I know “House of Cards” character Frank Underwood is fictitious, malicious, and evil.
But even an evil fictitious character can hit the nail on its head occasionally.
We might not like his prescription, but he diagnoses America’s chief problem more concretely, more accurately, and more honestly than any American politician ever has. Ever.
We’ve been crippled by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, by welfare, by entitlements.
And that is the root of the problem: entitlements.
Let me be clear.
You are entitled to nothing.
You are entitled to nothing.
America was built on the spirit of industry.
You build your future.
It isn’t handed to you.
And the problem with Washington is that we haven’t given you the tools to build it.
The only way for us to serve you is to give you the means to serve yourselves.
Nine sentences that summarize the entire Tea Party movement. You are entitled to nothing. Too-big-to-fail companies are entitled to nothing. Nature provides us with an abundance of what we need to live: food, air, water, work, and friends. We have the capacity to build shelters, preserve food, care for the less able, learn, and tell stories so others benefit from our experience.
“Entitlements” merely alleviate our guilt over failing to live our lives to the fullest, which includes helping those in need and providing for ourselves. (On this point, I am no better than any and worse than many.)
We will never change the minds of Boomers and older generations about entitlements. The WWII generation invented the concept, at least as a pop culture truism. They won’t let go.
But Millennials might. So might Gen Xers, who never believed government promises to begin with.
The idea of entitlement destroys lives, especially the lives of the entitled. As Eric Greitens says in his new book, Resilience:
In the most prosperous moment in human history, tens of millions of people fail to flourish for lack of noble work to do, for lack of meaningful, hard, struggling engagement with the world.
Economic conservatives have pointed out for years that America’s entitlement programs are bankrupting the country. The $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities can’t go on. Accounting gimmicks only get you so far.
I proposed a phase out of Social Security in The Conservative Manifesto in 1993. Obama’s proposal isn’t even a step in that direction, but it’s still an acknowledgement by the most liberal president in US history that entitlements can continue to grow.
Republicans Can’t Oppose Chained CPI
Sure, the AARP and other far-left groups are crying an gnashing teeth over the proposal—that’s why they call it the ‘third rail.’ But Obama’s move is strategic. Republicans have to sign on or risk being seen as hypocrites.
I heard someone say that Obama’s “turned his back” on the people who elected him. Poppycock. The people who elected Obama, especially in 2012, were Millennials—the folks born after 1982 who begin adulthood with an anvil over their heads—the weight of unfunded liabilities under Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Meanwhile, the AARP’s members voted overwhelming for Romney.
Obama’s mild revision to COLA indexing benefits his strongest demographic group, and the group I’m most interested in winning over. This will be their country soon and for a long time.
This Could De-Energize the Third Rail
Welfare reform was possible only because Bill Clinton was President and Newt Gingrich was Speaker. When one party controls White House, Senate, and House, that party actually tends to play it safe. Why? They have no one to blame if something goes wrong, and they’re more worried about holding onto what they’ve got than advancing the principles that got them there. See Tom DeLay.
But when power is split, both parties want to gain the office they lack. Or, in the case of presidents, they want to solidify their legacy. Both sides, then, are willing to take chances.
Once Clinton agreed to welfare reform and the GOP signed on, it was a sure thing. A certain number of Democrats were sure to go along because Clinton was their president. Republicans were certain go go along because it was an issue they’d championed for years. And it got done.
George Bush could not have touched the third rail, because Democrats and the media—and some Republicans—would have destroyed him. Look what happened when he pitched privatizing part of Social Security.
But Obama has flipped the switch on the third rail. If the Republicans jump on that one issue fast, they may be able to make Social Security reform a debatable issue instead of a suicide mission. This is their chance to advance a principle instead of covering their asses.
I sincerely believe… that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale.
Then I say, the earth belongs to each of these generations during its course, fully and in its own right. The second generation receives it clear of the debts and incumbrances of the first, the third of the second, and so on. For if the first could charge it with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation. Then, no generation can contract debts greater that may be paid during the course of its own existence.
If you were born after 1982 (Millennial Generation), I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. How do you feel about entering the workforce almost $50,000 in debt for things no one every asked you about?
The call was my opportunity to break from the easy, unassailable position that things are bad and getting worse. It meant coming up with a solution or two. And solutions already find disagreement somewhere.
For over a year I’ve said that the Tea Party movement, begun out of anger, must shift its energy over time from anger to solutions. Now, I have no idea the exact shape of these slopes, but I’ve always pictured a graph something like this:
By November 2010, when our candidates accept the honor of serving in Congress or state capitols, we better have armed them with solutions to the problems developed over the past decades.
On May 23, the Washington Post carried an op-ed by Senator Bob Bennett. Bennett recently lost his bid to stand for re-election when Utah Tea Partyers targeted him for retirement. In his op-ed, Senator Bennett correctly challenges Tea Partyers to move beyond negative slogans and to adopt positive reforms.
