Obama Outlined His Agenda. Here’s What Conservatives Have on Theirs.

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama laid out his agenda in his final State of the Union. On Wednesday morning, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, outlined the policy issues conservatives plan to pursue in 2016.

Most of their priorities didn’t match the president’s legislative initiatives, except in the case of passing criminal justice reform. Both lawmakers, who lead conservatives in their respective chambers, shared their goals with a group of reporters gathered at The Heritage Foundation.

For Jordan, who leads the House Freedom Caucus, job No. 1 for Republicans in Congress is “to show the difference, to show how we’re different than them.” He said this is consistent with the overarching goal of “getting a Republican hopefully elected and into the White House.”

In broad strokes, Jordan, like Speaker Paul Ryan, wants to highlight that contrast in three areas: taxes, health care, and welfare reform.

He wants a tax reform bill that showcases a “simpler, fairer, flatter, and more conducive to growth” tax system.  

He wants a health care reform that “empowers patients and families—not Washington.”

And he wants welfare reform that would be “very different, that would emphasize and incentivize work.”

Jordan and Lee both agree those priorities will be a heavy lift during an election year with a shorter legislative schedule.

But Jordan says Republicans should do more than lip service to these policies. Even if Democrats or the calendar hold up their agenda, Jordan is pushing Republicans to make the legislative effort.

“Let’s actually vote on it and go on the record. That’s a better approach,” he said. “If we want to get it done, we can.”  

For Lee, a top priority is one that might make it to Obama’s desk if the Senate and House and work out their differences.

“The first thing I want to see done is criminal justice reform,” said Lee, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Obama noted the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act during his speech Tuesday night, promising to make progress on the issue. Lee said that with “strong bipartisan support,” he’s confident it can become law.

“It’s something that can pass,” he said. “It’s something that should move to the Senate floor. I’d very much like to see that get done.”

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