Paul Greenberg

That contract wasn't just a collection of the usual political platitudes, but a contract. A solemn commitment. A covenant. And each of its clauses came with a draft statute ready to be introduced, debated and passed into law: Term limits. Tort reform, aka "Loser Pays." Balanced budgets. Lower taxes, specifically on the kind of investments that produce jobs and real economic growth. Tax reform that would include a bigger tax credit for families with small children. Welfare reform that would emphasize work, not handouts -- in short, independence rather than continued dependence. And a requirement that Congress be covered by the same laws it passes for the rest of us. Not like Obamacare today, with its special subsidy for members of Congress and their swollen staffs.

The opening clause of that Contract with America made its purpose clear: "As Republican Members of the House of Representatives and as citizens seeking to join that body, we propose not just to change its policies, but to restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives. That is why, in this era of official evasion and posturing, we offer instead a detailed agenda for national renewal, a written commitment with no fine print."

Contract offered, contract accepted. Came Election Day in November of that year, the GOP scored its biggest gains in 40 years, winning control of both houses of Congress. That contract would even win over a Democratic president eventually. After only brief resistance, Bill Clinton agreed to a complete revamp of the welfare system (it became workfare) and balanced budgets. No one benefited more from the Contract with America than he did, winning re-election as a reform president.

Now another president faces a crisis of national confidence. And it's time for the GOP to offer another Contract with America, one that should include a complete revamp of the president's fast-collapsing health-care program. If it can't be dropped entirely, the whole Rube Goldberg contraption needs to have every part of it replaced.

For example: Why not let us just plain citizens buy health insurance with pre-tax dollars the way corporations do? Why not expand our health savings accounts instead of eliminating them? Why not let folks buy policies that offer coverage for just catastrophic illnesses instead of being forced to buy all the bells and whistles that drive insurance premiums sky high? Why not let Americans keep our insurance instead of forcing us to drop it? (And our doctors, too.) Why dump millions of us into Medicaid without giving us any choice of insurance companies? Let us buy insurance across state lines to make health-care plans affordable in more than name. And so constructively on, point by point.

Yes, such basic reforms might require that Obamacare be repealed in spirit if not in name. Because what's needed is a 180-degree course correction. It won't be easy to right this sinking ship called Obamacare. But the whole country might breathe a sigh of relief if it could be turned around completely.

No one might benefit more from such an about-face than the president himself, who would finally be able to restore the nation's confidence in his leadership. He would have proven wise enough to recognize his mistakes, humble enough to acknowledge them, and strong enough to correct them.

"The curious task of economics," said an economist of note named Friedrich Hayek, "is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design."

The curious accomplishment of Obamacare has been to demonstrate how little our planners and politicians know about health care -- and how easily they can complicate, obfuscate and generally screw it up.

A new, updated Contract with America would begin by reforming Americans' health-care coverage but not end there. It ought to go on to cover much of the same ground the old contract did in 1994, like cutting the deficit and balancing the budget, strengthening national security and encouraging economic growth. The old contract was rolled out only six weeks before the election. Let's not wait that long before unveiling a new, improved one.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.