Their two strongest slogans are “Send a message to Washington” and “Take back America.” I know both very well because they were the main tools used to defeat me in Utah’s Republican convention two weeks ago. They also worked in Kentucky on Tuesday. They are more powerful than most pundits inside the Beltway realize.
More importantly, he points out that, by November or next year, Americans will be ready for sunny optimism again.
We can advance positive ideas, recognize today’s problems, and point to that brighter future all at the same time. Honestly, that’s what leaders do every day.
No fool would believe that the incoming batch of legislators can solve all the problems generated over fifty years. But we must tackle a few. I outlined some of the areas for consideration in the CS Monitor piece, but I’d propose just three reforms for the first term: Repeal the healthcare takeover, overhaul the tax code, and set an expiration date on one entitlement program.
Repeal Healthcare Takeover
The first step toward getting out of debt is to stop borrowing money. The easiest way for Washington to stop borrowing money is to stop creating new entitlement programs.
Now, Barack Obama will veto the repeal. Do it anyway. The left will claim we have no solution. Let them. The American people have already decided this, and they came down on our side. The debate is over: ObamaCare lost everywhere except Washington, DC.
The replacement will be to unshackles states from crafting experiments to determine the best solution. Other states will follow the successful models and shun the failures. When done at the state level, experimentation works. When Washington experiments, the whole nation is in danger.
Overhaul the Tax Code
The income tax system in the United States is a sham designed to perpetuate itself by breeding succeeding generations of accountants, lawyers, and tax experts who will lobby to sustain an industry.
We need to begin this overhaul by implementing the system Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp wanted in the 1970s: A flat tax on earnings above a certain threshold.
I don’t know the exact numbers, but I see the new tax form looking like this:
As I said, the exempt amount and the percentage are probably not perfect, but the formula works. The exempted amount would be indexed to inflation to that the government has no incentive to allow inflation to raise your taxes.
This is a formula everyone can understand, with the exception of Washington bureaucrats and politicians.
I know many in the Tea Party movement are fans of the Fair Tax, but I am not, and I’ll explain why: the Fair Tax is impossible to explain and easy to attack.
The Fair Tax might represent a much better solution, both economically and Constitutionally, than the Flat Tax. But if the Fair Tax gets our best candidates defeated and cannot get through Congress, what good is it? At present, the Fair Tax is simply too complicated to win broad national support. It involves too many formulas and rebates and repealing the 16th Amendment.
When we get the votes in Congress to repeal the 16th Amendment, I’ll jump onboard the Fair Tax. But let’s do this one step at a time, okay? Let’s make things better now, then make them best later. Let’s not make things worse by demanding perfection on day one.
Under the Flat Tax, taxes will go up for some, down for others. No one will be punished for achieving more. The deduction of your first $30,000 is more generous than most combined deductions today.
Additionally, there is not marriage penalty because there are no filing statuses other than “Me.” You worked or didn’t. You earned or you didn’t. I don’t care how many kids you have or whether your home is also your office.
Expire One Entitlement
I don’t care which one, but set a formula for eliminating one of the three big entitlements. I would start with Social Security, which has not only jeopardized our economic future, it encourages otherwise good people to whine and beg for government handouts.
Social Security is a Ponzi scheme that works only if the next generation is much larger than the current one. When Americans stopped having 4.5 kids per couple, the cookie began to crumble.
There’s a formula for ending Social Security, but it requires we all pay taxes to fund it until its dead. That’s because Congresses have spent all of the Social Security trust fund—and then some. The SSA hold numerous notes that must be paid out of general revenue.
That’s okay. If you borrow money, you have to pay it back sometime. And we’re the ones who borrowed this money by refusing to face this monster earlier. Fine. Let’s get on with it.
First, anyone drawing Social Security or who’s within 15 years of eligibility will receive payments according to the rules in place today. So I don’t want to hear from Big Old People that I’m stealing their entitlement. I am not.
Second, those who have already begun paying into Social Security will have a choice: they can receive a tax-free, lump sum payment equal to their lifetime contribution without interest, or they can leave the money in the SSA until age 65, then receive a lump sum payment including interest equal to the rate of inflation. Either way, the FICA withholding—the individual’s and the employer’s—stops.
Third, those fortunate souls who are too young to have opened an SSA account never will. They simply pocket the 16 percent that currently goes to fund a failing system.
States may want to create their own voluntary or even mandatory retirement scheme. Fine. That’s how the federalist system works. I wouldn’t support a mandated state system, but there’s nothing in the Constitution that would prevent a state from adopting such. The people of the state could always vote out the legislators who created it.
My solutions may not solve all of our problems. But they will advance four goals of the Tea Party movement: smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, and federalism.
By adopting this list of goals, candidates will move to the right of my chart above, providing solutions instead of just pointing out problems. Yes, our enemies will throw mud at these ideas: there’s no idea that won’t find critics.
In the end, our mission from day one has been to make America’s future brighter than its brilliant past. We can do that only by moving toward the future we want, not away from the unknowns we’re afraid of.