Grand, Old Tactics Need Refocusing
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 22:02
Debt limit. Fiscal cliff. Sequestration. Government shutdown. We’ve heard these doom-and-gloom buzzwords far too many times in political debates over the past few years. Repeated Washington-manufactured budget crises have been a drag on the U.S. economy and have undermined Americans’ confidence in their political leaders. They’ve also seriously damaged the Republican brand, recasting the Grand Old Party not as one of prosperity but as the slash-and-burn party of the wealthy.
As a fiscal conservative and a Republican, I am sympathetic to the concerns of those in my party who feel that these cries are the only realistic means of achieving deficit reduction. But this deficit reduction pales in comparison to the scope of our long-term fiscal problem. In budget negotiations, our leaders have haggled over such deficit panaceas as small income tax rate hikes, a switch to the chained Consumer Price Index and small cuts to the growth rate of federal spending. Meanwhile, despite the best efforts of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and the House GOP, the tens of trillions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid unfunded liabilities that are the crux of the problem remain untouched.
Republicans should continue to champion deficit reduction. They should continue to pass budgets that reform Medicare and Medicaid and solve long-run problems. But they shouldn’t continue to engage in sporadic budget debates that barely scratch the surface of the problems that plague our public finances and damage the GOP brand. That’s not smart policy, and it’s definitely not smart politics.
Instead, Republicans should reclaim their identity as the party of prosperity for all. Specifically, they should transform their core message from one of fighting constant budget battles to one of delivering economic growth and prosperity for all Americans.
To be successful, the Republican growth agenda must be tailored to fit the economic problems we face now. The GOP cannot expect to influence policy and win elections if it refuses to rethink how to best apply its fundamental principles to the problems of the day.
Consider, for instance, the GOP’s unwavering dedication to cutting the top individual marginal income tax rate. The principle behind this policy is clear: When Americans have control over their own money and markets are allowed to work free from the burden of high income tax rates, economic growth is more likely. But that principle does not imply that cutting the top tax rate is always the best policy.
Put aside for the moment the fact that, in recent elections, this policy has reinforced the idea that the GOP is beholden to the country’s wealthiest citizens at the expense of everyday Americans. Republicans must acknowledge that economic conditions are constantly changing, and in today’s world, the growth returns to income tax rate cuts may not be as robust as they were during, say, the Reagan revolution of the 1980s.
Republican leaders shouldn’t continue to propose the same economic policies merely because they have become part of a dogmatic party doctrine. The GOP will only win back the trust of the American people and rebuild its reputation as the party of economic growth if it can reapply its principles to the 2013 economy.
In Indiana, former Gov. Mitch Daniels modernized his state’s infrastructure, boosted the state economy and saved money doing it through innovative private-public partnerships. In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal pioneered innovative education reforms that empower students of all socioeconomic backgrounds to choose the educational option that best suits their needs. In Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Dakota, Republican governors have allowed companies to safely explore revolutionary new methods of gas and oil extraction that have boosted state economies and driven down unemployment rates — unemployment in North Dakota currently sits at 3.2 percent.
Fresh, principled ideas like these have created prosperity for Americans of all backgrounds, shrunk state budget gaps and boosted governors’ approval ratings. A cohesive and innovative growth agenda can do the same on a national level. It’s the right policy choice, and it’s the right political choice. Republicans must continue to be the adults in the room and advocate for the necessary reforms to fix our long-term fiscal problems. But there’s no reason to continue to spend huge amounts of political capital on budget battles when, with the realities of divided government, meaningful results are few and far between.