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Republicans beginning to return to core policy issues

By Paul DaSilva
On January 30, 2014

It seems congressional Republicans are beginning to heed the advice of conservative policy wonks and The Wall Street Journal editorial page to come up with viable, conservative legislation addressing core policy issues.
If you listened to the Tea Party's official response to President Obama's 5th State of the Union address on Tuesday, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) provided a glimpse of the "positive, innovative, [and] thoughtful policy reforms" currently being worked on by Republican congressmen and senators. These reforms include a plan to simplify the tax code, an effort led by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to reform the criminal-justice system, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's agenda to combat poverty - the most thoughtful and comprehensive plan proposed by either side in recent memory - among a host of others.
Lee urged Tea Party activists to move "from protest to progress" - to get past merely lambasting President Obama and the Democrats' agenda and looking towards conservative reform. This is a point I and countless conservative policy wonks and intellectuals have stressed for years now: sure, it's perfectly justifiable to fulfill the expectation of an opposition party and denounce the president's solutions to the myriad problems our nation faces, but that must be paired with the creation of viable alternatives.
On Monday, a trio of Senate Republicans put forth the most comprehensive plan yet to replace The Affordable Care Act. Long a slogan of the G.O.P, their promise to offer a replacement for President Obama's sweeping health-care law has gone unfulfilled, until now. The ACA currently is viewed favorably by just 38 percent of Americans according to the aggregate poll data compiled by Real Clear Politics, and a vast majority wants to see the law replaced. This is where the right has fallen short: they have correctly pointed out that the law is poorly conceived and tremendously unpopular, but they have not satisfied Americans' wishes that the law be replaced with something that would expand insurance coverage to tens of millions of the uninsured, minus the more unpopular provisions such as the imposition of numerous mandates and regulations.
The Senate G.O.P. plan - proposed by Sens. Tom Coburn (OK), Richard Burr (NC), and Orrin Hatch (UT) - would preserve the more popular elements of the ACA, including a requirement that insurers allow adult children to remain on their parents' premiums until 26, but scrap the individual mandate and the requirement that insurers not deny coverage to individuals with preexisting health conditions. Though not perfect, and likely to be opposed by certain sects within the Republican Party, it is certainly a huge step in the right direction for conservative policy reform.
In addition to healthcare, Sen. Rubio was able to inject a conservative alternative into a debate on poverty on which the Democrats have had virtually exclusive influence. Rubio called for two significant reforms to the social safety net in a speech he delivered regarding the success of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty: first, he would replace the Earned Income Tax Credit with a real wage subsidy something that would be a monetary amount that the working poor would receive on each paycheck versus in one annual lump sum; and, he called for increased discretion for states by combining the numerous federal antipoverty programs into one fund. Again, I'm sure valid concerns of Rubio's proposal will arise within conservative circles, but it appears to be a comprehensible and sensible solution to the left's desire to superficially address poverty.
We are presently in a midterm election year, and while it may not be as important to have a well thought-out platform, voters are going to ask Republicans what they are proposing as an alternative to President Obama's social and economic agenda, which clearly have been less than successful. A Republican Party united on policy to reform big government and its countless ails would go a long way towards shedding the notion that the Democrats have (perhaps rightly) inflicted on them: that they are primarily a party of "no," and lack any eagerness to engage in policy discourse.
It is my hope that all Republican legislators get behind these reforms that have been recently proposed or offer a thoughtful alternative of their own; because to bluntly put it, absent a detailed agenda in 2016, the G.O.P. will fall victim to the assertion that their platform is either incredibly vague or completely nonexistent, and therefore lose big.  


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