The RIGHT Alternatives

After a disastrous August recess for the president’s Obamacare plan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid will call Congress back into session today.  

Did they learn anything during “teachable August”?  Apparently not. The national unemployment rate is still rising (exceeding the worst level in more than 26 years), the war — in both Iraq and Afghanistan — is going badly, and Congress will be devoting all its time and energy to health care “reform.”

But there are better ideas than Obamacare, budget-busting government growth and the economy-killing “cap and trade” global warming tax.  Unsurprisingly, they are ideas that conservatives have been proposing all year and on which the national media has imposed an electronic blockade.  The hackneyed calumny “Republicans have no alternative” has been applied to everything from the faux-stimulus to Obama’s bloated budget to health care.  Enough.

Today, HUMAN EVENTS is devoting itself to reporting and commenting on those ideas.  We’ve rounded up many of the conservative leaders in congress to explain — at one time and in one place — the keys to economic recovery, health care and energy independence.  And here — in brief — are the top five of those ideas.  Fortunately for the nation, there are many more.

Health care: There is no “crisis” in American health care, no matter how many times the president and other liberals insist that there is.  Everyone wants to bring down the cost of health care, but the Democrats’ only answer to the issue is to put the government in charge.  The only idea that will clearly reduce health care costs is tort reform: limiting the bonanza-seeking lawsuits that trial lawyers bring to get huge contingent fees.  

As Charles Krauthammer reported last week, “An authoritative Massachusetts Medical Society study found that five out of six doctors admitted they order tests, procedures and referrals — amounting to about 25 percent of the total — solely as protection from lawsuits. Defensive medicine, estimates the libertarian/conservative Pacific Research Institute, wastes more than $200 billion a year.”

Most doctors are forced to practice “defensive medicine” — ordering unnecessary tests, avoiding prudent risks and paying enormous malpractice insurance premiums — because predatory lawsuits are a constant threat.  But the Democrats’ Obamacare bills comprehensively avoid the issue because the Dems are beholden to trial lawyers.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, has a better idea. His Empowering Patients First Act (HR3400) was introduced in July (and endorsed by Republican study committee and Americans for Tax Reform).  It accomplishes tort reform by capping “punitive damages” and creating specialized “health courts” to decide malpractice claims.  

Price’s idea is to put control over health care back into the patients’ hands through pooling mechanisms (association health plans and individual membership accounts, also expanding federal block grants for qualified pools), by allowing individuals to shop for health insurance across state lines, and providing a private insurance voucher option for Medicaid and SCHIP beneficiaries. It also assists job-to-job portability of health insurance, and would establish “establish doctor-lead quality measures.” It aims to lower federal costs primarily by calling for a 1% annual step-down in discretionary spending.  (You can read the full text of the bill and read a Comparison to HR3200, the House Obamacare bill).

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, has a parallel measure, his Health Care Freedom Plan (S1324).

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) has another idea — HR-3478 — to enhance the benefits of health savings accounts.  HSAs — already available — allow Americans to save tax-deducted money to fund their own health care costs.  Gohmert’s idea includes requiring immigrants to have HSAs before they are allowed to enter the country.  Obamacare — because it doesn’t prohibit it — extends the “public option” to illegal aliens.

Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean said Sunday that if there was no “public option” in the health care bill, there was no reason to pass the legislation.  It would be better to do nothing than to do what the Democrats propose.  

Get Government out of Business
:  Last June, Obama said “”I don’t want to run auto companies, and I don’t want to run banks.” If that were true, he’d have endorsed South Dakota conservative Sen. John Thune’s Government Ownership Exit Plan Act, S-1242.  
Thune’s idea would prohibit further purchase of private entities’ stocks and bonds and establish a firm date — July 1, 2010 — for the sale of all government-held ownership of all private companies.  Furthermore, Thune would prohibit government officials from making or influencing significant management decisions of those companies which the government owns a part.  

President Obama has established firm deadlines for withdrawing from Iraq and closing the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  You’d think he would favor deadlines for withdrawal from the banks and auto makers he “doesn’t want to run.”  But you’d be wrong.  

Stimulate the Economy:  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment hit 9.7% in August, the highest rate in almost thirty years.  If you can believe in a “jobless economic recovery,” you’ll believe anything. But that’s what the Obama administration is asking you to believe.

Rep. Gohmert had the best alternative to the president’s $1.2 trillion “stimulus” bill, which time has shown didn’t stimulate jobs or economic recovery.  His idea — a two-month tax holiday — first surfaced last December and became HR143 this year.  

Gohmert’s tax holiday plan is elegant in its simplicity: every American taxpayer would pay no federal income or FICA taxes for the first two months of 2009. For the typical American family — earning about $50,000 a year — that would mean they would keep about $2000 that would otherwise be paid to the government.  He would have used the $350 billion in then-unspent bailout money to pay for it.

Gohmert’s plan doesn’t pay for Wall Street bonuses or let banks use bailout money to buy other banks or pay dividends. It doesn’t rely on bureaucrats to pay money out to the right people at the right time or try to stimulate the economy with token payments to people who don’t pay taxes.

