Conventional wisdom says voters don’t pay much attention to campaigns until after Labor Day. But crafty politicians take no chances. They like to hammer home their talking points early and often.
Take President Barack Obama. On Aug. 18, he took to the stump to criticize those on his political right. “They’re not offering new plans,” he told Democratic donors in Florida. “They’re not offering new ideas. They’re offering cynicism, and they’re offering fear. They’re offering distractions and wedge issues.”
Not quite. In fact, all the ideas these days are conservative. And we’ve got plenty.
That’s why we at The Heritage Foundation recently published “Solutions for America.” It identifies the nature and scope of our most pressing problems in 23 policy areas, and recommends 128 specific policy prescriptions.
The most important step is to get spending under control.
In 2000, Washington spent approximately $20,000 per household. Today it spends $31,000, and that amount is slated to increase in the years ahead. President Obama has presided over a massive run-up in federal spending, including some $800 billion in “stimulus,” the GM-Chrysler bailouts, Cash-for-Clunkers and the ongoing support of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
We need a firm cap on overall federal spending, and should limit future year-to-year growth to inflation plus population growth.
But that won’t be enough. Lawmakers must also take responsibility for the “big three” entitlement programs.
As it stands, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are on autopilot. These programs cost more and more each year. Lawmakers should establish a five-year budget and include protective mechanisms, such as triggers, that would automatically keep spending within congressionally approved limits. Lawmakers could also reduce benefit promises for younger workers and implement means-testing so wealthier retirees get smaller monthly checks.
There are plenty of places to reduce discretionary spending, too.
The federal government now spends almost $1 trillion each year on welfare. Often, Washington bankrolls several agencies to do the same thing. Lawmakers should review all 71 means-tested welfare programs and cap annual year-to-year welfare spending growth.
Doing this would force Congress to consider new approaches that could actually help lift people out of poverty and reduce the need for welfare programs. For example, Congress should require able-bodied adults to do something productive in return for receiving benefits. And a portion of some benefits should be treated as loans, to be repaid when recipients get back on their feet.
Meanwhile, the federal government needs to take a sober look at its own payroll.