Room for the Welfare State

Back in 2007, the Weekly Standard magazine described Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan as the “Young Guns of the House GOP.” Make that just McCarthy and Ryan.

Cantor recently lost his Republican primary election and resigned as House Majority Leader. Ryan was the losing Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012. He is the chairman of the House Budget Committee and architect of the rotten Ryan Republican budget. McCarthy is the new House Majority Leader.

In 2010, Cantor, McCarthy, and Ryan authored Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders (Simon & Shuster). It made the New York Times Bestseller List. The trio of House Republicans then did a series of interviews about the book and their particular conservative ideas.

In 2011, John Murray, then Cantor’s deputy chief of staff, founded the Young Guns (YG) Network, “a non-profit 501(c)(4) dedicated to supporting conservative policies and the efforts of policymakers who fight for those policies” that operates “independently of any officeholder, candidate or political party.” In 2012, the organization hosted its first “issue summit,” and began to put out “issue advocacy” ads, conduct polls, and commission focus groups.

This past May, on the 50th annivesary of LBJ’s “Great Society” speech, leading policymakers and thinkers gathered at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank, to discuss conservative policy options. Speakers included Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Mike Lee (R-UT), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Arthur C. Brooks, the president of AEI, and Ramesh Ponnuru of AEI and National Review. These conservative policymakers and thinkers discussed “practical, conservative domestic reform solutions.” The highlight of the conference was the release by the YG Network of a manifesto titled Room to Grow: Conservative Reforms for a Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class.

The 120-page book contains an introduction and ten policy essays “to outline an innovative agenda that empowers individuals by increasing competition and replacing failed government

White House Call Girl:... Phil Stanford Best Price: $7.15 Buy New $12.21 (as of 02:25 EDT - Details) policies”:

  1. “Health-care reform to lower costs and improve access and quality”
  2. “Tax reform to strengthen the economy and lighten the burdens families bear”
  3. “K-12 Education reform to give the next generation a chance to thrive”
  4. “Higher-education reform to make college and career training more effective and affordable”
  5. “Safety-net reforms to protect the vulnerable and expand the middle class”
  6. “Employment policies to get Americans working again”
  7. “Energy reforms to cut utility bills and enable growth and innovation”
  8. “Regulatory and financial reforms to combat cronyism and modernize our economy” War, Empire, and the M... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $899.99 Buy New $9.95 (as of 08:30 EDT - Details)
  9. “Labor, tax, and fiscal reforms to help parents balance work and family”
  10. “Pro-family policies to strengthen marriage and give kids a better shot at the American dream”

The essays were the subject of a conference that took place in March in Middleburg, Virginia. There is also a conclusion by Ramesh Ponnuru on “Recovering the wisdom of the Constitution.”

David Brooks of the New York Times hails the manifesto as “the most coherent and compelling policy agenda the American right has produced this century.”

Nixonu2019s Secrets: T... Roger Stone Best Price: $0.83 Buy New $6.99 (as of 01:35 EDT - Details) Matthew Continetti of the Washington Free Beacon describes it as:

The best primer I have seen on the various proposals that constitute reform conservatism. I do not doubt for a moment that if the Republican Party adopted Room to Grow as its platform tomorrow, then both the GOP and the country would enjoy a better future.

The editors of National Review Online opine that Room to Grow is “the latest evidence that conservatism may be experiencing an intellectual resurgence as well as a political one.”

Danny Vinik of the New Republic comments that “liberals should take reform conservatives—and their ideas—seriously.”

Since no libertarians were asked for their opinion of Room to Grow, I feel compelled to provide mine: a conservative plan for the welfare state. War, Christianity, and... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $5.95 Buy New $9.95 (as of 08:30 EDT - Details)

In “Health-care reform to lower costs and improve access and quality,” James C. Patretta correctly points out that “the core problem in American health care has been, and continues to be, that there is not a functional marketplace in health insurance or health services to discipline costs and promote quality and value for consumers.” Health care “has been dominated for decades by the federal government” and “before Obamacare was very far from a genuine marketplace.” Patretta criticizes Obamacare as a wrong and harmful solution that needs to be repealed. The problem is that Patretta wants to replace Obamacare with Republicare. Under Republican reforms, insurance companies must provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, lower-income households will need public subsidies, and Medicaid and Medicare will be reformed, not repealed. Real medical freedom is not an option.