And the best part of it was that it would have cost less than the $350 billion in bailout money which (at the time) hadn’t been spent.  

Gohmert’s stimulus plan was real, cost-effective, and — naturally — anathema to Democrats because it put economic power in the hands of the voters, not the government.

Another conservative economic stimulus was proposed last fall by former Reagan economic advisor Martin Feldstein. Feldstein told a congressional committee that the only kind of government spending that reliably stimulates the economy is defense spending.  It quickly results in high-paying jobs and produces a real societal benefit:  increased national security.  But the president and Defense Secretary Gates have cut spending on key defense programs such as ballistic missile defense and the F-22, to name just a few.  And — without regard for the threats the Pentagon must be prepared to defeat — Obama has ordered Gates to find another $60 billion to cut out of the defense budget.

Reducing Federal Spending and the Deficit:  Last May, President Obama said, “Well, we are out of money now. We are operating in deep deficits, not caused by any decisions we’ve made on health care so far.”  That month, he also said, “The long-term debt we have accumulated is unsustainable.” Those statements are correct.  So how did the president address those enormous problems?

By the only remedy liberals ever think of:  borrowing — or just printing — and spending more money.

Obama made those remarks after congress passed his budget — all $3.6 trillion of it — over conservative objections.  Just last week, the White House budget office revised its estimate of the resulting federal deficit over the next decade, increasing the estimate from $7 trillion to $9 trillion.  The White House admitted that unemployment would exceed 10% this year, and that the recession was deeper than it had thought and projected a decrease in the Gross Domestic Product of 2.8%.  Obama’s answer is, of course, to increase federal spending.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has a better plan.  Jordan’s plan — the House Republican Steering Committee plan — would cut the Obama deficit by $6 trillion and balance the budget by 2019.  Some of the details included:  cessation of spending the remaining “Obama stimulus” and bailout money, mandating a 1% per year reduction in non-defense spending and fully funding the Pentagon budget. The plan didn’t reduce Medicare benefits or even touch Social Security.  

It would make more money available to the federal treasury by doing things such as compelling the leasing of land for oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (a tiny corner of ANWR, in which drilling wouldn’t affect wildlife).

And the RSC budget proposal’s cuts were in programs that the federal government shouldn’t be funding in any event: the National Endowment for the Arts is a good example.  

Energy Independence:  Even Barbara Boxer has given up on passing the economy-killing “cap and trade” global warming tax this year.  Passed by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the “cap and tax” scheme — modeled on the hilariously corrupt European scheme — would have made energy vastly more expensive just as Obama had said it would during the 2008 campaign.  The Democrats’ plan would have made no new energy supplies available to boost our economy.

Unsurprisingly, conservatives had a better idea.  Several of them, in fact.  (They should be prideful of their ideas but — unlike health care reform or cutting the federal deficit — this stuff isn’t rocket science. Well, some of it is.)

There are 104 nuclear power plants in the United States today, providing about 20% of our electricity. The Republican “American Energy Act” (HR-2828, introduced by Utah’s Rob Bishop) provides for the construction of 100 more in the next twenty years and would enable the safe storage and recycling of nuclear waste.  

The proposal also would also create a “Renewable and Alternative Energy Trust Fund” out of federal revenues garnered from leases and already-existing taxes on offshore drilling and oil development in ANWR, both of which would be spurred by the act.  The bill also would spur the development of America’s alternative fuels by repealing the prohibition on government purchasing fuels derived from sources such as oil shale, tar sands and coal-to liquid technology.

As conservative T. Boone Pickens said in January, “It is outrageous that we are sending billions of dollars– $432,000 per minute– overseas to foreign countries while domestic programs at home remain severely underfunded. This transfer of wealth is among the greatest in human history and is streaming revenue away from investment in our own
communities into other countries, many of which are not our allies.”

The conservative alternative would lead to energy independence and decrease the transfer of wealth to Middle Eastern oil despotisms.

Cruel September for Democrats

The metaphor is too good to resist.  Only a few days after the president and his family returned from their vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, two great white sharks were tagged off Cape Cod, a first for the species.

Sharks swim at far less speed than Air Force One flies, but there’s enough political blood in the water to attract even those with far less sensitive olfactory equipment.   The president is scheduled to give a speech to a joint session tomorrow night in an attempt to salvage his attempt to nationalize healthcare.  That will follow his address to schoolchildren today and precede his coming speeches on whatever may be his thought of the day.  

Obama’s healthcare speech will only pour fuel on the bonfire of his vanity:  it will reinforce opponents and anger his liberal base.  

Obama has cheapened the office of the president and devalued its bully pulpit by using it too often without providing the reasoned leadership Americans expect and demand.  He would be wiser — as former White House speechwriter Matt Latimer explained in Sunday’s Washington Post — to speak less and listen more.  But that’s much too much to hope for.  

It’s going to be a long, hot September in Washington, DC.  Fortunately, conservatives have cooler heads.  And cooler ideas.