Welfare for Some, Favoritism to the Warfare State

Conservatives are out with yet another of their policy proposals. But as usual, it is heavy on reform and light on repeal.

The Heritage Foundation, a D.C. think tank “whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense,” and Heritage Action for America, which takes “the conservative policy visions outlined by our sister organization,” and makes them “a reality,” “have teamed up to outline specific recommendations for the 114th Congress.”

The document is titled Opportunity for All, Favoritism to None. This should not be confused with America’s Opportunity For All, a Heritage publication issued in 2013 that “grows out of and expands upon the fiscal solution that Heritage first offered two years ago in Saving the American Dream, our comprehensive plan to fix the debt, cut spending, and restore prosperity by balancing the budget within a decade and restructuring entitlement programs to preserve them for future generations of American.” War, Empire, and the M... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $7.96 Buy New $9.95 (as of 02:45 EDT - Details)

The new document shares its name with the theme of the 2015 Conservative Policy Summit, hosted by Heritage Action for America, that took place at the Heritage Foundation on January 12 & 13. If you missed the conference, and hearing “from over 20 lawmakers who are introducing innovative principled conservative legislation,” you can read the agenda here and the handout and legislation preview here.

After a foreword by Jim DeMint, the former U.S. senator who serves as the president of the Heritage Foundation, and an introduction by Michael A. Needham, the CEO of Heritage Action for America, there are twelve chapters that “represent a return to a proper conservatism of free markets and a free society”:

  1. Restoring Opportunity in the Labor Market
  2. Free Market Energy Solutions
  3. Federalism and Education: Pre-K-12
  4. Beyond Student Loans and Grants: Changing the Game on Higher Education
  5. A Fresh Start for Health Care Reform
  6. Regulation: Killing Opportunity
  7. Ending Too-Big-to-Fail
  8. Welfare Reform
  9. Eliminating Waste and Controlling Government Spending
  10. How Tax Reform Would Help American Families
  11. Indivisible: Life, Marriage, Religious Liberty, and Prosperity
  12. A New Foreign Policy Agenda

All but two of the chapters have different authors. Some have two or more authors. Most of the authors currently work at Heritage. None are household names so I won’t bother mentioning them.

I have read the Opportunity for All, Favoritism to None so you don’t have to. It ought to be called Welfare for Some, Favoritism to the Warfare State. This 189-page document proposes a series of reforms, but never addresses the root causes War, Christianity, and... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $5.96 Buy New $9.95 (as of 02:45 EDT - Details) of the problems. Are there some good reform proposals? Certainly. But reform is not what the monstrosity called the U.S. government needs. It needs to be dismantled, root and branch.

In the chapter on the labor market, the author has excellent discussions of the harmful effects of government licensing and labor unions. However, he says that “for some occupations” licensing “makes perfect sense” since “mandatory government-imposed qualifications can protect consumers from quacks who could endanger health or safety.” There is curiously no mention of minimum-wage laws. The author concludes that “policymakers should make it easier and less expensive for workers to increase their skills and productivity.” However, this is to be achieved by “reforming K–12 education,” “expanding access to charter and private schools,” and “reducing the cost of higher education.” The government should “expand access to new job opportunities to help current workers get ahead, and it should relax or eliminate policies that unnecessarily restrain innovation and investment in key sectors, such as energy production.” It would have been better if the author had called for the elimination of the Department of Labor and the ending of federal involvement in the labor market.

The chapter on energy is probably the best one in the book, although it falls short in not calling for the elimination of the Department of Energy and the EPA.

In the chapters on education, the author proposes that Congress “limit federal intervention in and spending on preschool and child care programs, eliminate ineffective and duplicative K-12 programs, and advance education choice, as appropriate” and streamline the Higher Education Act (HEA) “in a way that more closely adheres to its primary purpose of allocating federal student loans and grants to ease the cost of college” by “eliminating duplicative, unnecessary, or ineffective programs and titles that have accrued over the decades and considering reforms that would ensure the HEA best serves students.” All of this instead of the elimination of the Department of Education, the repeal of the Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education Acts, and the complete separation of education from the state.

In the chapter on health care reform, the authors propose transitioning “the entire Medicare program from a defined-benefit system to a defined-contribution system (“premium support”), in which the government would make a defined contribution to the health plan of an enrollee’s choice.” Those on Medicaid should be able “to opt out of Medicaid and purchase coverage of their choice using existing Medicaid dollars.” In the long term, “Congress should restructure the traditional federal funding formula to a per capita amount based on each eligibility group.” Although the authors are critical of Obamacare, they do not make the case for a real free market in medical care and medical insurance.

In the chapter on regulation, the authors recognize that “the regulatory burden imposed on Americans and the U.S. economy has grown in each of the past 30 years,” “regulatory growth is a long-term, persistent problem,” and “reforms of the regulatory process are critically needed.” But two major things the authors propose—that “no major regulation should be allowed to take effect until Congress explicitly approves it” and “a regulatory assessment should be required for any measure before it reaches the floor for a vote”—wouldn’t necessarily lower the amount or cost of federal regulations. The authors make proposals like these because they still believe: “Not all regulations are unwarranted, of course. Some rules The War on Drugs Is a ... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $8.95 Buy New $5.95 (as of 02:45 EDT - Details) are justified.” The conservative authors then use an argument for government regulations out of the liberal playbook: “No one is talking about eliminating airline safety rules or allowing contaminated meat to be sold deceptively to consumers.”