In “Tax reform to strengthen the economy and lighten the burdens families bear,” Robert Stein mentions how “Social Security and Medicare have ‘crowded out’ the traditional incentive to raise children as a protection against poverty in old age.” But instead of proposing that these unconstitutional programs be eliminated, he proposes that there be a new child tax credit. He specifically mentions the proposal of Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would The Greatest Comeback:... Patrick J. Buchanan Best Price: $1.00 Buy New $1.99 (as of 04:05 EDT - Details) add a new credit of $2,500 per child. This would be “paid for” by “getting rid of all itemized deductions except for the mortgage interest and charitable deductions” and limiting “the deduction for new mortgages to $300,000.” But to achieve “revenue neutrality,” Stein would raise the current 25 percent bracket to a tax rate of 35 percent or “more quickly limiting the mortgage interest deduction to the middle class or perhaps limiting the exemption for interest on municipal bonds.”

In “K-12 Education reform to give the next generation a chance to thrive,” Frederick M. Hess says “the time is ripe for a principled, conservative K-12 agenda.” he sees a role for the federal government in education that is limited to “creating platforms for reform and reinforcing the work of policymakers (at the state and local level), educators, and administrators who are trying to modernize American education.” In stead of abolishing the federal Department of Education, “conservatives should adopt a trust-busting mindset, wielding the Department of Education and the federal education apparatus to reverse decades of bureaucratization.” To deny “that Washington has any role to play in education—is both insincere and counterproductive.” Hess sees no problem with public education itself.

In “Higher-education reform to make college and career training more effective and affordable,” Andrew P. Kelly states his belief that conservatives can foster “a fundamental shift in our approach to higher-education The War on Drugs Is a ... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $5.96 Buy New $5.95 (as of 08:30 EDT - Details) policymaking.” He criticizes the current federal student loan system, but believes it should be reformed, not eliminated. He also believes that “conservatives have an opportunity to counter the Left’s shortsighted, counterproductive agenda, but only if they put forth a concrete alternative.” Unfortunately, that alternative is not real education freedom.

In “Safety-net reforms to protect the vulnerable and expand the middle class,” Scott Winship says that “by advocating an attractive, reform-minded anti-poverty agenda, conservatives have a chance to do what Great Society liberalism did not—increase upward mobility out of poverty and into the middle class.” He wants federal welfare programs to be reformed and consolidated “to transparently encourage people move to work.” A safety net of some sort should remain “available to those who confront barriers to work and in times of weak demand.” It should just be reformed “to promote work.” Conservatives should “arm disadvantaged parents who want to do well by their children with a voucher to fund one of any number of investments in their human capital.”

In “Employment policies to get Americans working again,” Michael R. Strain advocates “rolling back oppressive licensing requirements” or “scaling back unnecessary occupational licensing,” not eliminating occupational licensing altogether and temporarily lowering minimum wages “for the long-term unemployed,” but not eliminating the minimum wage altogether. Government should “help workers connect with jobs.” Conservatives should rethink “the way unemployment benefits are provided and allow workers interested in moving in search of employment to receive relocation assistance in place of continued unemployment benefits.” The Social Security disability program should be “much more work friendly.” The Earned Income Tax Credit, which Strain admits “functions as an earnings subsidy for low-income households,” should be reformed to make “work more attractive” and “expanded,” not have its refundability eliminated.

In “Energy reforms to cut utility bills and enable growth and innovation,” Adam J. White criticizes the bureaucracy and the myriad of regulations that prevent the building of new pipelines, but doesn’t call for the elimination of any agencies or regulations. The permitting process needs to be reformed by Congress passing more legislation and exercising “persistently strong oversight of the regulators.” White criticizes governments granting private companies the power of eminent domain, but not governments exercising that power. And although he rightly points out that “in recent years, middle-class households have had an energy policy imposed upon them by regulators and ideologues,” he still believes that the United States should have an energy policy. King James, His Bible,... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $8.49 Buy New $56.00 (as of 08:30 EDT - Details)

In “Regulatory and financial reforms to combat cronyism and modernize our economy,” James Pethokoukis argues that “American workers deserve a safety net that protects them from the worst effects of the economy’s inevitable ups and downs.” But then he goes on to say that “business deserves no such firewall.” Corporations “shouldn’t get a state-supplied edge—whether a regulation, spending program, or tax subsidy—over a competitor.” Government shouldn’t “provide a backstop to prevent failure.” After all, “there is a big difference between crony or state capitalism and free-market, entrepreneurial capitalism.” So Pethokoukis favors individual welfare over corporate welfare. The “Too Big to Fail” doctrine needs to be ended and the “regulatory and legal barriers more directly eroding America’s startup culture” need to be dismantled. Okay then, but why should there be “as few government hurdles as possible between a person with a good idea and the transformation of that idea into a small business” instead of no “government hurdles”?

