The GOP’s dramatic electoral gains have left the free-market movement beautifully positioned to implement much of its agenda in the next Congress.
Democrats and liberals, of course, are unlikely to cooperate. Once the shock wears off, many will do what they do best: terrify Americans with horror stories about the GOP’s risky schemes to starve seniors, disenfranchise minorities and relegate women to their kitchens — yadda, yadda, yadda. Lacking control of any official Washington power center, Democrats’ squeals will be uniquely shrill. Their comrades in the media may amplify these noises such that Republicans cannot concentrate.
When this happens, Republicans should chant this mantra like monks: “Freedom, freedom, freedom.”
The GOP should make Americans free to choose market-oriented solutions to their problems, if they so desire. Rather than squabble over the minutiae of policy reforms, Republicans should fight to extend them as options. Let Democrats respond that they want Americans unfree to make such choices as these:
‐Tax Freedom: Anyone who benefits from the 46,900-page U.S. tax code and its tank trap of rates, exemptions and credits should be welcome to it. Those who prefer a flat tax at, say, 15 to 17 percent with few if any deductions should be free to file that way. “It’s your money. It’s your choice.”
‐Pension freedom: Beginning in 2017, Social Security is scheduled to pay more benefits than it collects in taxes. The so-called Trust Fund is merely a vault full of promises. Nonetheless, some Americans like the idea that Uncle Sam will see them through retirement. Let them keep Social Security. But let others devote part of their payroll taxes to individually owned investment accounts. “It’s your pension. It’s your choice.”
‐School freedom: The Supreme Court’s recent pro-voucher decisions give parents more latitude in educating their children. Like college kids with Pell Grants, K-12 students should receive vouchers redeemable at establishments that they and their parents choose. Those who like government schools can take their vouchers there. Those who don’t can present them wherever satisfies their learning needs. “It’s your child. It’s your choice.”
Since Congress controls Washington, D.C., it should adopt a voucher bill to benefit the capitol’s embattled government-school students. Despite 2000 per-capita expenditures of $8,277 (versus a national average of $6,627), the American Legislative Exchange Council ranked it 50th in academic achievement. The Senate has passed such bills with the support of Democrats Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Louisiana’s John Breaux and Mary Landrieu. (President Clinton vetoed those measures.) Congress should send President Bush similar legislation he can sign.
‐Medical Freedom. Seniors who admire Medicare should be free to stick with it. Others may prefer the bipartisan approach of Senator Breaux and Rep. Bill Thomas (R., California). Seniors could opt for vouchers to purchase private health insurance with superior features such as prescription drug coverage. Others could open Medical Savings Accounts. Seniors should be offered Medicare or this broader menu. “It’s your health. It’s your choice.”
‐Labor Freedom. American workers who like unions should join them. If not, no one should be forced to sign up as a condition of employment. A national right-to-work law would let individuals decide. “It’s your job. It’s your choice.”
Unions will howl. Let them. They should not have bet their chips on Democrats. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that through September 4, Big Labor gave $57,154,502 in the 2002 election, 92 percent to Democrats. Despite Bush’s overtures to them, the Teamsters gave Democrats 83 percent of its $1,811,871 in donations. The carpenters’ union dedicated 85 percent of its $3,199,109 war chest to Bush’s opponents.
“The contributions data show that the White House got basically nothing for itself and its congressional allies by courting Teamster and Carpenters’ union officials,” says the National Right to Work Committee’s Stan Greer. “The White House owes them nothing.”
These ideas have pros and cons. Still, Republicans should explain that they would let Americans embrace them if they wish. Who can argue with that?
Republicans can win that fight, so long as they promote their principles with energy, intelligence and wit and remain confident that they are doing the right thing. This is called leadership. It’s not too much to ask of Election 2002′s winners.