Heritage Foundation unveils its “Solutions for America”

Hon. Ernest Istook Former Republican Congressman
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Consistently, the political left insists that conservatives have no solutions to offer.  It’s not true, of course.  Still, liberals cling to this mantra.

Undeterred, The Heritage Foundation is weighing in with a 54-page outline of “Solutions for America,” covering the gamut from job creation to economic stimulus, entitlement reform, national security and legal reform.  Its 128 specific recommendations will be detailed further in forthcoming policy papers from Heritage.

Suggestions include:

–Reducing the overly-generous compensation packages of federal employees,

–Requiring budget limits for entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security,

–Consolidating and reforming the 71 separate federal welfare programs that form the nucleus of a nearly $1 trillion-a-year welfare industry

–Changing the tax code to stimulate business investment and job creation immediately, and

–Returning major decision-making authority in areas like education and transportation to the state and local level.

Heritage’s president, Dr. Edwin Feulner, noted a common goal of the proposals:  They return power to the people rather than government.  And, as reflected by the examples above, many of them call for bold steps rather than incremental change.

“While these policy prescriptions are bold,” Feulner said, “they’re also politically viable.  Collectively, they will put America back on the track to prosperity and greatness.”

The quickest economic boost might be from the two-pronged plan to encourage companies to use their $1.8-trillion cash reserves for expanding and creating jobs.  The first prong is lowering America’s corporate tax rate—now the second-highest in the developed world—to no more than the average rate of 26 percent.  This reform would encourage U.S. companies to expand at home and international companies to expand in the U.S.  The second prong is to let businesses to deduct their tax-deductible investments right away, rather than using multi-year depreciation.  (Heritage also opposes the scheduled January 1st tax increases.)

The plan also calls for less regulation–especially repealing the new regulatory costs embodied in President Obama’s health care and financial regulation bills– as another key to unlocking growth by the private sector.  (House Republican Leader John Boehner (R, OH) recently wrote President Obama to complain that the government now has in the pipeline 191 new rules, each of them entailing more than $100-million in compliance costs.)

“Solutions for America” also proposes major change in public assistance.  A Heritage study highlights how over $1-trillion annually (including the required state and local contributions) is spent on 71 means-tested federal welfare programs).  Heritage recommends that these should be consolidated, plus have work and partial repayment obligations added for able-bodied adults.

The Heritage report also notes the over compensation of federal workers. USA Today recently reported the average total package for federal workers is $123,000—twice the private sector average.  Heritage calculates that for comparable jobs and experience, the federal package is 30-40 percent too high, with a $47 billion annual savings to taxpayers if pay is brought into line with the private sector.

The collective package of proposals will be distributed by The Heritage Foundation to lawmakers and opinion leaders, and is publicly available at the Heritage website.

As Feulner noted, the ideas are not all new.  But neither are Obama’s big government proposals.  The notion that only “new” ideas have merit is a myth; otherwise enduring standards such as honesty, civility, and freedom itself would be deemed “old” and therefore invalid.

Heritage has compiled comprehensive policy proposals for presidents and Congress for over three decades.   Its 1980 “Mandate for Leadership” became a policy bible for the incoming administration of Ronald Reagan.  Reagan distributed copies at the initial meeting of his Cabinet and Heritage calculated that nearly two-thirds of its 2,000 recommendations were adopted by the Reagan administration.

Liberal critics will doubtlessly assail Heritage’s latest 128 recommendations.  But nobody should pretend that conservatives are devoid of good ideas.  And America would be better by listening to them.

Former Congressman Ernest Istook is a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.