Why the Trump Agenda Is Moving Slowly: The Republicans’ Wonk Gap

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Large portions of the Republican caucus embrace a kind of policy nihilism. They criticize any piece of legislation that doesn’t completely accomplish conservative goals, but don’t build coalitions to devise complex legislation themselves. The roster of congressional Republicans includes lots of passionate ideological voices. It is lighter on the kind of wonkish, compromise-oriented technocrats who move bills. The years of lock-step Republican opposition to President Obama’s agenda is well known and rooted in ideology. But the aversion to doing the messy work of making policy really goes back further than that.

The last time congressional Republicans have done the major lifting of making domestic policy was President George Bush’s first term, a productive time that included an expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs, the No Child Left Behind education law, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that reshaped securities law, and tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. But that’s now a decade and a half ago. Only 51 of the 238 current House Republicans were in Congress then — meaning a significant majority of Republican House members have never been in Congress at a time when their party was making major domestic policy. “The vast bulk of the Republican conference were elected on howls of protests against Obama’s agenda, but governing is a very different skill,” said Michael Steel, who was a top aide to former Speaker of the House John Boehner, and is now a managing director at Hamilton Place Strategies. “It requires a different kind of muscle, and that muscle has atrophied.”


Why the Trump Agenda Is Moving Slowly: The Republicans’ Wonk Gap