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The first half of the first decade of the new Century will be remembered as a defining period in American history. September 11th of course, tragically thrust history upon us all, but even without the new war on terrorism, many forces have come together to bring defining domestic issues to the forefront of the national agenda. How America responds will define the size and scope of government, as well as the individual’s relationship to government, for decades to come.
The ineffectual and inconsequential presidency of Bill Clinton resulted in no action on the most important domestic issues of our era. Clinton simply ignored the twin crisis of Social Security: Nothing was done to put the system on a stable financial footing, nor did anything happen to make the system fairer and improve the rate of return on workers’ payroll taxes. After failing to nationalize the entire healthcare system, Clinton did nothing to fix the growing gaps and problems with the Medicare system. It too faces a mounting financial crisis. But unlike Social Security, Medicare has already begun to erode. All seniors are forced into a system that has begun to look more and more like the Canadian healthcare system. The mandated package of benefits has not kept up with the healthcare marketplace, and price controls on doctors and hospitals have reduced the quality of care. Yet Clinton did nothing.
A big cause of the mounting crisis in state budgets has resulted from an out-of-control Medicaid system where states are forced to pick-up half the tab. While costs skyrocketed during the Clinton era, nothing was done to reform the system and bring some control to cost increases.
These three issues alone --- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will be decided in the first part of this decade. Even if the political establishment decides to do nothing, America will have made a huge choice about the future of our government. For if we leave these problems to linger much beyond 2005, tax increases and benefit cuts will be an unavoidable part of the “fix” for each of these programs. In fact, the drive in almost 40 states for new taxes and cuts in Medicaid and other programs is caused by Medicaid. It’s already happening at the state level.
If we want to give workers a fairer Social Security system based on ownership, now is the time to fight for it. If we want market-based reforms in Medicare, we have to play offense and define the terms of the debate. We have to get out of the Washington-based conferences and hearing rooms and go out and actually talk with, listen to, and educate senior citizens and other groups about the facts. More education is better than less, and sooner is better than later.
America’s tax system is broken and in need of fundamental reform. To improve economic growth and restore basic fairness in the relationship between the individual and the government, we need a simpler, flatter tax code with low marginal rates. We need to end the Death Tax once and for all. Treasury Secretary O’Neil has publicly indicated that the Administration is developing a tax reform proposal. The outcome of the political and legislative debate over tax reform will define and shape U.S. tax policy for a generation. The fight is coming and we need to be ready by accelerating educational efforts and organizational efforts in key districts across America.
Later this year, the Supreme Court will decide once and for all whether school choice programs pass constitutional muster. I believe the Court will approve of vouchers. I also believe that will be when the battle for an effective education system really begins. The Court will say if school boards or state legislatures pass voucher programs, that’s ok. In other words, the debate will become legislative, not judicial. Are we ready for this fight? Are we as organized and passionate as the teachers’ unions? Until we are, too many children will remain trapped in failing schools and too many taxpayers will be charged too much for low quality schools.
The decision by Tom Daschle to force a vacancy crisis in the federal judiciary means that the next few years will be critical in shaping the nature of our judicial branch. Chief Justice Renqhuist warns of “an alarming number of judicial vacancies” and makes a simple, straightforward plea: “The Senate ought to act with reasonable promptness and to vote each nominee up or down.” But, Daschle and his Senate Democrat colleagues care more about ideological litmus tests than a functioning, fair judiciary. They are sitting on nominees and as is the case in the Pickering nomination, rejecting judges who don’t share the Senate Democrats’ ideology. So, how the Bush Administration responds --- either standing firm by nominating qualified, conservative judges, as they’ve been doing, or giving-in by nominating judges approved by moderate Democrats -- will shape the federal bench for decades.
The liberals’ strategy on of these issues is as clear as it is sad. Do nothing; stall and change the subject. The longer America waits to fix Social Security the closer we get to what liberals want --- higher taxes and lower benefits. The longer Daschle keeps stalling on judicial nominees, the greater chance a Democrat president will get to nominate judges.
In fact, the House Democrats have so exhausted their intellectual capital that they do not even have an alternative federal budget to offer. They don’t want to repeal the Bush tax cuts (for political reasons); they accept all of the Administration’s spending on defense and homeland security; and they want more money spent on education, Medicare, the environment and a whole host of other programs. Yes, if they had their own budget, it would show more spending and bigger deficits. So, instead, they follow the Clinton model and do nothing.
Those of us who believe in lower taxes, less government and more freedom need to recognize how important the next few years are in the battle for freedom. We need to educate our constituents. We need to organize and mobilize --- on several fronts. Our opponents want to do nothing --- and they are incredibly well organized to do exactly that.
Candidate George W. Bush in his harshest and most accurate assessment of the Clinton Administration said, “They had their chance, they did not lead, we will.” The time has come for us to lead. History will be watching.