The filing of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on whether there was collusion between President Donald Trump and the Russians to interfere with the 2016 election should put an end to speculations, accusations and outrage. The report finds that there was no collusion. But long live speculations, accusations and outrage.
As soon as Attorney General William Barr summed up the report for Congress, Trump administration allies started to call for the heads of those who had fed the rumor mill for months. On their end, the Democrats didn't wait long to warn the administration that this wasn't over and that they would continue investigating the president for alleged obstruction of justice. That's their prerogative, obviously.
Yet, it's hard to feel that this obsession with the Mueller report and Russians is not just another excuse for each side to continue talking about everything except policy issues. We can argue that since the Republicans lost control of the House, there's little chance of legislative reforms getting through. Still, that's no reason to not try fixing what needs to be fixed or do what needs to be done.
But after I suggested on Twitter that legislators go to work now, Dan Mitchell of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity issued this warning: "Be careful what you wish for. If the crowd in Washington has more time to focus on policy, do you think they'll make problems better or worse?" There's some truth to this. Legislators have a tendency to try to address government-created problems with more misguided policies or propose solutions to fixing well-functioning markets. If it's not broke, they'll still try to fix it.
That's why I will narrow it down for them to a few policy areas:
First, spending. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that passing a budget on time by following the rules is one of Congress' top jobs. Yet a new book by Brookings Institution economist William Gale tells us that, "Congress designed (the current budget) process in 1974. Since then, in only four years has it passed all of the appropriations bills for discretionary spending on time." Shouldn't our elected officials try to correct their dismal record by working to pass a budget following the normal order?
Second, immigration. Republicans and Democrats have deep disagreements on this issue, but there's at least one aspect that both sides should agree on: finding a way for the "Dreamers" to continue living in the United States legally.
Trump canceled the Obama-era program that protected individuals who were brought here as children by their parents and have since been living here illegally. The threat of deportation leaves these immigrants in limbo in a country that has been their home since childhood. Bipartisan support for providing "Dreamers" with a pathway to citizenship makes for low-hanging fruit, especially since the president signaled that he could be swayed on this issue.
Then there's trade. The U.S. economy has been doing well in spite of self-inflicted protectionist wounds. Months of tariffs shouldered by Americans and a trade war with China have delivered none of the results promised by the administration, except swelling the revenues of a few protected firms, making American consumers poorer, and raising production costs for many U.S. producers who use tariffed imports as inputs. News that the world economy is slowing down should be reason enough to unite Congress in demanding that tariffs be lifted immediately.
Finally, there's health care. Neither party can agree on which third party should pay for Americans' health care. Democrats want the federal government to pay. Republicans prefer for the money to come from private insurers or state governments. These options are all bad because they create incentives for Americans to consume health care irresponsibly, inevitably leading to the rationing of services.
They should instead focus on creating incentives to reduce health care costs so that third-party payers become less important. Reduced costs are possible only if the supply side of health care is freed from regulations that jack up prices. This outcome requires that special interests be stymied, bureaucratic obstacles be removed, and competition be restored, in order to encourage innovators to challenge incumbents with new devices and drugs.
Yet, instead of taking these positive actions, Democrats and Republicans would prefer to pontificate on the Mueller report as an excuse to dodge their responsibilities.