He Had One?

Ed Morrissey asks if President Bush has lost his spine when it comes to earmarks. President Bush can easily end most earmarks by simply issuing an Executive Order to executive agencies asking them to refuse to carry them through. Because most earmarks aren’t attached to the text of legislation but to committee reports, they don’t have the force of law. It isn’t the constitutional concerns that’s stopping Bush—after all, he’s a big fan of signing statements which also use the Executive’s authority to interpret directives of Congress.

Bush doesn’t have anything to lose by putting himself on the side of fiscal reform. It’s not as though there’s a huge Republican constituency that loves earmarks—quite the opposite is true. It doesn’t hurt him politically, and would probably help him. If it isn’t policy and it isn’t politics, then why is Bush caving?

My guess is that the GOP leadership is putting pressure on him to keep the gravy train moving—the reformers in Congress are still a minority even with the GOP caucus. And if that’s true, it’s more reason why the GOP badly needs a change in leadership. The GOP cannot be a party of Main Street when it’s bending over backwards to please K Street.

The President needs to send the right message and prevent these wasteful projects from consuming more of the federal budget. It’s good policy and good politics, and to bend over to an increasingly disliked Congress does neither the President nor his party any good.

Campaign 2008, Politics

Thompson Grabs “The Third Rail”

The Washington Post has an editorial praising Fred Thompson for his Social Security reform plan:

FRED THOMPSON may have come late to the presidential race, but the former Tennessee senator has produced the most courageous proposal of the campaign. Mr. Thompson’s Social Security plan is not as progressive or as balanced as we would prefer. Yet in a campaign in which candidates have preferred to dodge difficult choices on Social Security, Mr. Thompson’s proposal has attractive elements and deserves applause for making some tough choices.

This campaign season has been quite light on policy—and one of the things that’s so refreshing about Thompson’s campaign is that he isn’t afraid to put out policy specifics. Politically, it’s probably not all that helpful, but it does show that Thompson’s no slouch on key issues.

Entitlement reform needs to be a bigger priority to the GOP. In the immediate future this country faces not just a major shortfall in Social Security, but an even bigger shortfall with Medicare. The 2007 Trustee’s Report for Medicare does not paint a very rosy picture of the future solvency of Medicare, and Social Security doesn’t look much better. We need to reform both of these systems now before the problem becomes a major financial crisis.

So far, Sen. Thompson is the only Republican who has offered a serious and compelling plan for Social Security. Given the gravity of the problem, that needs to change. Thompson deserves the praise he gets for putting himself out on this issue and grabbing the “third rail of American politics.” In the term of the next Administration this country will face the fiscal burden of an aging population of Baby Boomers who threaten the fiscal foundation of our entitlement system. The next Administration will have to reform both Medicare and Social Security whether they want to or not—and voters should consider which candidates are best prepared to handle that critical responsibility.


A Little Radicalism Is Good Medicine

Ramesh Ponnuru has an interesting pice in Time on why the GOP’s health care platform represents a radical shift. Instead of health care being something that you get through your employer, many of the Republican plans would see health care as something you have—just like auto insurance, life insurance, or homeowner’s insurance.

That’s the way it should be. The only reason we have the system now is because the tax system forces it—there’s no economic reason why risk pools have to be so small or why health coverage shouldn’t be portable from job to job. Losing your job should not mean losing your health insurance. Moving to a new job shouldn’t require you to have to think about what coverage you’ll get. People who work from Mom’s Apple Pie Bakery should have access to the same level of care that someone who works for Microsoft has.

The Republicans need to push back on health care, because despite all the hew and cry, it’s a winning issue for them. Even after years of scurrilous attacks, polling shows a market-oriented approach being more popular, winning over the Democratic plan 49-40%. When confronted with the options of having a federal bureaucracy or having real choice, it’s not hard to figure out why Americans tend to choose the latter. The last thing we need in this country is more bureaucracy in medicine.

Emphasizing personal choice is key to this issue. The electorate is justifiably upset at the status quo in which the HMO bureaucracy makes health care more expensive and harder to get. The huge rise in health care costs in this country is due to the fact that we have an unworkable system: the Democrats want to make that system bigger, the Republicans want to fix it. Instead of forcing everyone into a federalized Mother of All HMOs that combines the efficiency of the DMV with the caring service of the IRS, it’s a much more attractive option to give people real choices.

Put the only way something like this will get passed is if the GOP is willing to fight for it. The Democrats are promising the moon, but giving us more bureaucracy. Nobody (other than Democrats, who take it as an article of faith) really believes that things run better when the government takes them over. Healthcare is no different. The GOP has the right policy, but they have to have the political will to see that policy enacted. That will mean actively fighting back against all the pressure groups backed with special interest cash who are invested in the broken status quo.

It’s a battle worth fighting, both politically and on behalf of the American people who need real choice in health care. The question is who will be willing to lead that fight?