While enactment of the trillion dollar “CRomnibus” left some conservatives fuming over Republican leadership’s unwillingness to fight a shutdown battle over immigration or the Affordable Care Act, here are a few actions that might encourage conservatives in the upcoming Congress:

  1. Force President Obama to act on Keystone XL – If Republicans are not able to put approval of the Keystone XL pipeline on President Barack Obama’s desk quickly, they will have missed a serious opportunity. Even without control of the Senate, Republicans were only one vote away from making it happen. If President Obama vetoes the measure, Republicans have a strong political narrative on his preference of satisfying his environmental base over improving America’s energy infrastructure. If he approves Keystone XL, Republicans will have a bipartisan victory on a significant policy priority.
  2. Fight Obama’s executive actions on immigration and enact reforms – Republican leaders promised supporters of the CRomnibus an opportunity to fight President Obama’s executive immigration actions early next Congress without shutting down the whole government at the end of 2014. The tactical deferral becomes a political albatross and a divisive issue for Republicans if leadership somehow avoids the confrontation early next year. Republicans must also be proactive by introducing their own immigration reforms that include border security, addressing illegal immigrants in the United States and improving immigration efficiency. As always, the issue of a “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants will be a political sticking point, but that should not stop Republicans from offering their own plan for the president to consider.
  3. Make Congress accountable for major federal regulations – Most Americans may not realize that presidents and their executive branch agencies are able to make so many regulations that feel like laws because Congress has delegated away its constitutional legislative responsibilities. For years, members of Congress have complained about executive overreach without reclaiming their legislative power. The REINS Act would require members of Congress to approve major federal rules before they could take effect. The GOP needs to show a willingness to be accountable for regulations created using their authority.
  4. Restore the regular budgetary process – Playing chicken with the entire federal government is a tremendous political leverage tool. After being forced to battle with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, some in the GOP would love to have President Obama’s veto pen take the blame for a government shutdown. A return to a regular budget process would show a willingness to engage in a real political dialogue, versus winner-take-all politics. While Republicans lose a potential leverage tool, so does the president. More importantly, splitting up federal spending into smaller bills shows a dedication to transparency, rather than giant omnibus measures where various policy changes are easier to hide.
  5. Enact corporate tax reform prioritizing simplicity over cronyism – Almost all Democrat and Republican politicians talk about the federal tax code being filled with loopholes for every special interest imaginable. At a minimum, both sides should be able to agree that eliminating provisions impacting specific industry groups could offset the revenue loss that would come with lowering the 35 percent corporate tax rate that makes the United States less competitive globally. Rather than playing games with the tax code, reducing the marginal rate toward the effective rate (what many companies actually pay) would treat corporations similarly across the board, improve transparency and lower the economic drag of tax compliance on domestic businesses.
  6. Remember the importance of inspiration – For all the lionizing of President Ronald Reagan, Republicans have frequently failed to embrace his ability to motivate with inspiration rather than fear. Inspiring Americans by creating a vision of a better future requires much more effort, but America desperately needs hopeful, happy leaders. Opposing the Affordable Care Act, carbon regulation and the president’s actions on immigration are important policy positions for many conservatives, but they are not a substitute for a positive alternative agenda from the political left. Breaking the bipartisan practice of fear mongering would breathe new life into the GOP and be a welcome change for many Americans.

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