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As Simple as One, Two, Three

A legislative strategy for the House Republicans.

Nov 15, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 09 • By JEFF BERGNER
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Repeal health care reform. Much ink has been spilled in conservative circles about whether to repeal Obamacare whole or to target for repeal only such (small) provisions as could make it through the legislative process. Here again is the tension between principle (repeal it all) and prudence (Obama will veto a repeal; take what small steps you can). The answer is: Do both. Pass a wholesale repeal of Obamacare, which polls show enjoys majority support in the country. Put down a marker. Make clear that liberal legislation is not irrevocable. Then go to work on ways to pick it apart. De-fund it, defer it, repeal the new tax increases, end the legal mandate to buy health insurance, permit interstate competition, offer new options for health savings accounts, and enable the states to take more steps on their own. Do it all, in the knowledge that there is popular support for every bit of this.

Pass legislation in 2011 to mandate the closure of our borders to illegal immigration. This step has around 70 percent support from the American people. It is wildly popular. Still, anyone attempting it will be told that the long-term future of the party is at stake. Do not believe it. Explain to people that this is in fact the only practical way to begin to address the issue of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants who are already in the country. Tell some basic truths about illegal immigration:

♦ Illegal immigrants who live here are not now, or ever, going to be deported en masse.

♦ What is holding back the creation of a pathway to permanent legal residence, or even citizenship, for these illegal immigrants is the very demand for “comprehensive legislation.” We need to bound the problem before we can fix it. To quote the president, we need to “plug the damn hole.”

♦ America can find a reasonable way to deal with illegal immigrants who are already here. What Americans can’t accept is an open-ended commitment to allow illegal immigrants to continue to come here without limit.

Make a commitment that within two years of effectively ending illegal immigration, Republicans will bring forward a sensible and humane plan to deal with illegal immigrants already living in this country. Here lies the only possible solution. Republicans can make it happen. If they do, they can be the electoral beneficiaries of immigration reform in both the short and long terms.

Three Structural Reforms

Pass a pro-growth tax reform bill in 2012. This will be extremely popular. Congressional Democrats—and the president—will oppose it at their peril in an election year. Simplify and reduce tax rates for individuals; cut the corporate tax rate to a level competitive with other advanced democracies; and reduce capital gains tax rates to encourage and reward investment. These steps not only will be politically popular; they also are the only realistic way to increase federal revenues to help reduce the deficit. We cannot tax our way out of large and persistent deficits. We can only grow our way out. Tax reform is a sure winner on the counts of both principle and political prudence. Dare congressional Democrats and the president to oppose tax cuts in 2012. Dare them.

Reform the federal government. Address the engine that has brought America to the edge of bankruptcy—the federal government itself. Begin with the congressional budget, which no president will touch. The annual appropriation for Congress lies entirely within Congress’s hands. In the two years from 2008 to 2010, Congress’s spending on itself grew from $3.7 billion to $4.3 billion, an increase of 17.6 percent. This at a time when American families were suffering through a ruinous recession. Republicans should pointedly include Congress in the return to 2008 levels of spending. 

Second, congressional pensions are indefensible by any standard. Congress should set an example and recalibrate pensions downward for all past and present members. For members elected in 2012 and after, it should abolish the congressional retirement system altogether. This wouldn’t be the term limits many Americans (mistakenly, I believe) seek; but it would be a sign that the default position is no longer for members of Congress to make a lifetime career in Washington.

The executive branch is also in need of reform. Here are some places to start:

♦ Equalize government salaries with those in the private sector by freezing executive and congressional pay for three years.

♦ Loosen the mind-boggling civil service protections that make it nearly impossible to fire government employees for incompetence.

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