Time for ideas-based congressional leadership

Jack Kemp
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Posted: Jan 16, 2006 9:05 AM

The Wall Street Journal recently leveled a devastatingly accurate assessment of congressional Republicans: "House Republicans have become more passionate about retaining power than in using that power to change or limit the federal government ... a strategy (that) has maintained a narrow majority, but at the cost of doing anything substantial." The Journal was exactly right that Republican leaders "have become ever more preoccupied with process, money and incumbency," a frame of mind in which ideas are an afterthought when not actually an inconvenience.

That's why it was so encouraging when Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., threw his hat into the ring to become House majority leader. Shadegg is a man of ideas who demonstrated his willingness to put power at risk to advance those ideas as majority leader when he resigned as Policy Committee chairman, the fifth-ranking elected position in the House Republican leadership: "I personally believe it is not appropriate to try to retain one position in our elected leadership while running for another," he said. "My campaign is based on reform, and reform should begin with an open process."

What a breath of fresh air to hear Shadegg say, "We must renew our commitment to the principles that won us a majority in the first place: fiscal discipline, smaller government, lower taxes, a strong national defense, returning power to the states and greater personal freedom."

I hope Shadegg follows up and offers a platform of ideas and that his rivals for the position, fine candidates all, follow his lead and do the same. Here are some suggestions for all the candidates to consider.

First, the House should complete welfare reform by block-granting Medicaid and food stamps, just as has been done for Aid to Dependent Children.

Second, the House needs immediately to make the current 15 percent tax rates on capital gains and dividends permanent. The House also must promote a broader tax reform measure that reduces the corporate tax rate and the top marginal rate for individuals to 20 percent or at most 25 percent, the level economist John Maynard Keynes said should not be exceeded as a general rule.

If there were ever any doubt that the Bush tax rate reductions have been successful, they were dispelled earlier this month when the federal government reported that during the first quarter of the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, federal tax revenues rose 8.8 percent from the first quarter last year. And if there were ever any doubt that top marginal tax rates must come down further to preserve competitiveness and maintain the current economic expansion, it was dispelled recently when America's premier computer chip manufacturer, Intel, decided to invest $3.5 billion in a new plant in Israel, citing specifically as a reason for the move that the company will have to pay only a 10 percent tax on corporate profits.

Third, the House needs to fix the fatally flawed Medicare prescription drugs program that just went into effect and is wreaking havoc among seniors. It must become the incubator of wide-ranging Medicare reforms that will improve coverage for seniors and halt the increase in costs predicted by the Congressional Budget Office - almost tripling under conservative assumptions from its current level of 3 percent of GDP to 8.6 percent by midcentury.

Finally, the House must restart the debate on transforming Social Security into a worker-based retirement program in which individual workers have the option to invest a significant portion of their payroll tax contributions in personal retirement accounts.

As to lobbying reform, there are clearly some areas where the law can be tightened up, but it would be a huge mistake - and counterproductive - if the Congress were to overreact to today's congressional corruption the way it overreacted to corporate corruption a few years ago with the cumbersome, confusing and costly Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. One of the best ways to prevent future congressional corruption is to limit members' opportunities to sell legislative favors through appropriation earmarks.

I wrote recently about the need to revive the conservative movement as a movement of ideas by rejuvenating conservative think tanks as havens of free thought and fierce debate. The pending House leadership elections offer a golden opportunity for Republicans to begin rejuvenating their party by making it the party of ideas once again.