Republicans were already licking their wounds after last November’s bruising defeat, and the last-minute budget deal that raised taxes as 2012 collapsed into 2013 probably didn’t make them any happier.
In January of 2013, Gallup reported that only 14% of Americans approved of how Congress was doing its job. A Gallup poll in 2010 showed that the American public rated the “ethical standards” of Congress about as low as used car salespeople. Republicans could use some new ideas and a fresh start in 2013: I usually advise Democrats, but since I believe that having two healthy parties is good for America, I’ll offer the Republicans some advice here. The GOP could do worse than thinking about these 13 ideas for 2013.
1) Freeze the budget: The House of Representatives has the constitutional authority to set the level of federal spending. If the Republican House just maintains the current levels of spending, then the normal 1-5% annual increase in federal revenues due to better growth and the higher taxes imposed in the budget agreement will slowly and naturally reduce the annual deficit. There is precedent for this: in the 1990s, the Republican-led House controlled spending and the Clinton tax increases paid off in higher revenues, eventually resulting in record surpluses.
2) Reinvent government (again): Twenty years ago, Vice President Al Gore was assigned the task of finding inefficient programs. That was when the federal budget was roughly $1.5 trillion annually. Today, it’s nearly $4 trillion. Surely, some smart young House member can find waste and inefficiency in a government more than twice as large. It might be a good career move, too: back in the 1940s, an obscure Missouri senator chaired the committee overseeing federal spending during World War II, exposing fraud and bungling. Senator Harry Truman eventually became president.
3) Establish a “government reform” task force to look for savings: There’s no reason why this group couldn’t be bipartisan. Invite some Democrats to join in and thereby avoid the suspicion that investigations of the Obama administration’s programs are a partisan witch hunt.
4) Investigate the possibility of reducing American forces in Germany: While NATO served an honorable and crucial role in winning the Cold War, the chances of another war in Central Europe are currently very low. Drawing down American troops to a “trip-wire” force could save up to $20 billion.
5) Consolidate and eliminate departments: There is also precedent for this. In the 1950s and the 1990s, programs that were duplicative were combined to save money (both decades saw balanced budgets). One possible department to consolidate would be the Department of Energy (whose budget was $27 billion last year). Many of this department’s functions can be handled by other cabinet agencies. For example, regulation of oil and gas drilling can be done by the Environmental Protection Agency. Grants in the alternative energy field can be processed by the Commerce Department. Drilling permits can be handled by the Department of the Interior. And so on.
6) Try to reach a bipartisan agreement on adjusting the “cost-of-living” formula for federal benefits: Many economists believe that the current formula to adjust pensions for inflation is overly generous. If so, then adjusting it would not be an absolute cut in benefits, but a reduction in the rate of increase. The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan estimated that this adjustment would save one trillion dollars over the next 30 years. If done on a bipartisan basis, this could be one of the better ways to save money.
7) Try to strengthen the American family: Speaking of Moynihan, he never tired of pointing out that single mothers are five times as likely to be poor as married couples, thus requiring billions of dollars in assistance. Therefore, stronger two-parent families are in the national interest. They are also in the Republican Party’s interest: the network exit polls showed single mothers provided President Obama’s margin of victory in 2012.
8) Make sure your members speak the language of the national interest: The 2012 CNN exit poll showed that Democrats were 38% of the voters, Republicans 32%, and independents 29%. So, any policy that comes across as appealing only to the Republican base isn’t likely to rally the nation as a whole. The good thing about “reform” themes is that they cross party lines, and especially appeal to independents.
9) National Guard/FEMA upgrade: The nation has repeatedly been hit by natural (hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.) and man-made (9/11) disasters over the last generation. More extensive training for the National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency would seem to be a wise investment.
10) Consider a consumption tax as a last resort to raise revenue: Conservative parties in Europe have raised “value-added taxes” as a less-damaging alternative to higher business or income taxes for years. These sales taxes are largely voluntary, as a person only has to pay if they buy an expensive new product. If it was good enough for Margaret Thatcher …
11) Consider trading a carbon tax for a permanent reduction in business taxes: Increasing the gas tax would not only raise some revenue, it would also reduce energy consumption & pollution and relieve traffic. Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist has indicated that he would not oppose increased energy taxes if other levies were reduced by an equal amount, thus making the tax “revenue-neutral.”
12) Support bipartisan immigration reform: Assigning Senator Marco Rubio to negotiate a compromise immigration bill was a wise move. Hispanics helped provide President Obama’s margin of victory last year; their future clout will only grow due to higher birth rates, and a new approach is strongly advised for the GOP.
13) Create a Victoria Soto memorial: Renaming teacher scholarship programs after Ms. Soto, who gave her life protecting her students in Newtown, would not only be a kind gesture but would also help soften the GOP’s sometimes harsh image, as Ms. Soto was a “two-fer”: female and Latin.
None of these ideas would necessarily guarantee future GOP victories. Any opposition party has, by definition, to almost always hope for the incumbents to make mistakes. If either Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden is running in 2016 on a platform of peace and prosperity, then “New Ideas” will hardly matter. But I firmly believe that these concepts are a good start. Let the Republican debates begin.
Also read: Can the GOP Find a Path Forward?