How House Republicans can seize the moment

Tim Phillips President, Americans for Prosperity
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The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives possesses a short window to maintain the support and good will of both independent voters and the grassroots Tea Party movement. In fact, they have one budget cycle — from now until autumn — to act.

Polls show that by a margin of 55-40 percent, self-described independents strongly supported Republican House candidates last November. Meanwhile Tea Party activists provided the organizational muscle and passion that catapulted many Republicans across the finish line. Both groups supported GOP candidates not because of, but often in spite of, the Republican Party’s recent dismal record of big spending, wasteful bureaucracy and pork-barrel earmarks.

Now expectations are high. Both independent voters and Tea Party activists expect House Republicans to spur job creation by dramatically cutting government spending and the deficit while bringing genuine reform that gets rid of government red tape and bureaucracy.

If House Republicans settle for a timid “we trimmed a little here and there and slowed down the rate at which we’re going bankrupt because it was the best we could do” approach, they will find themselves discredited and out of power — for a generation. They will invite a third party threat from the right which in my view would be disastrous to both our free market values and the Republican Party.

The advice for House Republicans is simple: be bold. Immediately cut between $500 billion and $1 trillion in federal spending while passing long-term structural budget reforms.

Save billions and give states the flexibility to fix their own budgets by cutting spending for Medicaid and the other 100-plus means-tested federal welfare programs and block-granting them to the states to accomplish program objectives with no strings attached. That’s the successful welfare reform model from the 1990s that rewarded innovation and saved money while still helping folks truly in need.

Cut defense spending — carefully and smartly — by examining the usefulness of each of the more than 700 foreign military bases and every major weapons system. Too often politicians in Congress decide to “save” a weapons program for pork-barrel reasons in their district even though our military experts tell us we do not need certain programs.

End the unfair “defined benefits” pensions for federal employees and make their retirement plans just like the vast majority of Americans have in the private sector. For years these costly pension plans were justified because government salaries were supposedly lower than private-sector salaries. According to an exhaustive USA Today study of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, not only does the average federal employee make $123,049 a year, but federal employees make almost twice as much as private-sector workers who do comparable work.

Use attrition and consolidation of duplicative federal agencies and boards to trim the size of the federal workforce, which hovers at an astounding 2.15 million, not including the military. The House Republican Study Committee has just proposed a 15 percent cut using just this technique. As Senator Tom Coburn points out, job training is important but it’s wasteful for the federal government to have at least nine different agencies doing it. Families and small businesses in the private sector have had to make tough choices in recent years to survive. It’s time for government agencies to do the same thing.

Pass a balanced budget amendment in the House like the one Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte has championed for years now. Every state, except Vermont, has a balanced budget requirement and it works — not perfectly, but as a tool for fiscal sanity, it points us in the right direction.

Pass Senator Pat Toomey’s Fiscal Integrity Act to require the government to prioritize debt payments with existing funds instead of simply raising the debt limit. The idea that failing to raise the debt ceiling means an automatic default on current debt obligations is simply wrongheaded. Next year 6.5% of federal expenditures will go to cover payments on our debt. Toomey’s legislation simply says that instead of raising the debt limit the federal government will prioritize these debt payments over other spending — just like American families and businesses have to do.

Will these measures upset the Left? Of course. Nancy Pelosi and her liberal allies will incessantly demagogue and attack. But, the American people have seen and rejected what the Left has to offer.

House Republicans have that rare opportunity — a second chance after being in the wilderness for only four years. The question is: do they have the vision and courage to seize the moment?

Much depends on the answer.

Tim Phillips is the President of Americans for Prosperity.