Battered Republicans and triumphant Democrats met Monday to launch a lame-duck congressional session that should adjourn by Christmas. While they still can, Republicans should employ their House and Senate majorities to enact these pro-market, limited government initiatives that they failed to deliver before the midterm elections:
1) Most important, President Bush’s tax cuts, now scheduled to expire in 2010, should be made permanent. Even if supply-side Republicans were to do this after recapturing Congress and keeping the White House in 2008, the two years of uncertainty in the meantime would confuse financial markets and potentially erode economic growth.
2) According to opinion polls, some 70 percent of Americans want the death tax killed and buried for good. Get on with the funeral.
3) The IRS’s 1040 form should include a new Higher-Rate-Optional Tax. The HOT Tax would let any American who hates tax cuts indicate whatever tax rate he prefers to pay above his assigned bracket. Liberals who say they don’t want tax cuts could avoid them and, instead, send the Treasury even more of their money.
4) Congress should enact portable, individual, universal Health Savings Accounts. Coupled with high-deductible insurance, Republicans finally could answer Democratic complaints about 40 million Americans without coverage. Congress also should adopt a measure sponsored by Senator Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) and Rep. John Shadegg (R., Ariz.) that would let Americans purchase medical insurance anywhere in America, not just from carriers licensed to sell policies in their own states. If Americans can buy home mortgages and fire insurance across state lines, they should have the same freedom to shop nationwide for health coverage.
5) After the Supreme Court’s disastrous Kelo v. New London decision, the House passed a bill, 376-38, to bar federal funding from construction projects for which private property has been confiscated through eminent domain and awarded to private interests for private benefit. Even left-wing diehard Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) supported this measure. Maddeningly, it has languished in Senator Arlen Specter’s (R., Pa.) Judiciary Committee for a year. It should be dislodged, approved, and signed by the president.
6) Congress should endorse DeMint’s proposal to prohibit Americans from serving as dockworkers if they have been convicted of violent felonies such as conspiracy, explosives trafficking, and homicide. Airport security personnel are not allowed to have such rap sheets. The same should apply to longshoremen, lest such convicted felons give aid and comfort to those who might wish to import, say, a dirty bomb onto a pier and into a waiting Ryder truck.
7) The Senate should pass the Federal Election Integrity Act, which cleared the House 228 — 196 on September 20. It would require voters to show valid, government-issued photo identification beginning with the November 2008 presidential election. By the 2010 midterm congressional elections, voters would have to display photo ID that proves American citizenship. Presenting photo ID to vote is no more burdensome than doing so to board passenger jets. This simple rule will discourage voter fraud and make it tougher for dead people to cast ballots.
8) The Senate promptly should confirm Robert Gates’s nomination as Pentagon chief. America’s enemies should not be given a reason to regard the Defense Department as adrift between secretaries.
9) Likewise, United Nations Ambassador John Bolton should have his recess appointment extended into full confirmation. Bolton is busy finding diplomatic means to keep Iran and North Korea from becoming nuclear powers. The Senate should assist him in this vital effort, as well as in the rest of his duties at the world body. Step one is to strengthen his hand by extending his tenure until Bush’s departure.
10) Twenty-nine of Bush’s federal judicial nominees are pending. The Senate’s executive calendar includes one circuit-court appointee and 13 district-court nominees, all ready to be called up for Yeas and Nays by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.). In the Judiciary Committee, four appellate-court appointees and 11 district-court nominees await either hearings or votes to clear the panel and reach the Senate floor.
The Senate should work overtime to move as many of them as possible from this purgatory onto the bench.
As one Senate aide explained to me by e-mail, none of this has been easy. Democrats have been crafty and energetic in dragging their feet on Bush’s judicial nominees:
Under Senate Rule 31, pending nominations expire and are returned to the president when the Senate takes a break of more than 30 days. In the past, no matter which party was in the White House or ran the Senate, this rule was regularly waived and pending nominations carried over. For the first time in at least 30 years, Democrats objected to carrying five appeals court nominees — Terry Boyle, William Haynes, William Myers, Norman Smith, and Mike Wallace — over the August 2006 recess, forcing their return to the president. They were re-nominated on September 5, but that meant a return to the Judiciary Committee where Democrats have prevented another committee vote. When the Senate broke on September 29, Democrats pulled the same stunt, this time adding Peter Keisler to the list. Democrats already had been obstructing the confirmation process in various ways, both in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor. But they continue to invent new obstruction tactics, continuing to follow then-Democratic Leader Tom Daschle’s February 2001 vow to use “whatever means necessary” to block President Bush’s judicial nominees.
Most of these initiatives would pass more easily in the House (or already have) than in the filibuster-happy Senate. Nevertheless, Republicans might as well try to push through such legislation while they still control Capitol Hill’s agenda.
If GOP-led lame ducks send most of these items to President Bush for signature, they will remind voters of the kinds of policies Republicans are supposed to implement, and might again, if voters return them to power in 2008. If Republican representatives and senators had accomplished more of these things in the first place, voters last Tuesday might not have banished them to minority status.
— Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.