The chapter on the financial crisis is another good one. The author recognizes that “the root of the crisis was the housing bubble inflated by government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac” and calls for these enterprises to be “permanently shut down.” He likewise calls for eliminating the Financial Stability Oversight Council and repealing Dodd-Frank. No mention, however, of eliminating the Federal Housing Administration or the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And although the author doesn’t call for ending the Fed, he does propose ending “the Fed’s broken lender-of-last-resort function,” ending “the Fed’s role as a financial regulator,” reviewing “the effectiveness of the Federal Reserve with a formal commission,” ending “discretionary monetary policy,” reversing QE, and instituting a major congressional reform of the Fed.

In the chapter on welfare reform, the authors recognize that LBJ’s War on Poverty has failed. They even term it “a colossal flop.” They point out that “welfare spending has increased by 16-fold since then,” “means-tested welfare costs taxpayers nearly $1 trillion annually,” “means-tested welfare is the second largest category of spending in the United States government, exceeded only by old-age entitlements,” and “the welfare system includes roughly 80 means-tested programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and lower-income Americans.” But the authors still want to continue the redistribution of income from one group of Americans to another:

A properly designed welfare system should be based on reciprocal moral obligation: society should provide aid to those who truly need it because they have nowhere else to turn, but able-bodied recipients should be expected to contribute back to society and to take steps toward self-sufficiency in return.

Effective welfare reform should consist of a few key components. First, it must get out-of-control welfare spending under control. Second, it must ensure that welfare programs require work for able-bodied adults. Third, it should address marital decline and the high rate of unwed childbearing.

Simply put, the authors want to reform welfare instead of repeal welfare.

In the chapter on waste and government spending, the author proposes the usual:

  • entitlement programs should be refocused The Other Side of Calv... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $19.99 Buy New $29.95 (as of 02:20 EDT - Details)
  • welfare programs should be reformed
  • spending caps should be enacted and enforced
  • Congress should return the debt to below its historical average of 40 percent of GDP
  • Congress should keep spending within its means

The author recognizes that Social Security and Medicare “pose the biggest challenge to eliminating waste and controlling government spending.” The author even acknowledges that these programs—the federal government’s two largest ones—“redistribute money from younger working generations to older and on-average wealthier generations, regardless of need.” Yet, instead of calling for the elimination of these programs, the authors merely want them to be refocused and retargeted:

Social Security should focus benefits on those least able to prevent destitution in old age or those with disabilities, while encouraging others to save for their own nest egg.

Medicare and Medicaid spending, other than for the needy disabled and elderly who may require additional administrative support, should be targeted to those individuals who need support the most, in the form of a premium support payment that enables beneficiaries to choose their own health care plans.

The author correctly concludes that “eliminating waste and controlling government spending is best accomplished by reducing the size and scope of government.” The author rightly argues that “the federal government does too many things that would better be done by individuals and organizations in the private sector, or by state and local governments, or that should not be done at all.” But then the author maintains that “a smaller, more limited federal government would focus on providing essential public services, legal services, and a basic social safety net, and would otherwise leave individuals free to determine their own affairs to the maximum extent possible in the defense of liberty.” Really? Then certainly the author believes that the war on drugs should be ended and individuals should be free to determine their own affairs in regard to using drugs? Don’t count on it. The Heritage Foundation loves the war on drugs.

In the chapter on tax reform, the author correctly maintains that “the tax code imposes tax rates that are too high, is biased against saving and investment, and wrongly picks winners and losers.” However, the author believes that the “central purpose of tax reform is to improve the economy’s potential by fixing each of these problems”—not to make taxes as low as possible, and certainly not to eliminate them altogether. This is why he insists that “tax reform must expend as much Archaic Words and the ... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $17.88 Buy New $29.95 (as of 02:45 EDT - Details) effort establishing the correct tax base as lowering rates.” Therefore, either a “traditional flat tax, a consumed-income flat tax, a national retail sales tax, or a combination of these methods (a business transfer tax)” will do since “each of them uses the correct consumption tax base.” And furthermore, “a well-executed tax reform plan would eliminate economically unjustified tax preferences—those not necessary to maintain neutrality.” This means that the author wants to eliminate tax deductions, credits, and exemptions in the name of simplicity.

The chapter on life, marriage, and religious liberty recommends that Congress pass legislation limiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and permanently ending “all federal funding of abortion and health plans that include elective abortions across all federal law, including the entirety of the Affordable Care Act.” The problem with the first part of this is that the federal government should have nothing to do with abortion—whether one views it as a crime or a medical procedure. This is a state matter. The rest of the chapter mainly deals with the assault on the institution of marriage. Where it falls short is in not recommending that government get out of the marriage business altogether.

As might be expected from an organization that never met an increase in defense spending it did not like, the chapter on foreign policy is the worst chapter in the book. The new foreign policy agenda envisioned by the authors is one of more intervention, more military spending, more foreign aid, more U.S. troops, more alliances, more commitments, more weapons, more ships, more bombers, more foreign wars, and more fighting against terrorism.

Opportunity for All, Favoritism to None clearly took hundreds of hours of research and writing to compile. It has many valuable facts and figures and is enhanced by numerous helpful charts and graphs. But the conservative solutions it offers generally suffer from the same drawbacks: reform instead of repeal, make more efficient instead of eliminate, continue instead of cut, limit instead of liquidate, defend instead of denounce. Opportunity for All, Favoritism to None is perfectly compatible with the welfare/warfare state.

Conservatives in Congress won’t pay any more attention to this new Heritage plan than they did the last one, but it will serve the purpose of convincing grassroots conservative donors that the hundreds of hours spent compiling it was not a waste of money and that Heritage is influencing Congress to implement legislation that upholds conservative values and principles.