After the Pennsylvania special election for a U.S. House seat earlier this month that ended with a Democratic victory, I warned that Republicans must start developing a countervailing wave to ensure Democrats do not take control of the House in the November elections.
To do this, Republicans nationwide – even those in “safe” seats and those who are not up for re-election – must not get comfortable playing defense. All of them must be prepared to go on offense. This does not mean simply attacking Democrats. It means setting goals in Congress and aggressively fighting to achieve them.
A good model to follow is the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The GOP and President Trump were able to pass the tax cuts and reforms because they were on offense. They had a plan and they worked doggedly to execute it. However, we have now seen that while the tax cuts have been very popular, they are not enough to stave off serious competition.
Republicans must put together a set of strong, popular legislative actions and start fighting for them – every single day. These need to be simple, principled, legislative goals that are easy for the American people to both understand and support. Just as importantly, these legislative goals need to be painful for Democrats to oppose.
One good example is the Modern Employment Reform, Improvement, and Transformation (MERIT) Act, that was introduced by Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga. This bill builds on the success the Trump administration has had in firing bad employees from the Department of Veterans Affairs, after years of misconduct and incompetence led to hundreds of thousands of veterans’ health care needs being ignored. The legislation applies this success to all federal agencies.
Under current law, it can take years to fire and replace a federal employee who misbehaves or fails to do his or her job. This extraordinary job protection has come out of decades of bureaucrats protecting one another by using the Washington swamp to build up a thick protective barrier of red tape. Instead of firing bad employees, federal agencies have found it easier to transfer them – or even promote them out of the job at which they are failing.
In fact, in 2014 the Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk reported to the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that “this inaction (in disciplinary action) translates into exceptionally low firing rates for federal employees.”
According to Office of Personnel Management data, only 9,603 employees in the 2.1 million-person federal workforce were fired for discipline or performance reasons during the 2013 fiscal year. As Sherk said: “That translates into an annual firing rate of 0.46 percent – less than a third that of the 1.5 percent monthly layoff and discharge rate in the private sector.”
The MERIT Act fixes this problem by creating an alternate track for terminating federal employees for misconduct or failing to perform their duties. Instead of upholding the year-long bureaucratic process, agency heads would only have to give bad employees seven-to-21 days notice in writing that they were being fired for cause. Employees would still have the ability to respond and appeal to the already existing Merit Systems Protection Board. However, the board would be held to a strict 30-day decision timeline. If no decision is reached in this time, the firing would be upheld.
Implementing this program should be commonsense to most Americans. Most people know that if they act inappropriately at work or ignore their duties, they are going to get fired. In fact, 89 percent of people who participated in a telephone town hall with Rep. Loudermilk agreed that government employees should be held to the same employment standards as they are at their jobs.
At the same time, this is a tough idea for Democrats to oppose. It would be very entertaining to see Democratic candidates nationwide try to explain to voters why federal employees, who are paid with taxpayer dollars, should receive extraordinary protection from being terminated for breaking rules and slacking off while they are supposed to be doing the peoples’ work.
Another good legislative goal for Republicans would be passing the Employee Rights Act. This is a no-brainer for GOP candidates running in union-controlled states because – among other things – it guarantees most employees’ rights to have secret paper ballot elections, prevents unions from pressuring employers against such elections, and requires routine secret ballot referendums to let employees decide if they want to remain unionized.
Nationally, a poll by the Opinion Research Corporation found that protecting secret-ballot elections is supported by 79 percent of union households and 81 percent of non-union households. Even 81 percent of Democrats polled agreed that most employees should have the right to secret ballot elections. The ORC poll also found that 71 percent of union households supported periodic elections to recertify unions, and 83 percent of non-union households supported these referendums.
Importantly, these ideas polled high in some important states – Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Seventy-two percent of union households in these states supported secret ballots, and 68 percent approved of routine recertification elections.
Republicans in right-to-work states should also support the Employee Rights Act. According to the Center for Union Facts, unions directed more than $1.1 billion in union dues to liberal political groups from 2010 to 2016. The Democratic Governors Association and Planned Parenthood were among the top ten recipients. Much of this money is being spent to strengthen union influence and bring more and more states under union control.
The Employee Rights Act would require unions to get prior permission from workers before union dues are spent on anything other than collective bargaining. This political protection provision has resounding support – 81 percent in union households, 85 percent in non-union households, and 79 percent in union homes in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
These are straightforward, popular fights that fit perfectly with President Trump’s agenda to make America great again. They are also fights that Democrats will not be able to defend against in most parts of the country. Republicans must pick these issues up and run with them – then find more winning arguments and continue the blitz.
If Republicans have built and maintained an effective, commonsense offense of popular legislative agenda, they will win in November. If not, they will lose. It is that simple.
Newt Gingrich is a Fox News contributor. A Republican, he was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Follow him on Twitter @NewtGingrich. His latest book is “Understanding Trump.”