Read: McKinnon’s Centrist Manifesto

October 14th, 2010 at 2:58 pm | 14 Comments |

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Mark McKinnon writes:

These principles align with the long poles of the Republican tent. The keepers at the GOP gate need to open the flaps wide. (Democrats embrace their centrists like Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina; they don’t call him a DINO.) The Republican Party needs all the RINOs and squishes like me it can attract if it wants to regain and hold majority status. Or else RINOs will find somewhere else to go.

We may not agree on much, but almost all Americans believe we need significant changes in Washington to restore trust in our government and regain our competitive footing.

Herewith, a modest manifesto from the middle: 12 Steps to Recovery

1. Flood the moat, burn the bridges. Get lobbyists, corporations, unions, and bundlers out of buying federal elections. Give the power back to the voters. In the last two weeks before adjournment, House candidates attended more than 400 fundraisers in the D.C. area. The top 10 heavy hitters, a list that includes trial lawyers and more unions than corporations, have contributed more than $355 million to the two parties from 1989 through mid-September. Forty-eight Super PACs with unlimited giving potential, from the right and the left, have registered with the FEC in the last few months. No wonder 70 percent of voters believe most members of Congress are willing to sell their vote for a campaign contribution. We can start reforming the system by passing the Fair Elections Now Act, and we can radically disrupt the way campaigns are financed through state constitutional conventions. Congress won’t reform itself, but the framers anticipated such a problem, giving us Article V to go around Congress.

2. Butcher the pork, freeze the fat. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is wrong. We do care about “all those little, tiny, yes, porky amendments.” With a deficit of $1.4 trillion, does it make any sense to be spending taxpayer dollars on researching exotic ants in the Indian Ocean? If expanding the government to such gross levels was good for the health of the nation, Europe would be leading the world, not suffering from economic sclerosis. When the government tries to borrow and spend its way to economic growth, the private sector—the job creators—cuts back its investments in anticipation of tax increases. An economy that’s hostile to business will go the way of Greece. It’s time to focus government spending on only mission-critical services, and not just freeze spending but reduce spending to a fixed percent of GDP. All spending, discretionary and non-discretionary, needs to be on the table. No sacred cows. Not even NASA. (Call me an interplanetary isolationist, but I think we should take care of lives here on Earth before we search for life on other planets.) Follow the model of Secretary of Defense Bob Gates: Reduce overhead costs by eliminating excess and duplication without risking critical force structure. We should permanently ban earmarks. Break up spending bills into individual requests. And restrict emergency spending for real emergencies only.

3. Call an end to the privileged class. Middle America believes in fair play, an equal opportunity to succeed or to fail. But as seen in the GM bailout, unions are protected from failure with taxpayer dollars. Unions have destroyed the manufacturing sector, forcing jobs overseas by driving labor costs above the price consumers here will pay. Though membership has drastically declined, there are now more union members in the public sector than in the private sector. Eighty-six percent of state- and local-government workers have employer-provided health insurance versus 45 percent of private-sector workers. And unfunded public pensions already threaten to bankrupt California and New York. It’s time to get unions out of federal, state, county and municipal government services. And it’s time to privatize non-essential government services. According to the Office of Management and Budget, one-third of federal employees have jobs that could be performed by a private contractor. There are probably more. Let’s start by privatizing the ever-in-debt postal service, which pays 1,125 employees to sit idly each day at a cost of $50 million annually.

4. Flatten the world (of the IRS). When unabashed capitalist Steve Forbes and former Gov. “Moonbeam” Jerry Brown are comparing notes on a flat tax, it’s time to pay attention. Lower tax rates spur economic growth, which generates more government revenue. Both Presidents Kennedy and Reagan recognized this. And under President George W. Bush, get ready for this, the rich actually paid more in taxes—because tax rates were lowered. In 1980, when the top tax rate was 70 percent, the top one percent of earners paid 19 percent of all income taxes. In 2008, with a top tax rate at 35 percent, half the rate of 1980, the top one percent paid 38 percent of all income taxes, double the share of 1980. Today almost half in the country pay no federal income tax; many actually “make a profit” through tax rebates. Taking more taxes from job creators, as will happen if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, creates no sustainable, self-funding jobs. A simplified, lowered, and flat tax will increase revenues and create an all-in approach that would force folks to think more clearly about benefits they will have to help fund. No deductions, credits, or loopholes. Only one exemption setting a taxable income threshold based on family size. A flat tax treats people fairly: Those who make 1,000 times more than the average Joe pay 1,000 times more in taxes. While I’ll leave it for economists to pick the right rate for consumers and corporations, if 10 percent is good enough for God, 15 percent ought to be good enough for government work.

