Sunday, April 24, 2011

How to Reform Reform

In hindsight, ill conceived reforms, from the Patriot Act to bank bailouts and Obamacare, share several fundamental characteristics. They are a contradictory mix of needed reforms, questionable choices and appalling concessions to special interests. This occurs because politicians inevitably seize the opportunity to mine 1,000 page bills with earmarks that cater to powerful lobbyist. This is made possible because in the time allotted to consider a bill, legislators, let alone the general public, cannot read and fully comprehend the details of such massive bills. And even when the more abominable terms come to light, few are willing to challenge them, because doing so would result in other legislators dropping their support for the bill. After investing their political capital in promoting a bill, few are wiling to "kill the dog to get rid of the fleas."

In order to improve on legislation, it's essential to: slow it down and break it up. No matter how pressing the crisis appears to be, legislators and the public must resist efforts to quickly ram a bill through  Congress. It is better to measure twice and thrice than to recklessly raise an edifice that will vex future generations. If the great  behemoth of Health Care reform were broken up into a dozen separate bills, the legislative process would have been more transparent and the finished product would been less distasteful to the public. For example, why could we not have debated and voted on a bill that solely addressed the issue of pre-existing care? The vast majority of the public would have supported such a bill. Why not debate the (many) merits of promoting greater access to mental health services? And most importantly, why not submit the noxious and unconstitutional mandate to purchase health insurance to the vote? The bottom line is that it's unthinkable to let good policies get buried in a bad bill or bad policies fester in an otherwise good bill.
These principles clearly apply to efforts to tackle our out of control national debt. Rather than push through a budget whose sheer size overwhelm our analytical capacities, we must tackle each issue separately. Without sound reform of entitlements (that comprise 60% of the budget), even the most aggressive cuts to discretionary spending would do little to curb debt and much to hobble an already ineffective and sclerotic federal government. Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid each warrant separate debates and separate reform bills. Efforts to address the flaws in these (currently) fiscally unsustainable entitlements would be incredibly contentious, but certainly merit fact (not feeling) driven debate, followed by a decisive vote. And the inescapable fact is that with nearly $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, unless we undertake serious reforms, we will face impending bankruptcy and the virtual elimination of a safety net for the poor.

Afterwards, we must engage in a serious debate on our our imperial foreign policy, which drives the size and scope of our defense expenditures. Until we seriously weigh the costs and benefits of our role as the great nation builder and globo-cop, we will never achieve sustainable defense spending. And to further challenge our constitutionally illiterate politicians, it wouldn't hurt to have a healthy debate on the 10th Amendment, or specifically what roles and responsibilities does the constitution assign the federal and state governments. As a native of Illinois I can attest to the fact that state governments can be as bad or worse than the federal government, but their fiscal licentiousness is held in check by their inability to print money.

Unlike some of my more short sighted conservative brethren, I recognize that taxes will have to rise. However, if we increase revenue without first curbing spending, we will encourage politicians to further put off unpopular entitlement reform. Raising tax rates must be discussed as but one aspect of badly needed tax reforms. Our outmoded tax codes are riddled with numerous problems, including an internationally uncompetitive corporate tax rate, gaping loopholes and economically irrational subsidies. Together, they have exacerbated deficits, encouraged the flight of industry, discouraged the creation of new jobs, distorted the tax burden and augmented corporate lobbying.

Of course, tackling all of these daunting issues separately will greatly increase the duration of the reform process. But, this is a small price to pay for the promotion of greater transparency, serious debate and well thought out policies that will ensure the long term fiscal health of our nation. But to do so, voters must start punishing rather than rewarding politicians who promise the impossible: more warfare, more welfare and even lower taxes. Vote Ron Paul 2012!

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