The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

Ramesh Ponnuru’s Republican Agenda


At Right Matters, Ramesh Ponnuru has posted a potential agenda for Republican congressional candidates running in 2010. I agree with Ross’s characterization of the proposals as “substantial, sensible and politically sale-able.” Below I offer some additional thoughts:   


Here, admittedly off the top of my head and in no particular order, are a few of the ideas I hope Republicans run on:

1) A tax reform that includes tax relief for parents, increased incentives to work and save, and considerable simplification of the tax code. (In other venues I have sketched out how taxes could be reformed in this way without sacrificing revenue.)

Ramesh and Robert Stein have written about this idea extensively. Stein has written an essay for National Affairs on the same theme. One potentially complicating aspect of Stein’s approach is that it wouldn’t be terribly appealing to upper-middle-class blue state professionals, a potentially winnable constituency for conservative candidates in 2010 and 2012. the more important question, of course, is whether getting rid of the state and local tax deduction is nevertheless a good idea. I tend to think it is, so I am sympathetic to Stein’s approach.

To be blunt, the plan is a tax hike on the rich and makes the tax code even more progressive than it is today. Given the loss of the state and local tax deduction, the tax hike will be particularly acute for high earners from high-tax states. And although the top income-tax rate would be capped at 35%, that rate would kick in at lower income levels than it does today. The result would be a marginal tax-rate hike — and a corresponding weakening of work incentives — for many workers who today find themselves in the 25%, 28%, and 33% brackets.

2)Repeal of Obamacare.

Conservatives and centrists need a good alternative to PPACA, but I see no reason for candidates not to run on repealing the new health law.

3) A permanent ban on federal funding of abortion.

4) A plan to unwind the federal ownership stake in Detroit.

This is intriguing, and could be linked to a package of regulatory and labor market reforms designed to aid manufacturers. 

5) Changing the Social Security benefits formula so that payouts to high earners in the future keep up with inflation–but grow no faster than that.

Another excellent idea, which could be linked to a proposal for early retirement accounts

6) Temporary assistance to state governments, conditioned on their reform of their pension systems.

There appears to be an emerging consensus around this idea. Christopher Edley Jr., from the center-left has proposed something along similar lines, as has Nicole Gelinas of the center-right Manhattan Institute. More on this to come.

7) The elimination of corporate welfare–including OPIC, the Export-Import Bank, and the like.

An excellent idea with populist resonance.

8) A plan to rein in Fannie and Freddie.

Chris and I highlight the Marron-Swagel GSE reform proposal in our article, but there are others.

9) Congressional reforms–such as a requirement that the text of bills be posted for 72 hours before a vote, a rule allowing members of Congress to raise points of order challenging the constitutional basis of any legislation being debated, and a rule that congressmen cannot get non-emergency care at Walter Reed unless they are veterans.

10) A federal hiring freeze.

This last idea is the only one that gives me pause: I’d recommend freezing total compensation, but not necessarily freezing the size of the federal workforce. I worry about a scenario in which we freeze the size of the federal workforce, yet we hire more private contractors. Private contractors make sense in many instances, yet the real issue is the size of the federal wage bill. Private contractors are part of the federal wage bill. 

I can think of other ideas, but Ramesh’s proposals strike me as a good, minimalist agenda that all conservative congressional candidates can and should agree on. 


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