January 30, 2006,
What's the big idea? Don't ask me. At least in this piece, there is none.
Republicans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue last year tied their own shoelaces together while tackling big ideas. Despite President Bush's valiant efforts, his attempt to modernize Social Security stalled amid Democratic intransigence and GOP cowardice. Meanwhile, greater presidential boldness might have yielded a dramatic reform of the tax code. Instead, a blue-ribbon panel offered an uninspiring mish-mash that quickly lulled the nation to sleep. And in Congress, wholesale attempts to reign in runaway spending floundered as the Republican appetite for pork proved strong enough to ignite a thousand barbecue pits.
While America still needs personal retirement accounts, a low-rate flat tax, and massive reductions in federal outlays, perhaps Republicans this year should pass measures that would be slight in size but significant in restoring the party's shattered image as the purveyors of limited government and free markets.
Here are four proposals that should help the GOP get its groove back.
First, Congress should adopt a rule requiring constitutional justification for all the legislation it considers. Every bill should begin, "Pursuant to U.S. Constitution Article X Clause, Y, Congress hereby enacts . . ." Senators and House members may fall back upon the "General Welfare" clause, but at least doing so would remind legislators that America still has a constitution that is supposed to guide and restrain federal action. As Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank, likes to say: "The Constitution isn't perfect, but it's better than what we have now."
While I thought this was my own brilliant idea, I just discovered that a House member has introduced H.R. 2458, which would bring it to life. According to a statement from this representative’s office, “The Enumerated Powers Act” would “force a continual re-examination of the role of the national government.” This congressman is none other than Rep. John Shadegg (R., Ariz,), the man National Review has endorsed as the next House Majority Leader.
This is the second time in three days that I have learned that Shadegg coincidentally is promoting the same new, pro-market ideas that I am. While writing a column proposing a national free market in individual health insurance, I found that Shadegg’s Health Care Choice Act would do exactly what my op-ed urges. How refreshing to find a congressman who not only listens to pro-freedom ideas but embraces them ahead of the commentariat! These small incidents reinforce my belief that Shadegg is the free-marketeer’s choice for House Republican leader.
Second, before the next mid-term election, Congress should approve grants to states to finance free photo identification cards for poor voters who otherwise lack ID. In exchange, states should require citizens to show photo IDs in federal elections.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court last October blocked a Georgia law that required photo ID at polling stations, saying the card's $35 cost was just too much to ask of the poor and elderly. So why not let low-income and older people cash checks and board 747s without photo ID? If mandating picture ID at every precinct on November 7 requires Washington to reimburse states for giving free IDs to the handful of voters who lack them and cannot afford them, Republicans should propose that tradeoff.
Elections free of phantom and repeat voters should be expected in the world's leading democratic republic. Such an anti-vote-fraud measure likely would benefit the GOP, which too often suffers at the hands of union-controlled, big-city political machines. If congressional Democrats balk at such a deal, make them stand up and explain why they oppose free photo IDs for voters who need them.
Third, the Senate and House should adopt a rule barring federal funding for new projects that bear the names of living and, even worse, sitting politicians. One must die before appearing on a U.S. postage stamp. Why, then, does California boast the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, named after America's still-breathing Transportation Secretary? One of Alaska's notorious "bridges to nowhere" would be dubbed "Don Young's Way" after the GOP House Transportation chairman who champions it. Naming public works after politicians who are alive and even in office reeks of Pyongyang.
This shady practice gives incumbents an unfair advantage over their challengers. While his potential opponents for the U.S. Senate struggle to boost their name identification, former Klansman Robert C. Byrd (D., W. V.) enjoys taxpayer-funded advertising every time voters see the Robert C. Byrd Federal Courthouse or travel the Robert C. Byrd Expressway. These monuments to vanity are unbecoming and deserve no further federal support. If GOP legislators can gather a pound of principle among themselves, they should apply the postage-stamp rules to bridges and highways.
Fourth, Congress should bar federal farm and business subsidies to any American who earns more than $1 million. "No welfare for millionaires" is an idea that will help Republicans show some sorely needed fiscal restraint. If Democrats disagree, let them explain why rich people deserve free stuff.
If Washington Republicans can steady themselves, they should think big. Barring that, it might help them in this election year to think wisely, but also to think small.
Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.