluating a presidential run in 2012, puts the odds of a Republican takeover of the House at 90 percent and the Senate at 45 percent. But he says there’s an “outside chance” for “a truly historic election,” with gains of 70 to 100 House and 11-plus Senate seats. That would give Republicans a filibuster-proof majority and the ability to pass much of their legislative agenda.
Sure, that’s a long shot, and far beyond the predictions of independent forecasters, who are projecting GOP gains of 50 seats or more. But even then, President Obama would still have the veto pen, as well as the power to regulate. So, unless he decides to follow Bill Clinton’s 1994 script and govern from the center after a bruising midterm election, nothing big is likely to get enacted for the next two years.
Gingrich, who as Speaker worked with Clinton to balance the budget, is skeptical that Barack Obama will adopt Clinton’s second-term playbook. “His radicalism is amazingly tone deaf,” says Gingrich, noting Obama’s decision to ram health care through Congress even after public opinion had shifted against the proposal, and the Democrats had lost Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat to conservative Republican upstart Scott Brown.
Newt to GOP: “Be Very Aggressive”
Taking a page out of his own earlier playbook as a bomb-throwing House minority leader, Gingrich is now urging Republican Congressional leaders to be confrontational. “I would be very aggressive,” he says.
Of course, the presumptive House speaker, John Boehner, who lost his GOP leadership post after a failed attempt to oust Gingrich from the speakership, may not be keen to accept his advice. In recent years, Boehner has taken a more conciliatory approach to governing, working with Democrats to pass Bush’s No Child Left Behind bill, for example. But that has all changed as the GOP has moved closer to a takeover. Last Wednesday, Boehner declared, “This is not a time for compromise,” on Sean Hannity’s radio show.
Gingrich wants GOP
Congressional leaders to
“pick a fight over Obamacare.”
Gingrich’s first suggestion: The House should pass legislation prohibiting any tax increases on Americans during a recession. It’s not quite the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which will take more time and arm-twisting (assuming the lame duck Congress kicks that can down the road). Gingrich figures such a no-tax vote could be a quick win that could pass both houses and even get signed by Obama. “The president has to decide: Does he want to protect every American, or does he want to wage class warfare so badly that he is willing to further mess up the economy?”
Next up, Gingrich wants GOP Congressional leaders to “pick a fight over Obamacare.” His suggestions: Take six to eight weeks holding hearings on what’s wrong with Obamacare. Repeal the bill in the House. Meanwhile, launch a petition drive in Democratic states aimed at building pressure for repeal in the Senate. Could it garner 60 votes to avert a filibuster? “We have a 50-50 shot,” he told The Fiscal Times.
But how could Obama sign a repeal of his signature legislation? Gingrich suggests collecting some 50 million signatures in support of repeal and delivering them to the White House with the bill. At that point, Gingrich says, Boehner and Mitch McConnell (who would likely be Senate Majority Leader) could tell Obama: “You can either be president of the American people and sign the repeal or you can decide to repudiate the American people, in which case in March of 2013 we’ll repeal it with your successor.”
And who might that be? Gingrich sure is sounding like he’s just itching to take that job. He says he and his wife recognize “there may well be a moral obligation of citizens to represent a very, very different approach to how America solves its problems.” He says they are looking at how they might deal with their four small businesses should he decide to run, and will probably decide in February or March of next year.
Test-driving a Presidential Agenda
In the meantime, he seems to be test-driving his presidential agenda. The key question we need to answer as a nation, he says, is how to compete with China and India. His answer has a Tea Party ring to it: Downsize Washington. “We’re not going to stay in a country where public employees are the haves and taxpayers are the have-nots. It’s not going to happen.” To that end, he says, the new Congress can and should “dramatically cut spending.” A good place to start? “They can zero out all the czars at the White House,” he says. “That’s what I would do.”
Gingrich’s agenda is the anti-Obama,
as radical on the right as Obama’s is on the left.
Gingrich’s agenda is the anti-Obama, as radical on the right as Obama’s is on the left. Among his other suggestions: repeal Sarbanes-Oxley, which corporate America despises for imposing onerous new reporting requirements, and Gingrich calls “a huge anti-entrepreneur, anti-technology bill.” In a machine gun volley of proposals, he draws applause from the conservative investor crowd for suggestions to overhaul the Food and Drug Administration, dismantle the Department of Energy, reform the tort system to cut back on costly defensive medicine, eliminate taxes on capital gains and estates, reduce the corporate tax to the Irish rate of 12.5 percent, and allow 100 percent expensing for new equipment. (No talk of Social Security reform, though, which may be yet another sign that he’s serious about a presidential run.)
For Gingrich, a one-time history professor, this week’s election is just the first in a series of battles to win back power for the GOP, undo the Obama revolution and regain the White House. But he seems to recognize that the GOP needs to change, too. “The next decade has to be a period of fundamentally breaking up the old order.” If we do that, he argues, we can balance the budget and restore the country’s global leadership, not overnight but in five to seven years. “This is a tough country and we are about to do tough things again.”
But can this old politico — or Boehner or McConnell — turn the grassroots anti-incumbent surge that is driving this election into a record of success that voters will reward in 2012? It’s a tall order — but key to the next chapter for America.