What Did McConnell Learn From Election Results?

12/01/2010 07:01 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Here's a pop quiz.

Rank the following from most to least in terms of the number of hours the House of Representatives spent in debate:

• Health care legislation (2009-10).

• Bill Clinton's Christmas card list (1990s)

• The invasion and occupation of Iraq (2003).

If you ranked them as they appear in this column, you would be correct. For the first item on the list, the Democrats controlled the House, and the remaining two occurred on the Republican's watch.

I certainly hope new Speaker John Boehner is aware of the aforementioned quiz. Based on his post-election remarks, he seems poised to be the grown up in the room.

Having lived through the Republican House of Representatives rise and fall from 1994-2006, Boehner possesses the institutional memory to know he can ill-afford to lead a House that simply votes no on everything President Barack Obama proposes.

Regardless of how one feels about the health care legislation, it was a serious debate. And I find the empty calls for its dismantling troubling.

Now that the rhetoric of the campaign season has subsided, reality has the final word on repealing the health care legislation. With Republicans controlling the House, Democrats the Senate, along with the president's veto pen lurking in the background, the GOP's best hope is to control the executive and legislative branches is 2013.

It is also my assumption that any member of Congress who freely uses the pejorative "ObamaCare" to describe the recently passed health care legislation either does not understand the legislation, or worse, possesses no interest in addressing the crisis. Either way, they should not be taken seriously.

Since its passage, conservative think tanks and Republican members of Congress have told us that there are market-based solutions far better than what was passed. Why did we not hear of these proposals when Republicans controlled the House, Senate and White House?

What did come out of their leadership was a massive prescription drug entitlement with no clear method to fund it.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, at least in his preliminary remarks, shows no interest in working with the White House.

McConnell has already stated, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

If that is indeed McConnell's goal, doesn't it reduce the people's business to a secondary consideration? Moreover, if McConnell wants to make Obama a one-term president, wouldn't he have been better off if Democrats maintained majorities in both houses of Congress?

One of the byproducts of the midterm elections is that it ties the political fortunes of the president with members of Congress from both parties. "Just say no" will not suffice for two years.

Difficult decisions await the president and Congress. The number one priority for the nation remains the economy and ostensibly jobs. But much has been made, and rightly so, about the looming threats posed by the deficit.

Does that mean, some, part or all of the tax cuts of the George W. Bush era are rolled back? To pass the tax cuts would be to deepen the deficit. But the country needs a stimulus of some variety for the health of the ailing economy, which would increase the deficit in the short term.

The certainty of candidates who successfully ran for the House and Senate in the midterm elections has unceremoniously been replaced by the reality of the difficult choices that await.

Where should the president be in all of this? Should the White House release photos of him in the Oval Office posing like Rodin's "The Thinker?"

My hope is that he will set the agenda and work with the leadership from both parties to craft bipartisan solutions to our most pressings problems.

But should McConnell's will carry the Republican cause, then the president has no other alternative than to use his bully pulpit. The president must make clear the stark choice between his desire to fight for the American people and McConnell's desire to elect a Republican to replace him in 2012.

How can any member of Congress have a higher goal than working to improve the economy so that the 14 million individuals who are out of work -- 40 percent whom have been unemployed for six months or more -- can once again return to work?

In this economic climate, it is inexcusable for anyone to have a political agenda more important than putting millions of Americans back to work. Was that what McConnell learned from the midterm election results?

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his Web site