5. Stop the cannibalization. Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will consume all tax revenues by 2052 at current rates. We are eating our young, spending their earning potential before they are even born. It’s time to save the safety nets—for them. On this issue, the Democrats are the party of no (no grasp of reality). But Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has the right idea: Give the people the same choices Congress enjoys. Protect folks over 55 today from any changes to the commitments made. Give those under 55, as they become eligible, vouchers to purchase private health insurance, just as Congress does. Sicker and poorer enrollees would get larger vouchers. Vouchers put the consumer in charge, forcing providers to compete against each other to deliver care more efficiently rather than lobbying for reimbursement rate increases under Medicare’s current single-payer plan. Let workers invest a third of their payroll taxes in their own savings account, guaranteed and managed by Social Security. Raise the retirement age, indexed to average life expectancy. And decrease benefits by 10 percent for everyone under 50.

6. Neuter the czars; let the sun shine in. Signing statements, executive orders, and the appointment of czars were once considered a serious threat to congressional power. Obama’s pledges of transparency and accountability have expired. Unelected, unchecked, and unaccountable staffers now have the power to regulate our physical and financial health. The most frightening words in the health-care act are “as the Secretary may determine.” Whether with nudges to dictate “lifestyle behavior modification,” or with not-so-veiled threats of IRS action against private industry, or with guilty-before-proven-innocent charges against an organization of small businesses and private individuals, the ends do not justify the jackboot means. It’s time regulate the regulators and let the sun shine in on the executive and legislative branches. Fannie, Freddie and the Fed must come out from behind closed doors. Congress must reform and rebalance the power of the people. And Congress should have a say in any regulation that has a fiscal impact.

7. Stop teaching our children (the wrong lessons). That we fail our children is our greatest shame. Newark, New Jersey, spends more than twice the national average per pupil but graduates only half its students. Will a $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg improve results? Underfunding is not the reason for underperformance. Nationally, charter schools and voucher programs produce better results with less money. And though real federal spending per public school pupil has more than tripled since the 1960s, achievement scores remain flat and graduation rates are the same as in 1970. Radical education reform is needed. It’s time to get the unions out of the classroom. The American Federation of Teachers spent $1 million to defeat D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty for his support of education reformer and school chancellor Michelle Rhee, who resigned Weds. The right ideas are already out there. Hold schools accountable to national standards, but allow problem solvers at the local level to design education solutions that reward performance for students, teachers, parents, and schools.

8. Copy Clinton’s conservative moves. To open up new markets and create American jobs, we need to make global bilateral free trade agreements a priority as they were under the Clinton administration. Free trade grows jobs here. President Obama agrees: “Export growth leads to job growth…jobs that pay 15 percent more than average. So at a time when jobs are in short supply, building exports is an imperative.” It’s the trade deficit, importing more than we export, not free trade itself that kills jobs. The U.S. has a manufactured goods trade surplus with its free trade partners but a trade deficit with countries that have not entered into an agreement. Without agreements, 60 percent of available markets are closed to us. Free trade grows jobs here, and helps improve lives in developing nations—a cause that should be shared by all. But to unleash the powerful potential of free trade, we also need to slash the deficit, which diverts billions in foreign spending to the purchase of American debt rather than American goods. And while we’re at it, let’s kill farm subsidies.

9. Go nuclear. The ultimate green strategy, good for the environment, good for the economy and therefore doable, is a natural-gas-to-nuclear-power plan proposed by contrarian Robert Bryce. Wind and solar power are land-intensive, a green sin, but not energy-dense, and affordable only when heavily subsidized. And wind power must be supplemented with hydrocarbons for reliability. Texas leads the nation and is sixth globally in wind production, yet only 8.7 percent of installed capacity is dependable during peak demand. And it provides only 1.2 percent of the state’s total energy need. In Denmark, the poster child for wind power, neither carbon dioxide emissions nor hydrocarbon consumption have been reduced. Natural gas resources in the U.S. are equivalent to three times the known oil reserves of Iraq. Natural gas is the near-term solution for cleaner fuel and the bridge to the fuel of the future—nuclear, the most carbon-neutral, power-dense, relatively affordable and available energy source. As Bryce says, “If you are anti-carbon dioxide and anti-nuclear, you are pro-blackout.”

10. Get right. Repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the U.S. military and legalizing same-sex marriage are issues of equality for all. Sixty percent of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Gay people serve their countries openly in the British, Canadian, and Israeli military. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is discriminatory, and it limits our ability to recruit and retain the greatest numbers of the best and brightest, especially critical while we are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both back this needed reform. And for the first time since Pew started tracking opinions on same-sex marriage 15 years ago, fewer than half of those polled now say they oppose legalizing the institution. Republicans constantly claim to be the party that defends the Constitution. In my opinion, we have no legitimate right to that claim until we get right on gay rights. It’s way past time for the GOP to come out in support of equality for all.

