The Real Enemy is An Economic Ice Age, Not Each Other
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stepped down from contention for the contentious position of Speaker on Thursday. This caused something approaching mass hysteria in Washington.
Chairman Paul Ryan then took himself out of contention. (Full disclosure, my elder son interned for Congressman Ryan more than a decade ago.) A Draft Ryan movement has, as of this writing, lit up and Ryan has softened his opposition to taking the job.
Ryan is the heir apparent. He would be a distinguished choice and a welcome one. That said, Paul Ryan has shown an understandable and legitimate hesitancy to assume the duties of Speaker. If he continues to be committed to better serving his party, and the republic, in other ways, then what?
There is another path for the Republicans out of chaos. There are two other Members highly suited to bring strong and sustainable unity to the House Republicans and to get America back on track. When you find yourself in a box canyon, you would be smart to turn to a Texan to guide you out.
One of the alternatives, should Ryan bow out, is obvious: Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tx). One is less obvious: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tx), a name on Rep. Meadows’s (R-NC), short list of possible successors when Meadows lit the fuse to the powder keg that exploded under Speaker Boehner.
Both Hensarling, American Conservative Union lifetime rating of 97.64%, and Brady, with an American Conservative Union lifetime rating of 94.5%, have the conservative credentials and exactly right skills to transform the chaos into a new and positive direction for the House Republicans, the Congress, the GOP, America, and the world. In retrospect this week’s chaos might be seen as birth pangs: messy and painful and yet generative rather than destructive.
The way to heal the rift between the House Republican conservative pragmatists and our conservative crusaders is by fundamentally transforming the Republican core identity into the party of economic growth. Prosperity unites.
The conservative crusaders are by no means bumpkins. As Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone thoroughly documents, the House Freedom Caucus members are a very sophisticated band:
If you’re not a close observer of Washington politics, the archetype of the Freedom Caucus member that’s springing to mind right now is almost certainly wrong. New York Republican Rep. Peter King may have called Boehner’s unseating “a victory for the crazies,” but there’s little lunatic about this fringe.
The firebrands had, in my view, a legitimate beef with John Boehner. Boehner, a good conservative, was all action and no talk. The affable Boehner was a fine Speaker but not a fine speaker. Boehner was not an orator and is too much of a gentleman to smack his adversaries, including this president, around. The firebrand conservatives legitimately yearn to have this president’s bad behavior called out. Boehner’s gentility is no sin but under the circumstances it could not keep the conference together.
The Freedom Caucus does not appear to be spoiling for a fight so much as spoiling for a good argument. Thus the Freedom Caucus, and the other members of the Hell No! faction, felt driven to demand grandstand action like government shutdown. This dynamic is likely to change if the House elects a Speaker who can talk the talk as well as he can walk the walk.
Hensarling and Brady have special credibility at a critical moment. My having earlier this year warned that John Boehner and the Congress were riding into a box canyon — including my warning of an impending coup against Boehner — the point was and remains:
The real villain…is an economic “ice age,” not feckless Congressional leadership.
Both Republicans and Democrats are struggling with, rather than changing, a gratuitously poor status quo. Memo to our political leaders: When all of the answers lead to pain … for you and for America … it’s time to change the question.
Meanwhile, beyond the Congress, the vast majority of presidential aspirants strangely are mute on the economic stagnation causing or contributing to all these, and more, problems. Let’s take a closer look at the gratuitous status quo, economic stagnation. And let’s change the question to: how to get equitable prosperity back on track?
Both Hensarling and Brady bring demonstrated, almost unique, cred on economic growth, which is the real ball game. Both demonstrably are capable of having, and winning, the argument that all conservatives believe in and the Freedom Caucus especially yearns to bring about.
Either would have the best chance, after Ryan, of pushing the Congress into becoming the premier force for job creation and fairly distributed economic growth. Hensarling and Brady have the standing and the intellectual grasp fundamentally to change the conversation, and the politics, in the House of Representatives, the capital, and America.
As I stated above, when you’ve ridden into a box canyon it makes sense to turn to a Texan to ride you out. But this isn’t metaphorical. In a Time Magazine cover article economist Tyler Cowen told us why the lone star state is America’s future:
Texas has acquired a certain cool factor recently. The pundit Marshall Wittmann has called it “America’s America,” the place where Americans go when they need a fresh start.
Texas has a higher per capita income than California, adjusted for cost of living, and nearly catches up with New York by the same measure. Once you factor in state and local taxes, Texas pulls ahead of New York–by a wide margin. The website MoneyRates ranks states on the basis of average income, adjusting for tax rates and cost of living; once those factors are accounted for, Texas has the third highest average income (after Virginia and Washington State), while New York ranks 36th.
“For the past 22 years, Texas has outgrown the country by a factor of more than 2 to 1,” Dallas Federal Reserve president Richard Fisher tells TIME, echoing an April speech in which he laid out the story of Texas growth at some length.
“My uninformed friends usually say, ‘But Texas creates low-paying jobs.’ To that I respond, You are right. We create more low-paying jobs in Texas than anybody else,” Fisher says. “But we also created far more high-paying jobs.” In fact, from 2002 to 2011, with 8% of the U.S. population, Texas created nearly one-third of the country’s highest-paying jobs.
“Most importantly,” Fisher says, “while the United States has seen job destruction in the two middle-income quartiles, Texas has created jobs for those vital middle-income workers too.” From 2001 to 2012, the number of lower-middle-income jobs in Texas grew by 14.4%, and the number of upper-middle-income jobs grew by 24.2%. If you look at the U.S. without Texas over the same period, the number of lower-middle jobs grew by an anemic 0.1%, and the number of upper-middle jobs shrank by 6%.
Texas is “America’s America” and has the largest delegation of House Republicans, 25 Members, which could be a Texas-size asset should Texas decide to unite behind one of its own for Speaker. Hensarling and Brady stand out among the 25 Lone Stars, as well as their colleagues, because they outstandingly have established their commitment to free market economic growth. And economic growth is the pivotal, and missing, core issue that we voters, Tea Party, pragmatic conservatives, and even Independents, demand.
Hensarling is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. He is the worthy protégé of the great former Senator (and economist) Phil Gramm. Hensarling surely is the best financial mind among House Republicans.
Brady, Vice Chairman of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, has crusaded relentlessly against the Growth Gap. He has formulated a suite of rigorous legislative proposals for restoring growth. These address restoring good monetary policy, creating a MAP to Growth with guardrails against reckless federal spending, and a shrewd cost-benefit analysis-based new regulatory framework.
Both Hensarling and Brady have surrounded themselves with a phalanx of really great, solid, free market economic growth wizards. Both, not so incidentally, have managed to keep the strong support in their districts both of Tea Party firebrands and pragmatic conservatives.
The Republicans are at an inflection point. Will Congress get serious about getting the economy going? Will it start relentlessly making the argument for restoring general prosperity through free enterprise?
By selecting the right, meaning jobs-creating, Speaker Congress can get back on track to put America back on track. Prosperity unites.
Originally posted on Forbes.com.