— -- The top brass of the Republican Party spent the last 48 hours plotting ways to twist President Obama’s arm while outlining the new majority agenda they intend to concentrate on come January, when the 114th Congress takes its place.
A two-day, invitation-only conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal featured a pairing of top executives and political leaders. CEOs of Pepsi, Tyson Foods, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Walgreens joined a GOP-heavy political field with a few Democrats sprinkled in, including Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, and White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
At a Monday night dinner at the Four Seasons hotel where the conference took place, wine flowed freely while White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett sat with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and media magnate Rupert Murdoch.
In a series of interviews with Journal editors on Tuesday, Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, discussed the foreign policy and economic initiatives they hope to impart to their colleagues in their new majority, while Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, offered an urgent plea to President Obama to pass comprehensive tax reform.
Here are three ways Republicans plan to use their new majority in Congress:
1) Get President Obama to Listen
McConnell said that Senate Republicans will be “working longer. We’ll be working harder” to outline a bold agenda to send to the president’s desk.
He insisted that he does not have any “personal difficulties” with Obama, that he “doesn’t have any fundamental problem with negotiating with the other side.”
But McConnell said he views the midterm elections as a reason for the president to start taking heed of more policy proposals and bills from a Republican Congress. He said he has been “perplexed” by the president’s reaction to “what can only be described as a butt-kicking election.”
“I don’t know what we can expect about reaching bipartisan agreements,” he added.
First on the list for Republicans, McConnell said, should be tax reform.
“If the president wants to make the country more competitive, the single best thing he could do would be comprehensive tax reform.”
2) Show the country that the GOP can govern
At the gathering, former Florida governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush was adamant about Republicans demonstrating a new kind of legislative maturity.
“They should lead. They should take the things that are possible to achieve. They should try to forge consensus with Democrats in the Congress, and they should start passing bills,” he said. “We don’t have to make a point any more as Republicans.”
When discussing immigration reform, Rob Portman said that Republicans “have to legislate on areas where there’s agreement.”
“There’s no way to work around the President of the United States,” McConnell added. Yet he told the audience that “there’s a core of Senate Democrats who don’t like dysfunction,” a small group that remains eager to participate in a more fraternal legislative body.
3) Think broad and specific when proposing an agenda
Paul said defense spending is the top financial priority of the federal government.
“I’m for spending whatever it takes to defend our country,” he noted. “I have five year budget plans that get rid of the military sequester.”
He pointed to policy in Iran as a clear way to act in a practical, bipartisan way.
“The sanctions have brought them to the table,” he said.
Alas, Paul concluded: “We do nothing rational in Washington.”
Ryan’s discussion of tax reform included an array of particulars he believes Congress should expect the president to act on. He took the stage in a brusque manner, declaring the most recent Republican-led tax proposals were “blown up” by Obama.
“We’re just going to do a clean one-year deal,” he said. “We were going to produce certainty for business…This just adds more uncertainty to the business climate.”