Abraham Lincoln once observed: “When we cannot do the best, then we have to do the best possible.” As we collectively grapple with daunting problems that threaten our nation’s long-held position of global preeminence, we should keep this sound advice from the man who stands next to Washington in our nation’s pantheon of greatness.
Lincoln, after all, knew something about how to rescue his nation from a self-induced disaster.
He saved the Union by following a simple formula that every reform-minded statesman who wants to achieve the same today should, metaphorically speaking, have branded onto their forehead.
First: Listen to the American people.
Public policy solutions that seem ideal on paper will not work in the long run unless they also enjoy popular support. That is the sine qua non of our democracy — the foundation of its granite strength. Political leaders ignore this fact of life at their peril. The congressional authors of Obamacare came face to face with this reality last election.
Second: Be willing to compromise on all but essential principles.
There is certainly no shortage of ideas about how to fix what ails the United States, but they all amount to hot air unless they can run the brutal gauntlet of our political process and be transformed into real laws.
Now my own view is that the Republican Party offers the best hope to revitalize the nation in its dire hour of need, assuming of course that the GOP remains true to the principles of its founding.
Last November the GOP picked up a stunning 63 House seats in one of the biggest electoral sweeps ever. If you decipher the outcome of the House races, you will find that voters were fuming over President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan — a plan that cost over $1 trillion, added a bevy of new taxes and levies and, due to new mandates, has forced private insurers to raise rates dramatically.
Senior voters, who normally tilt Democratic, were furious that Obama cut almost $500 billion from Medicare as his plan added tens of millions of the uninsured to the healthcare insurance system.
The Republicans seized on the Democrats’ betrayal of seniors. Exit polls prove that retired voters gave the GOP their margin. Those over 65 accounted for 24 percent of congressional voters, the highest turnout of senior voters ever recorded. Seniors also gave the GOP a landslide, voting 59 to 38 percent in favor of Republican candidates.
Rather than voluntarily cede this valuable political high ground (which it has rarely if ever occupied), Republicans should continue to protect programs that are essential to the lives of most senior citizens.
Amazingly, some Republicans are talking about cutting Medicare and even Social Security. Republican leaders should remain on the right side of the issue by pushing a new law that guarantees to every citizen, rich and poor alike, that they will be protected as they age.
Consider that someone who begins working at 18 and retires at 65 has spent 47 years paying into Social Security. They are now being told by some that the government simply doesn’t have the average payout of $1,178 for a monthly stipend.
Washington should be moving to protect Social Security while proposing new methods to make the system more robust and fair for future generations who will be retiring. Government-mandated private savings accounts for retirement, an asset owned by the retiree that couldn’t be tampered with by politicians, would be a step in the right direction.
Ditto for Medicare reform, which should follow the same common-sense approach. First protect current beneficiaries while undertaking reforms, such as promoting health savings accounts as a viable alternative to the current system for younger workers.
At the same time, Republicans should be out front exposing the dangers of Obamacare for seniors. They can do that, for instance, by opposing the so-called “Independent Payment Advisory Board” (IPAB), which was established in the small print of the Obamacare law.
While few Americans have ever heard of the IPAB, it is one of the most significant provisions of Obamacare. According to former Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle (who could with justice be called the father of the IPAB), it is roughly equivalent to a Federal Reserve Board for healthcare.
Just as the Fed oversees monetary policy with great autonomy, so the IPAB (it begins operating in 2015) will be able to reform Medicare pretty much as it pleases, with only a rarely achievable two-thirds vote in Congress able to overturn its decisions.
The Obamacare cuts to the Medicare budget proved a powerful political lever for Republicans in the 2010 elections, and the coming ascendancy of the IPAB could prove just as useful in the 2012 election. Indeed, the IPAB is arguably a much greater threat to Medicare than the dollars that have already been cut from its budget.
Although it might seem frustrating to be constrained by the collective desires of the American people, Republican leaders should embrace the challenge and devise solutions that are acceptable to the popular will.
This means thinking outside the box.
If we can’t cut Social Security and Medicare, where can Congress cut? Well, even seniors I think would agree that rampant fraud and waste in Medicare could be addressed. So far, the federal and state governments have been lax in the program’s oversight. And Congress can make significant cuts in discretionary spending, as well as defense spending.
But the focus of Congress should be on economic growth. This can be stimulated by personal and corporate tax cuts, deregulation and other reforms that make American business more competitive.
Keep growing the economy while cutting the rate of growth of government. This was a formula that worked remarkably well during the Reagan years. It can work again as the nation continues to protect its seniors.
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