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First, Stop Obama’s Madness

A two-step plan for the future majority party.

Sep 20, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 01 • By YUVAL LEVIN
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Such a break, as a beginning and an organizing principle for the first stage of a Republican agenda, would be good policy and good politics. It would allow investors and employers to plan ahead, and so to begin spending and hiring. It would provide the larger public greater calm in a difficult economic time. It would make it more difficult for Democrats to use a lame duck session of Congress to implement radical plans (and indeed, Republicans should commit to retroactively repeal any legislation passed in the lame duck session other than essential budget bills). And it would be a realistic offer to voters: After all, Republicans can’t run the government from the House of Representatives, or even from the House and a narrowly Republican Senate. They can act as a brake, but as long as President Obama remains in office they cannot really steer much.

Once some stability has been restored and the economy begins to show signs of life again, Republicans can turn to the second stage of a recovery agenda: climbing out of the hole by cultivating the necessary preconditions for vigorous economic growth. This would include easing the tax burdens on families and corporations to spur growth; reforming our entitlement system (through modest means testing and the gradual transformation of defined-benefit programs into defined-contribution programs) to make it both more rational and more sustainable in the long term; advancing genuine health care reform that would actually control costs by using market mechanisms; replacing the government-sponsored enterprises (like Fannie and Freddie) and reckless housing policies that helped spark the economic crisis; ending corporate welfare; reforming the federal budget process to improve its transparency and eliminate some opportunities for waste and corruption; and bringing federal spending and borrowing under control to avert a disastrous currency crisis.

The first stage of such an agenda—ceasing to do harm—will necessarily take up much of the next two years. And it is the essential precondition for the longer-term agenda (which most likely can begin in earnest only in 2012) of turning America back toward liberty, growth, and prosperity. 

Republicans addressing an angry public this election season must be honest and humble. There is much they can do to help the country confront the awesome challenges we face, but it cannot all be done at once. First, they must keep Washington from making matters worse. Then, guided by a properly focused and limited sense of the government’s purpose, they must work to restore and sustain America’s strength.

Yuval Levin is the editor of National Affairs and the Hertog fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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