Image for Issues Cited for Compromise Under Split Control
If history repeats itself, Republicans will regain control of one or both houses of Congress in this fall’s midterm election, potentially creating two years of political gridlock until the 2024 presidential election. However, two political conservatives think split control of government could open doors to significant compromises on competition with China, expanded educational options and enhanced family economic security.

Measures to Compete with China Ripe for Bipartisanship

If history repeats itself, Republicans are expected to regain control of one or both houses of Congress in the midterm election this fall. Split control of the White House and Congress can lead to stalemate. However, two political conservatives don’t think stalemate is inevitable. They believe an agenda centered on workers and families could win bipartisan support.

Oren Cass and Chris Griswold, executives at American Compass, a relatively new conservative think tank focused on economic consensus, wrote in a recent op-ed, “While periods of divided government can yield political gridlock, they also offer opportunities for progress.”

Oren Cass heads a relatively new conservative think tank called American Compass that perceives opportunity rather than stalemate if Republicans gain total or partial control of Congress following this fall’s mid-term election.

Their optimistic view of the next two years isn’t based on illusion. “A party in control of the White House and Congress often finds itself at war with its most uncompromising elements,” Cass and Griswold observe. “By contrast, a party limited to power in one or both legislative chambers has an incentive to advance moderate ideas that force difficult choices on the other side of the aisle, and one holding only the presidency knows that compromise is its only path to governing.”

Cass, a former domestic policy director for Mitt Romney, and Griswold, a Capitol Hill veteran, suggest three promising areas for bipartisanship under split control – economic measures to compete with China, expanded educational options for non-college-bound Americans and enhanced family economic security.

The current Democratically controlled Congress, with encouragement from President Biden, has achieved bipartisan support for Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion, expansion of NATO, infrastructure investment and even gun regulation. Certain budget issues, taxation of the wealthy and climate action initiatives, which Republicans mostly opposed, have already passed, so won’t be obstacles for bipartisan efforts in the next Congress. The January 6th Select Committee, a source of fierce partisan division, will have wrapped up its work by the end of this year.

Republicans and Industrial Policy

Cass and Griswold say GOP economic thinking has evolved on government aid to key business sectors, as evidenced by bipartisan support of the CHIPS Act that incents domestic semiconductor manufacturing and invests in a range of next-generation technologies. “Genuine bipartisan agreement could emerge,” they argue, “where the parties have similar views on policies to compete with China.”

They note the Republican Study Committee is already at work “formulating tough restrictions on financial flows to and from China”. Democrats will be eager to find ways to ensure US producers can mine rare-earth minerals and make batteries in North America to meet domestic content requirements so consumers reap the full benefits of electric vehicle tax credits included in the climate-action section of the Inflation Reduction Act. Those companion ideas could easily morph into a bipartisan consensus, according to Cass and Griswold.

Expanded Educational Opportunities

Congressional Republicans and Democrats will continue to argue over the role of public education, parental rights to control curricula, book-banning and history lessons. Cass and Griswold think they can find common ground on expanding educational options for non-college-bound young people such as government-backed on-the-job training and apprenticeships.

Surveys show Republicans are losing support among college-educated Americans, but gaining ground with blue-collar workers. Democrats generally have the backing of labor unions and may see common cause in investing in blue-collar education, which is moving toward more reliance on computer-aided machines, robotics and artificial intelligence. Such legislation would allow GOP lawmakers to push for cuts in higher education and Democrats to reinforce their fidelity to working-class families.

Enhanced Family Security

Cass shows his Romney stripes in this idea, which might include trading in the popular Child Tax Credit for a more generous monthly cash benefit paid to families with children. Cass points out the Family Security Act 2.0 has attracted right-center support, including by abortion opponents who are under pressure to demonstrate more tangible support for families.

The cash payments, once scorned by Republicans, now may also appeal to Democrats who brag that child poverty rates sharply declined as a result of provisions they tucked into the American Rescue Plan and tried unsuccessfully to continue in President Biden’s Build Back Better initiative. Cass and Griswold predict progressive Democrats would object to framing the cash benefit as family security, but moderate Democrats could view a compromise as a continuation of what they started in the American Rescue Plan.

Evolution of Conservative Thinking

For such grand compromises to occur will require the evolution of conservative GOP thinking, Cass and Griswold admit. It would require embracing a non-college-educated electorate, championing working-class issues and admitting free-market failures, which they believe is already happening within the Republican congressional caucuses.

“Attitudes within the Republican Party’s shifting coalition of voters have moved clearly in this direction, and at least some of its leaders have as well,” Cass and Griswold conclude. “If Americans elect a Republican-controlled Congress this fall, it could provide the GOP with an early test of whether the party is ready to make good on that promise.”

Policymaking sometimes takes a backseat to political bloodletting when control shifts from one party to another. For example, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is in Portland this week to stump for Republican congressional candidates, has pledged if he becomes Speaker to kick several prominent Democrats off committees in retaliation for Speaker Nancy Pelosi refusal to accept McCarthy’s recommendations for January 6th committee slots.

Compromises would require an evolution of Republican thinking to accept industrial policy, admit to free-market failures and embrace actions aimed at a non-college-educated electorate.

Additional Area of Bipartisan Interest

Cass and Griswold didn’t touch on climate action as a source of bipartisan interest, but it is a significant oversight. Extreme weather events are increasing, putting pressure on water resources, agriculture, forests and power grids. It is getting harder for politicians of any stripe to deny something serious is happening to the climate that is affecting people’s lives and safety.

One of the least politically charged climate actions would be to upgrade and expand America’s electric transmission system to allow a greater degree of power fluidity. This would help red states such as Texas deal with weather-related disasters in the summer and winter and would make solar and wind energy more accessible nationwide. Managing variable energy sources requires a more flexible transmission system, which could be cast as a solution that benefits all form of energy production.