The Corner

What the New Republican Congress Should and Shouldn’t Do

Republicans won big last night, but not for the best reasons. In most congressional races, victory came by successfully framing this election as a referendum on President Obama’s policies rather than running on an explicit platform of their own.

There is some sense in which President Obama has come to stand for distrust of big government in general, but as I mentioned on Monday, Republicans shouldn’t confuse the souring attitudes about Obama with an embrace of the GOP. Why? Because the steady disillusionment with government began when Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House. Indeed, the decline in faith in the federal government coincided with its ballooning under both the Bush and Obama administration. It would be a grave mistake for the victorious GOP to seek a restoration of the public’s faith in government by seeking merely to “fix” the problems Obama created.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions of what Republicans should and shouldn’t do in the next two years:

Do not create new entitlement programs. If you think this is an unnecessary point, you must have forgotten your recent history: Under divided government in the Clinton years, congressional Republicans teamed with the Democrats to pass a massive expansion of Medicaid via the Children’s Health Insurance Program. When Republicans were fully in control of Congress and the White House between 2003 and 2006, they gave Medicare Part D. In the last few years there has been rumblings about the GOP creating a new mandatory savings program. It would be a mistake.

Refrain from increasing spending. During the Clinton years, the Republican-controlled Congress slowed spending growth in the first two years but then reverted to overspending.

Refrain from cutting taxes without paying for it with spending cuts. It can be done!

Refrain from abusing the emergency-spending loophole for non-emergency and predictable items. 

Refrain from passing  An Internet sales tax. .  

Continue to work toward repealing Obamacare. While repealing the law isn’t yet possible, it’s important to educate people on why Obamacare doesn’t work and why it should be repealed when that’s finally possible. First and foremost, the problem with the law wasn’t that its implementation was faulty (though it was) but rather because federal control of health care doesn’t work, period. Unfortunately, GOP candidates really only have offered a politically expedient way rearranging of the deck chairs on a sinking ship.

Pass as many anti-Obamacare bills as possible using budget rules. 

Use the people’s low faith in government to build momentum toward less government – not a kinder, gentler version of the failed status quo.

Do not reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank charter, and let the agency finally die. The only thing Republicans have to do here is nothing.

Radically reform the Food and Drug Administration. Part of the agency is up for reauthorization in 2015 and the GOP should seize the opportunity to talk up private alternatives

Reform the Social Security disability program. The program’s trust fund will dry out in 2016 and its has risen and will continue to rise considerably. Importantly, stay away from fake reforms such as “borrowing” assets from the other trust funds or pretending that insignificant changes will fix the program. Instead, lawmakers should cut SSDI’s average benefit levels and institute stricter eligibility standards to discourage claims from people who could be working. 

Reform the corporate-income tax by slashing the top rate. (Zero would be ideal, but anything below other countries’ rates would help a lot.)

Avoid the temptation to look compassionate by embracing a federal minimum-wage increase. While it is true that state minimum-wage increases were popular at the ballot box, this doesn’t change the fact that it’s very poor policy. At the very least, the GOP should reiterate that this is a state-level issue, not a federal one. Ultimately, state differences make for a compelling policy arguments because states with higher minimum-wage thresholds take greater employment beatings.

Just say no to the War on Drugs. When it comes to decentralization/devolution, Republicans shouldn’t stop with the minimum wage. Marijuana legalization was incredibly successful in yesterday’s elections. The case for conservatives should be simple: The War on Drugs has torn apart American families and hurts lower-income black Americans in particular. The trend is pro-legalization; the GOP should get on board.

Cool it on the warmongering. Republicans would be wrong to conclude that the country is looking for a Pentagon budget blowout and a return to aggressive nation-building. People, I’d argue, are still tired of never-ending wars and constant interventionism. 

An overall theme here: General lack of faith in government is an opportunity to use specific government failures to roll back government. While most of these proposals won’t survive the president’s veto pen, it will signal to the American people that the GOP does indeed stand for less government and has learned from the mistakes of the past. 

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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