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GOP's big night in 90 seconds

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Sally Kohn: Now that the GOP has control of Congress, it needs to do a better job

Kohn: Republicans must go beyond their fringe conservative base and ideologies

Crumbling infrastructure, immigration, good wages are issues that matter, she says

Kohn: GOP should stop shutting down the government and show it's up to task at hand

Editor’s Note: Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN  — 

You got to give the people, now
Give the people what they want

– The O’Jays

Now that Republicans have control of both houses of Congress, they are going to have to do better – and do right by all Americans, not just their fringe conservative base.

Sally Kohn

In the first days of the newly minted 112th Congress, after the 2010 midterms gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives, the American people were clamoring for action on jobs and the economy.

What did the new Republican House give them? One of the first laws introduced was the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Whereas existing federal law already limited the use of government funds to pay for abortion, there were exceptions for incest and rape. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act attempted to narrow the definition of rape to only involving force.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner called the legislation a top priority for his caucus. Maybe for conservative Republicans but certainly not for most Americans, especially when unemployment was 9% and the economy was still reeling from the Great Recession.

Then, as now, Americans say the economy is the most important problem facing the country. Even all the fear and fear-mongering around ISIS and Ebola hasn’t changed this. People are far more worried about the economy and the job market. Abortion barely registers as a concern in the polls.

Meanwhile, Republicans have touted a list of “more than 30 jobs bills” they have passed in the House but have failed in the Democratic Senate. The party has even printed the list on handy flash cards so that the likes of Boehner can carry them in their pockets and wave around at political events. But those so-called “jobs bills” include repealing Obamacare, gutting clean air and water regulations, and weakening the National Labor Relations Board.

In other words, they’re not really jobs bills but simply fig leaves for conservatives’ long-standing ideological agenda. Economists say the actual job growth impact of the GOP agenda is next to zero – not to mention the harm it will do to working Americans who rely on wage standards and protections, or the 10 million-plus Americans who have gained health insurance through Obamacare.

When Republicans controlled just one house of Congress, they perpetually and annoyingly passed symbolic pet legislation that stood no chance of becoming law. Now that Republicans control both houses, that behavior won’t just be irritating but downright irresponsible.

The American people have entrusted Republicans with control of Congress. They expect Congress to lead, not continue to throw partisan temper tantrums. Leading, in this context, means passing laws that solve real problems and are in forms that both parties agree on. No more Orwellian circus shows.

For six years, Republicans have condemned President Barack Obama and the Democratic agenda. Regardless of how the midterm results panned out due to a handful of races in red and maroon-ish purple states, the fact remains that the Democratic agenda is broadly and strongly supported.

Most Americans support extending unemployment benefits, passing paid sick leave, lowering student loan rates and raising the minimum wage, as was reflected in ballot measure results across the country Tuesday.

It’s why many of the Republicans who won their races actually ran as rhetorical liberals, trying to mask their unpopular stances on women’s issues and more.

Going into this election, while only 23% of Americans have a “very positive” view of Obama and just 12% view the Democratic Party very positively, the favorability percentage for the Republican Party is even lower – just 7%, according to one survey. Not exactly time to spike the football.

Of course, no party should govern based solely on popular referendum. That would be stupid. But governing without any concern for what the people want is insane.

Seven in 10 Americans oppose limiting access to abortion, according to a recent poll. So why is it that in the past three years, state legislatures have passed more anti-abortion measures than in the entire previous decade?

The new Republican leadership in Congress should focus on issues such as rebuilding our crumbling bridges and other public infrastructure, or passing bipartisan immigration reform to help level wages and working standards for everyone in America. Maybe there are even reasonable compromises to be found in reforming the tax code, making it simpler and more transparent while at the same time fairer.

Either way, the GOP should stop shutting down the government and blocking the President’s appointments.

Sure, the American people blame both parties for gridlock. But when asked, they place more blame with Republicans. Now that they have full power in Congress either to compromise or not with the White House, Republicans have no more excuses.

And if Republicans don’t start learning how to lead in a responsible, bipartisan fashion, the American people will have no more patience.

In 1975 when the O’Jays sang “Give the People What They Want,” they sang about the people wanting “better education now” and “better food to eat” and “better homing” (by which I assume they meant housing, not pigeons). The O’Jays were singing about the real world – real people and problems that political leaders should be addressing.

Republicans have to stop singing their tired tune of “Criticize Everything President Obama Does” and instead starting singing harmony with the Democrats to get things done in Washington and, yes, “Give the People What They Want.”

Whether or not we reform our nation’s immigration laws may all come down to cantaloupes versus cojones.

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