On Election Day, the American people went to the polls and overwhelmingly rejected the failed policies that led to high unemployment, slow economic growth and record deficits.
So what’s next? Now that the American people have told their elected officials to change course, in what direction should Congress and the president steer the country?
Republicans believe that we have a responsibility to focus on national security, economic opportunity and prosperity for all Americans — holding the Obama administration accountable to the American people.
One priority of the House Judiciary Committee is to confront the terror threat. In the past year, there were three terrorist attempts (one successful) in the U.S. And in recent weeks, several additional terrorist plots were uncovered. The terrorist threat has changed, but it has not diminished.
We should not close the terrorist detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The Pentagon has reported that 20 percent of released Gitmo terrorists have returned to planning attacks against Americans.
And we should treat terrorists as enemy combatants, not U.S. citizens. Giving foreign terrorists constitutional rights has no legal precedent and makes it harder for prosecutors to obtain convictions. We should bring foreign terrorists to trial in military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, not in civilian courts in the U.S.
The enforcement of our immigration laws is critical to both our national security and economic prosperity. The House Judiciary Committee should enact policies that will better secure our border and discourage illegal immigration, human smuggling and drug trafficking.
In the past five years, more than 28,000 people have been killed along the border because of drug-related violence. More than 1,000 law enforcement personnel have died. Highway signs in Arizona more than 100 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border warn drivers that the area is unsafe because of drug and alien smugglers.
American citizens should not have to fear for their lives on U.S. soil. If the federal government enforced its immigration laws, instead of suing states that try to help it enforce the law, we could better secure the border and better protect U.S. residents.
Work-site immigration enforcement helps ensure that jobs go to unemployed citizens and legal immigrants. Unfortunately, work-site enforcement efforts have dropped 77 percent in the past two years. And with less work-site enforcement, the jobs magnet for illegal immigration continues.
Citizen and legal immigrant workers should not have to compete with illegal immigrants for scarce jobs. Fifteen million people are unemployed in America. Meanwhile, there are an estimated 7 million illegal immigrants in the workforce. We could free up millions of jobs for Americans and legal immigrants if we enforced our immigration laws against illegal immigrant workers.
Another way to protect jobs for Americans is for Congress to better protect the ideas and innovations that drive economic growth. Nearly 30 percent of American workers are found in intellectual property industries such as health care, entertainment, renewable energy and information technology. Patents protect this intellectual property and encourage the creativity and innovation that generate jobs and increase productivity.
The theft of intellectual property costs Americans billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. When inventors and businesses invest in research and development that result in patents, they have the right to benefit from their efforts. The American economy also benefits by the jobs these patents create.
We need to improve our patent system to better protect intellectual property and help ensure that good patents are approved more quickly. There is bipartisan support for much-needed revisions to our patent system, which has not been significantly updated in more than half a century.
Congress can help millions of Americans who are struggling to afford health care by enacting lawsuit-abuse reform. We should consider ways to limit frivolous lawsuits that drive up health care costs. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 40 percent of medical malpractice suits filed in the U.S. are “without merit.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that lawsuit-abuse reform would save federal taxpayers $54 billion over the next decade. This would help American families struggling with health care costs and protect medical personnel who are overburdened by the cost of malpractice insurance.
Finally, we need to renew our focus on protecting America’s children from sexual exploitation and child pornography. The Internet continues to be a playground for sex predators and pedophiles. Since the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children created the CyberTipline 12 years ago, electronic service providers have reported almost 8 million images and videos of sexually exploited children.
Many children are under assault by sex predators on the Internet. One in three children receives unsolicited sexual content online and one in seven is solicited for sex online. We need stronger data retention laws to help investigators track down predators who create and distribute child pornography.
In addition to our policy initiatives to restore national security and create jobs, the House Judiciary Committee is also committed to fair and reasonable oversight of the Department of Justice.
Oversight is not a game of cat and mouse between Congress and the White House. It is the legitimate and necessary work of Congress to improve the operation and function of the executive branch and ensure that federal agencies are responsive to the interests of the American people. We should make sure that our laws are equally enforced, criminals are prosecuted and American communities are kept safe.
Congress will have its hands full. But for democracy to work, it must be a government by the people and for the people. Republicans plan to respond to the demands of the voters for a more restrained and accountable government.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.