COMMENTARY: Ownership and Freedom

Huntington (HNN) — During the presidential campaign, President Bush presented the foundation for a bold second-term agenda that includes fundamental tax reform, Social Security reform and tort reform. The President refers to this agenda, his vision, as an “ownership society”, where every American has a stake in the U.S. economy—homeownership, stock ownership and control over their retirement planning.

FreedomWorks’ core issues include Social Security reform through personal retirement accounts, tax reform to maximize economic growth and tort reform to eliminate the deadweight loss to our economy from frivolous lawsuits. We refer to these core ideas as the “Freedom Agenda”. If it seems the ownership society and freedom agenda fit together nicely, it is because they do; ownership and freedom go hand and glove.

After the election President Bush put Social Security reform on the front burner. After more than twenty years of debate and failed band aid approaches to make the system “solvent”, the program as we know it is still fundamentally broken. If we followed John Kerry’s lead, e.g., no benefit cut and no personal retirement accounts, we would have to raise payroll taxes as much as 60%!

With Social Security benefits set to exceed contributions by 2018 as the baby-boomer generation retires, it is imperative that personal retirement accounts be put in place today so that our children and grandchildren have a retirement nest egg tomorrow. Personal accounts, if large enough, will allow us to overhaul the system without cutting benefits or raising taxes and give each individual choice, ownership, and control of their retirement planning.

Simplifying the tax code is another major issue on the agenda and something that must be dealt with in the next four years. This issue is a slam-dunk with taxpayers who spend an estimated 6.2 billion hours a year complying with the overly-complicated tax system. The 60,000 page code encumbers taxpayers with archaic regulations and a smorgasbord of special interest loopholes. Reform will not only clean up the mess that we call the U.S. Tax Code, but will also make the United States more competitive, economically speaking, by increasing incentives for companies to employ Americans and entrepreneurs to create new businesses across America.

An often overlooked item is the important issue of junk lawsuits. Tort abuse annually costs the government billions of dollars and that cost is passed on to us; the tax payers. The annual abuse of the system by overzealous trial lawyers effectively creates a “tort tax” of $809 per person annually. Undoubtedly, the worst aspect of this problem is frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, which punishes physicians, simultaneously driving doctors out of business, and increasing the cost of health care. This is a problem that we West Virginians know all too well.

West Virginia is a case of what not to do and what happens when the interest of trial lawyers trumps the interest of our citizens. No other state has the vast array of debt, court abuse, and poor management associated with its tort system than West Virginia, notably in the areas of medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, and class action lawsuits.

High malpractice rates contribute to approximately 5 percent of our state’s doctors leaving or retiring early. As of today the average medical malpractice insurance plan costs $38,853 per year. Premiums are considerably higher for obstetricians/gynecologists, neurosurgeons, and other high-risk specializations. This system has effectively pushed doctors out of the state and has caused some trauma units and other specialties to close their doors. The status quo cannot stand.