- - Thursday, October 9, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We’re at a critical point right now. The flaws in President Obama’s agenda are increasingly clear. The economy remains sluggish nearly six years into his presidency. Millions of Americans are still unemployed or underemployed. The president’s signature achievement, Obamacare, has caused premiums to spike and kicked millions of Americans off their health plans. At home and abroad, our nation appears adrift.

With the midterm election fast approaching, now is the time for Republicans to tell America how we will right the ship, how we will solve the problems Mr. Obama has wrought. Republicans have an opportunity to present a positive, conservative, reform-oriented agenda that will show the American people that we are the party of solutions, not shutdowns. We must seize this opportunity.

Here are five priorities that I think can help Republicans win the coming election and successfully govern in the next Congress.

First is health care reform — real health care reform. Obamacare’s failed attempt at top-down, government-directed care offends core constitutional principles and must be replaced.

Earlier this year, Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and I offered a market-oriented alternative to Obamacare that achieves many of the same goals — including expanding coverage and protecting access to care for individuals with pre-existing conditions — while ensuring that the federal role in health care remains properly limited.

Our plan, the Patient CARE Act, allows providers to experiment with new types of coverage rather than mandating a one-size-fits-all formula. It keeps costs down by expanding the health care marketplace and empowering consumers to shop around. It also incentivizes, rather than forces, healthy individuals to purchase insurance. Our plan provides a real solution to critical health care challenges.

A second area that demands our attention is tax reform. Our tax code is far too long and complicated for most Americans to comprehend. Its administration alone saps hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

Several basic principles should guide our efforts here. First, tax reform should encourage economic growth by making the tax code more internationally competitive, reducing distortions and lowering rates. Next, reforms should promote simplicity and fairness by reducing the excessive number of exemptions, exclusions, deductions and credits in the current code. Finally, true reform must provide permanence and certainty. No more expiring provisions that inhibit Americans’ ability to plan for the future.

A third priority should be regulatory reform. The federal bureaucracy continues to insert itself into nearly every aspect of American life. Regulation is now the primary means by which government burdens our economy and encroaches on our liberties.

We must ensure that all federal agencies follow existing statutes and executive orders. We also need an effective review mechanism to identify outdated regulations still on the books and provide for their repeal. We should limit the ability of special-interest groups to bring lawsuits that attempt to accomplish through litigation what they cannot do through the ballot box. We should also consider ways to increase judicial oversight of agency action in order to provide a more robust independent check on new regulation.

A fourth area of focus should be an innovation agenda. Innovation increasingly drives employment and economic growth across our nation.

Now is the time to combat abusive patent litigation and create a uniform system for protecting trade secrets. We should also consider ways to create a voluntary framework for combating online piracy and protecting critical infrastructure. Equally important is equipping our workforce for the new economy. We can do this by investing in science and math training and by revamping our immigration laws to ease the entry process for high-skilled workers. Keeping the Internet open and competitive must also be a priority.

A fifth focus should be developing a mobility agenda. For 50 years we’ve been fighting and losing the war on poverty. We need to change tactics.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida have put forward innovative proposals to expand opportunity and reinvent the safety net. In addition, we need to focus efforts on reforming our antiquated labor laws and assisting state education efforts through cooperative state-federal programs.

I am confident that such policies can win broad support.

Still, as we appeal to the American people, we must not confine ourselves to reciting a set of policy bullet points. We must also sketch out our vision for America and show how conservatism can lead us to a richer, more robust society.

You may recall the “Life of Julia” ad from Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, which tells the story of a young woman who graduates college, has a child and works until retirement, all with nary a mention of a mother, father, brother, sister, husband or other family member. Instead, Julia owes all her successes in life to the federal government, which is there to support her every step along the way. The ad is a perfect distillation of the ultimate end of the progressive state — government as replacement for family and community, God and priest, mentor and friend. That is not the government our nation’s Founders envisioned, nor the one they created.

Government’s role is not to provide universal social and economic support, but rather to create opportunities and remove obstacles. A vigorous, dynamic conservatism will help return government to its proper role — that of supporter, not overlord. By presenting a hopeful, reform-oriented agenda of the sort I have outlined, Republicans can win the hearts and minds of a broad majority of Americans looking for change.

Orrin G. Hatch is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Utah.

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