It’s a new year, and thus, time for a fresh start. This is as true for the federal government as it is for any individual. The 112th Congress, the president and both parties face daunting challenges in both the domestic and international arenas in 2011. Two months ago, voters overwhelmingly delivered the message that they want elected officials to approach these problems from a new direction. Whether the president is emotionally or ideologically capable of executing such a pivot remains to be seen. It appears that if anyone is going to put the nation back on a more sensible course, it’s going to have to be Congress. That, in turn, means that our senators and representatives need to remember why they were elected and what they are supposed to accomplish. Here are just a few suggestions:
Stick to Your Diet
We’ve heard a lot of noise about the need for spending cuts from both sides of the aisle lately. Talking about spending cuts is now all the rage, but we’ve yet to see the rhetoric turn into action. The lame duck Congress’ deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts contained “stealth stimulus” spending that many believe made the bill more of a victory for Obama and his love affair with Keynesian economics than it was for conservative, supply-side economics. The 112th Congress must take a much harder line that we have ever seen before when it comes to federal spending. That’s not going to be easy, for maintaining the strict discipline needed to make a diet of any kind work is a tough job, but that’s particularly true when the diet plan is of the fiscal variety and thus involves various kinds of politicians and many different cuts of pork.
By now, it should be obvious to everyone this side of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi that America doesn’t want any more “stimulus” spending, because the only part of the economy stimulated by running up trillions more in debt involves the people who supply the paper and ink necessary to keep the presses of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing churning out fresh dollar bills. The tougher part of this resolution will be to avoid the kind of “fiscal snacks” that will inevitably undermine the entire diet. A billion or two for an earmark here or an earmark there really doesn’t count for a lot when compared to a national debt that’s rapidly approaching $14 trillion, but those sort of politically-motivated, self-serving expenditures are precisely what will undermine the discipline that Washington needs if big government is ever going to wean itself from its spending addiction.
Brave the Third Rail
When we talk about addressing America’s growing debt crisis, we’re really talking about entitlements. Congress can address every other part of the budget and it can cut spending in those discretionary areas to the bone, but unless it deals effectively with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, nothing really matters. Today, spending on those entitlement programs consumes about twenty per cent of the economy. If left unchecked, the spending on the “big three” entitlements will rise to thirty per cent of GDP by 2033. That rate of spending is simply unsustainable and entirely incompatible with the maintenance of a free market economy.
As wildly unpopular as any attempts to reform entitlement programs will be, such actions are vitally necessary if America is going to remain the strong, effective and prosperous leader of the free world. Both parties should approach this issue in the same manner that they have traditionally made vital decisions when America was in danger during wartime: without regard for political gamesmanship or re-election prospects. A truly bi-partisan solution to the entitlement problem is needed now, more than ever. If that is to happen, Republicans will have to forgo the temptation to shout “we told you so” across the aisle. On the other hand, enough Democrats must be found who care more for their nation’s future than they do for the leftist rhetoric of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. If Democrats and Republicans truly care about America’s future, they should declare that the issue of entitlement reform is effectively a “politically demilitarized zone” in which neither party will try to make political hay.
Legislate, Don’t Regulate
The Obama administration represents something of a nadir in American history. In an increasingly complex world, Congress long-ago recognized that legislation (laws duly authorized by that body) could not possibly keep up with the pace of developments in the real world. Accordingly, Congress created regulatory bodies, like the IRS, OSHA and EPA, that were granted “limited” authority to impose Congress’ will. The means to do that, granted to these regulatory bodies, was the delegated authority to pass regulations, which – Congress assumed – would be consistent with their initial intent.
The difference between regulatory authority and legislative will is profound. The Obama administration has used the former to undermine the latter more than any other administration in history. The president’s many “czars” have used the existing, complex regulatory framework and the extensive bureaucratic structures that previous administrations have built to impose the president’s will without having to deal with annoying debates in the press or in Congress. Both the House and the Senate should demand much more of this administration. If Barack Obama wants to fundamentally change the course of the nation, his decisions should stand up to the light of day and earn the votes of the majority of our representatives, rather than hiding under the cloaks of obscure and largely misunderstood regulatory agencies.
Remember Our Actual Allies
We’ve tried the experiment. Venezuela is not going to be our friend. Iran isn’t going to curtail its nuclear program, no matter who America bows to. Unless the west declares its willingness to submit to Sharia law, there is no reason to believe that the fundamentalist wing of the Muslim world – and there’s absolutely no reason to believe that the hard-core wing doesn’t matter – doesn’t care about what we infidels think. We’re used to thinking about religious issues in compromising terms.
That’s not the way it works in the fundamentalist Muslim world boys and girls, and the fundamentalist, Muslim world encompasses a much more dangerous universe than you could possibly imagine. We in the west have some very tough and dangerous choices to make. You don’t want to believe that you must – and thus have had a tremendously difficult time – facing that unfortunate reality. The world is changing and, whether we like it or not, everyone of us must decide whether we will or will not change with it.
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