After Republican David Jolly's special election win in Florida's 13th Congressional District on Tuesday, several conservative Republicans in the House voiced hope that the GOP would offer a positive agenda this fall and present more than a promise to "repeal and replace" Obamacare.
That was the general view of a dozen lawmakers who appeared at an afternoon "Conversations with Conservatives" session with reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Hosted by the Heritage Foundation, the session featured a wide-ranging discussion on "red meat" issues from immigration to economic growth.
Recalling where he was when he heard the news Jolly had won in Florida the night before, veteran Republican Rep. Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee told the group that he said to himself: "Thank you, Obamacare."
While the lawmakers agreed with most election observers that hostility toward Obamacare was pivotal to the outcome in Florida, they also agreed with Republican Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, who said "it will be a mistake to talk only about Obamacare" in the fall midterm elections.
"If that's what we do, then we will have the same results as in 2012, when there was a lot of excitement. Republicans convinced themselves they were going to win, and they did nothing to upset things," Labrador said. "And the results were very disappointing."
Declaring that "a recipe for losing is doing nothing," Labrador called on fellow Republicans in 2014 to offer "a positive agenda and show why we are a better option."
As to what that agenda is, however, Republicans are only in the talking stage. Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming noted that Republicans in Congress won't raise taxes and Democrats will fight a cut in spending.
"So there's only one thing to do and that is to promote economic growth. Unleash the shackles of the tax code," Lummis said.
Lummis suggested that Republicans support "a flatter, fairer tax code that would allow [senior citizens] to turn over businesses they started to younger people and go to living on passive income."
In discussing a positive economic agenda, however, the conservatives holding the "conversation" were not yet ready to embrace the tax reform proposal unveiled the week before by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican.
While praising Camp's intent and work on the proposal, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican, said he "was not ready to kiss on the lips every proposal in it."
Lummis said Camp's package was "not perfect but he's moved mountains" to get the product he's proposing.
One issue that Republicans showed every sign of not embracing as part of their 2014 agenda is immigration reform. To a person, the House members in the conversation voiced strong doubts about trusting the Obama administration on anything dealing with immigration.
"When [Obama] shows us [he] can enforce the law, then we'll get other things done," said Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas
But that is not likely, he said, "when the border is not secure."
Hensarling said: "I don't know how you negotiate with a president who won't follow the law. We have broken immigration and a broken visa program but unless you get border security right, how can you get anything else right?"
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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