In “Labor, tax, and fiscal reforms to help parents balance work and family,” Carrie Lukas states that “rather than seeking to create one-size-fits-all leave policies for all employers and all working parents, policymakers ought to target their assistance to low-income families in need of support following a child’s birth.” She criticizes the proposed Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act—legislation to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act by requiring employers to provide qualified employees with a maximum of 12 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds of their salary—but not the original Family and Medical Leave Act that made the new legislation possible. Congress needs to reform the Fair Labor Standards Act, but not abolish it. Likewise, existing labor laws should be reformed, but not abolished. Parents should be given “greater power to direct the use of government subsidies that are provided for their children.”

In “Pro-family policies to strengthen marriage and give kids a better shot at the American dream,” W. Bradford Wilcox laments “the retreat from marriage in Middle America,” the “recent growth in nonmarital childbearing,” teen pregnancy, and “cohabiting families.” He believes that “public policies should target the range of economic, legal, and cultural forces now eroding marriage and family life in the United States.” The “first step policymakers should take is to end the marriage penalty often associated with means-tested public benefits,” not end the means-tested public benefits. Wilcox proposes that the Earned Income Tax Credit be transformed into “a wage subsidy for individual low earners.” For other means-tested tax and transfer policies, “couples could receive a refundable tax credit for the amount of money that they lose by marrying.” Wilcox feels that the “marriage penalty associated with Medicaid should be eliminated,” but not Medicaid itself. The Revolution that Wa... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $51.48 Buy New $5.76 (as of 10:30 EDT - Details)

In his conclusion, “Recovering the wisdom of the Constitution,” Ramesh Ponnuru begins with a statement that every libertarian could agree with:

The federal government inserts itself into every nook and cranny of American life, with no decision too local, or trivial, to escape its attention. Federal courts micromanage institutions—schools, prisons—and make policy judgments traditionally confined to legislatures on issue after issue. Companies face multiple and sometimes conflicting regulators in an atmosphere of pervasive uncertainty. Presidential orders revise laws without a vote of Congress. Agencies combine judicial, legislative, and executive powers while staying far removed from the control of voters.

But he goes downhill from there.

The problem is that this federal tyranny also existed during the presidency of the conservative Republican George W. Bush. And for over four years of Bush rule, the Republicans had a majority in both Houses of Congress.

Ponnuru applauds the “constitutionalist turn in conservative politics,” but argues that “this constitutionalism should be political rather than legal.” He explains:

A political constitutionalism should be practical and incrementalist rather than apocalyptic. In rejecting a judicial monopoly on constitutional interpretation, the constitutionalist also gives up the fantasy that any particular institutional arrangement can guarantee perfect fidelity to the Constitution. If he sees laws and programs that do not fit with our constitutional commands and ideals, he will not vainly demand that they all be abolished straightaway. Instead he will move patiently and intelligently to bring government closer to its proper bounds. If he finds himself unable to abolish a program he thinks a poor fit for our constitutional order, he will try to reform it to render it less obnoxious or destructive.

This is a perfect example of the curse of conservatism. Unconstitutional federal agencies and programs—as if there were any other kind—should be reformed, reorganized, reconstituted, or run by Republicans, but never abolished. Social Insecurity Laurence M. Vance Buy New $3.77 (as of 06:10 EDT - Details)

For a specific example, here is Ponnuru on Medicare: “Reforming Medicare so that it no longer attempts to set prices throughout the medical sector is a way to make American health care less expensive and more efficient, but it is also a step toward the modest federal role envisioned by the constitutional design.” The modest federal role? How about: Medicare should be abolished because the Constitution has no role whatsoever for the federal government to play when it comes to health care.

Ponnuru wants to have the impossible: a welfare state and a limited government:

We have to show that we can have wider access to health care, an affordable safety net, opportunities to learn, and the like, without granting ever more power to government. Sometimes we will be able to make progress by ending ill-considered government policies, sometimes by replacing them with ones more respectful of human nature, economic incentives, federalism, and individual rights.

I should also mention that Ponnuru, like most conservatives, invokes the name of Abraham Lincoln. But in doing so, he makes this absurd statement: “Abraham Lincoln explained that the logic of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence was incompatible with slavery.” I guess this is why Lincoln said in his first inaugural address: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists” and expressed his support in 1861 for the Corwin amendment that would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with slavery.

Speaking of Room to Grow, Ponnuru remarked that “if there are conservative candidates looking for an agenda, this is going to be on the shelf.” And that is the trouble with conservatives: they are always looking for an agenda that will get votes instead of actually being defenders of individual liberty and the minimal government that it requires.

Conservative plans like the Contract with America, Pledge to America, Path to American Prosperity, Path to Prosperity, Back to Basics, Saving the American Dream, and now the latest plan, Room to Grow, all have one thing in common: they all have room for the welfare state.