Building a Real Reform Mandate

To judge the worthiness of legislative fights only by the immediate outcomes achieved is to misunderstand their real purpose and consequences. Even the messiest of such conflicts can produce strategic dividends that too often go unrecognized by more risk-averse reformers who are largely focused on policy victories achievable in the near-term. Because the farm bill required enormous political capital to pass, Congress is far more likely to consider reforms in the next debate several years from now. The same is true of infrastructure reform. And on the most controversial of all these fights—the effort to defund Obamacare—the failure to achieve immediate success obscured the important long-term victory secured in the process: that the Tea Party successfully forced Republican office-holders to recommit to repeal in the post-2012 landscape and forced the media to treat the law’s status as a live issue rather than a settled policy matter.

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