Opinion: Columnists

Hugh Hewitt: The milk carton Republicans

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Bill Bryson's "In a Sunburned Country" is a must-read for anyone headed to Australia. But, even if you aren't headed Down Under, the story Bryson relates of the Aussie Prime Minister Harold Holt has some relevance this week.

Holt simply vanished into the surf in December 1967. His body was never recovered, and various wild speculations accompanied his loss, but Bryson remarked on how the Australians carried on without much fuss, even though the disappearance of the Number One was unprecedented.

Perhaps the GOP is displaying the same sort of stiff upper lip in the aftermath of the disappearance of their entire senior leadership these past 10 days. Rumor has it Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy are due to reappear at a GOP "retreat" in Williamsburg this week, but if they don't show up on one of the many national platforms available to them, soon milk cartons will follow.

It has been an odd time to give the national media the slip, what with enormously important debates on debt and entitlement looming, and as the president and his surrogates wage a multilayered offensive against Second Amendment originalists as he pushes forward with a quartet of senior nominees -- John Kerry, John Brennan, Chuck Hagel and Jack Lew. Any one of them would ordinarily trigger a huge debate, but the coordinated appearance of all four seemed to overawe the House GOP.

If the House GOP leadership does try to re-engage the public this week or next it will prove very difficult as the inauguration and then the State of the Union will cue the president's Greek chorus of the Manhattan-Beltway Media Elite and the 24/7 coverage of the president's every move will crescendo. The crisis of the debt limit looms, but the Republicans don't appear to have planned on being heard, much less on persuading anyone of their views.

What the House Republicans need is an old-fashioned proposal to debate -- a set of lines on a page that details what it is the House GOP thinks ought to be done.

Should the eligibility age of Medicare rise to match the Social Security retirement age? Should both ages slowly increase, even beyond 67? Ought Medicaid to be "block-granted" to the states and capped? Should "CPI" be "chained?" And if these four things are done, how much additional debt will the Congress authorize the president to stack on top of the $16 trillion the country has run up on its collective credit card?

The election was 10 long weeks ago, so many in the Republican base figured we'd have a strategy by now, and that the House leadership would be out and about explaining their view and their schedule for a vote. The voices supporting fiscal sanity could rally around a bill. Public opinion could be shaped.

Instead, the House GOP has gone to ground. A disappearing speaker and supporting cast is new in American politics, and certainly has got to be signaling to the Democrats that they are in the driver's seat on any number of issues.

Serious conservatives have to hope that someone will speak up in Williamsburg, will ask for a bill, for a schedule of its hearings, and for coordination with the Senate on getting it presented to the American people. It is an odd thing to trundle the new freshmen and the allegedly twitchy sophomore classes off to play golf and hear even very good speakers as the next round in "How the President Beats Us" approaches.

At least Harold Holt's disappearance provided some drama. Thus far, there isn't even any evidence that the House GOP is missed.

Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.

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