Politicians in Washington are supposed to lack civility. But as Republicans begin running the House of Representatives this week, something else is lacking among many GOP lawmakers: imagination.
Take a good look at the Pledge to America, the national policy agenda the GOP unveiled in the fall and is following in its new reign. You’ll see that it’s more dull than daring -and that’s disappointing. The pledge correctly notes that America is facing “enormous” challenges, yet its proposed solutions are more workmanlike than visionary.
It starts off well. The United States, the pledge says, is an “idea” rather than just a country of about 308 million people. “America is the belief that any man or woman can - given economic, political, and religious liberty - advance themselves, their families, and the common good,” according to the preamble.
Amen. But what kind of ideas do Republicans offer to keep that belief alive as America enters the second decade of the 21st century? Besides their longtime calls for (all together now) a “robust defense,” “national economic prosperity” and “honoring families,” there is little new here.
The pledge does have a few good ideas. Allowing small businesses to take a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their income is a nice start. The promise to require every bill to have a citation of constitutional authority is smart - and sorely needed.
Still, this is small thinking. The GOP missed - or worse, ignored - an opportunity to think big. Instead of promising tax cuts to this group or that in the pledge, House Republicans could have offered to scrap the universally hated tax code altogether - and replace it with one that is fairer and simpler.
They also could have redesigned Medicare and Medicaid into a system that promotes the use of private health insurance for the elderly and poor instead of replacing it. They could have used dozens of innovative policy ideas from think tanks across this city.
But they did not, leaving daring ideas on Capitol Hill to … the Democrats.
That’s right, the recently “shellacked” Democrats. For all their many faults, at least they dared to dream in the last Congress. They were gutsy enough to acknowledge a serious problem in the country and propose the noble idea that every American should have health insurance.
But there’s a fine line between daring and recklessness - and the Democrats zoomed right past it. In their pursuit of their daring dream, they created unprecedented and unconstitutional government mandates. They racked up trillions in additional costs this country just can’t afford. And they created most of the 2,700-page health care legislation with the transparency of a brick wall.
The Constitution seems to be trendy right now among lawmakers. Let’s hope that trend continues. The Founders are excellent examples of bold, creative thinking within a constitutional, historical and reasoned framework.
Consider: After winning their independence from Great Britain, the 13 Colonies could have followed a safe path. They could have created a government with a Parliament and prime minister.
Instead, the Founders thought big. Looking at how other nations functioned (and failed) in history, they invented a government with a regularly elected Congress instead of a Parliament. They created an office of president instead of prime minister. They wrote down specific rights citizens had under this new government. By working together (and yes, even compromising), they devised something that was new -and daring - in Western civilization. And it’s been a model for future democratic republics ever since.
Granted, the daily business of government is not always inspiring. There is little poetry in an appropriations bill or a technical amendment. And chances are many members in this new Congress will propose many kinds of small-thinking legislation, leaving America’s “enormous” problems unsolved for yet another generation. But we can dream, can’t we?
Andrew Blasko is a writer from Arlington, Va.