Ramesh Ponnuru on How the GOP’s Best and Brightest Electeds are Pivoting Post-Election

Ramesh Ponnuru has a new column on how Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) have been positioning themselves in the wake of Mitt Romney’s defeat. Rather than fixate on demographics as such, these Republicans are emphasizing the need to place middle-class economic interests at the heart of the conservative policy agenda. Though Ramesh acknowledges that Jindal et al. have been slow to embrace ambitious new policy initiatives, he suggests that they are moving in the direction, and I am inclined to agree with him. Ramesh includes excerpts from a recent exchange he had with Gov. Jindal:

He complained after the election that too many voters associate Republicans with big business. He told me recently that “we were the party that opposed the president instead of providing constructive alternatives.” Although he dislikes the health-care law President Barack Obama is putting in place, he also said, “Americans are rightly worried about rising health-care costs.”

Even the language the three men are using these days is similar. “We need to show folks that we are an aspirational party,” Jindal said. “We need to be the party that represents the upward mobility,” a party that believes “every single American has the same American dream, and we want to help them.”

This is encouraging. What is somewhat less encouraging is his recent op-ed for Politico, in which he proposes, among other things:

(1) a federal balanced budget amendment, which may well lead to greater reliance on off-balance-sheet policy vehicles like tax expenditures and underpriced credit guarantees;

(2) a fixed cap on federal expenditures as a share of GDP, which will require a supermajority to override in case of war or national emergency — given that war has become a near-permanent conditions and national emergencies are in the eye of the beholder (does Sandy count, or the 2008 financial crisis?), it’s not clear that this will have much of an impact beyond encouraging greater reliance on off-balance-sheet spending;

and (3) term limits, which tend to increase the power of the the executive branch, bureaucrats, and lobbyists relative to legislators.

The spirit behind Jindal’s proposals is, in my view, perfectly sound. But in lieu of term limits, a better approach might be to allow political parties to engage in unlimited coordinated spending on behalf of candidates, a step that would radically reduce the fundraising advantage of incumbent legislators. A cap of federal expenditures is a defensible idea, but spending restraint is the outcome of policy choices, as demonstrated by the sorry case of the doc fix. Procedural gimmicks are attractive, but at some point politicians need to make an affirmative case for why the reform of social insurance programs will yield better society-wide outcomes. 

Jindal writes:

Now that I’ve offended everyone in Washington, a few final thoughts – our debt is strangling us.

I’d argue that Jindal’s proposals will offend virtually no one in Washington, as the idea of substituting new procedures — sequestration, the sunsetting of tax provisions, caps on this or that, etc. — for difficult policy choices is very familiar. Fortunately, Jindal is a really creative policy thinker who has chosen a strong team in Louisiana. His education initiatives have been extraordinarily ambitious, for example. So one assumes that he will have much more to say in the future.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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