11. Open the borders. Any act that proposes 16,000 additional IRS agents can’t be good. But President Obama is right: “Consumers do better when there is choice and competition.” Unfortunately, the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does neither. Seventy-nine percent of Republican voters, 56 percent of voters not affiliated with either party, and a majority of voters in the battleground congressional districts still favor repeal. As an alternate strategy to lower costs, it’s time to open the borders to allow the purchase of private health insurance across state lines, and to allow consumers and businesses to associate for better pool rates. Just six months after the bill was signed into law, consumers face increasing premiums, fewer choices when it comes to health-care insurers and providers. Squeezed by Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement payments below cost and mounting liability insurance costs, doctors may soon be an endangered species. There’s a reason doctors have flocked to Texas since 2002: tort reform. Tort reforms are needed to protect patients’ access to health care providers.

12. Recognize reality. It’s time to fix illegal immigration. Voters in Arizona and Texas are rightfully frustrated by the federal government’s disinterest in protecting our sovereignty. Though unemployment numbers are high, low-skilled immigrants actually expand the size of the overall economy. Punishing those who work hard, who do not hurt others, and who seek a path out of poverty for their families is not the answer. The fixes need to begin now, and begin in parallel. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has the right plan. Secure the border; ceding a no-go zone to foreign drug lords on American territory is not acceptable. Deport illegal immigrants with felony convictions. For the 11 million already in this country, provide a tough but fair path forward which would include paying fines and back taxes, passing background checks, proving English proficiency and going to the back of the line to work toward lawful permanent residence. We need to expand and simplify the farm-worker program to address seasonal work needs. Issue all legal U.S. workers, including citizens and immigrants, a biometric ID card. And strengthen the penalties and enforcements for employers. At the same time, we need to expand the number of visas issued for high-skilled workers in science and technology, the next Einstein may be waiting.

It’s not a brand that brings the middle together. It’s a shared belief: The promise of America still exists. Though the system is corrupted, and government now rules as the master, not the servant, the ideal of liberty balanced by responsibility lives on—right in the middle.

* Jim Hightower, former Texas agriculture commissioner: “The only thing in the middle of the road is yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”

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14 Comments so far ↓

  • Nanotek

    that’s a lot of potentially good stuff to think about … Thank you Mr. McKinnon

  • pampl

    Lot I disagree with there, but a lot I agree with as well – and an awful lot that took some courage to say. Killing farm subsidies! Good on McKinnon for trying to offer voters something other than radicalism or the status quo

  • think4yourself

    I would vote for that platform regardless of which party presented it. It includes things I don’t agree with and/or think don’t work (i.e. vouchers for healthcare (#5) and crossborder sales of health insurance (#11), still won’t match up costs of healthcare, meaning insurance companies will still redline those that they consider risky). But, it is the best platform I see.

  • mikewaz

    Though there is a lot on here that I agree with (ending farm subsidies, all departments looked at for cuts, a national ID program, public financing of elections, education reform, ending tax expenditures), I don’t think this is an entirely centrist manifesto. I don’t see very many people outside of organizations like Heritage and AEI promoting the flat tax. Interstate health insurance sales, standard tort reform, and vouchers for health insurance are firmly conservative ideas. There aren’t many lefties aching to privatize by contracting out government jobs (of which a large number have already been contracted out).

  • balconesfault

    1. Flood the moat, burn the bridges. Get lobbyists, corporations, unions, and bundlers out of buying federal elections.

    lol … McKinnon is proposing that the GOP champion this policy?

    There must be some good stuff growing in his backyard.

  • CD-Host

    Took guts. Mostly disagree with this.

    1) It is far too economically regressive. We need more equality now even at the expensive of growth. We really don’t have a private investment shortage we have a public investment shortage. So I don’t agree with the economics in driving money up the chain. flat tax, attack unions…. accomplish ends we don’t need.

    2) I agree with reforms to the safety net. I also agree the Democrats are the destructive party on this one. They have been demagoging in these issues since I was a child. That being said I liked Obama for actually changing the rules to existing programs.

    3) I agree obviously congress should have more say and more oversight. Congress right now is being shockingly irresponsible. The Senate needs to be reformed first before decreasing the president’s ability to deal with the Senate.

    4) His solution on education is a bunch of platitudes not a policy.

    5) I’d be worried about selling insurance across state lines without setting up a federal regulatory system for insurance. Having worked in insurance, trust me you want strong regulations. We screw people over in hundreds of ways non experts can’t even think of. Also this goes against federalism.

    5a) If you want to abandon federalism then why not just get rid of state government all together and save a ton? Have a federal government and county / city governments and that’s it.

  • Rabiner

    Agree with a few things but somethings just bother me since they just aren’t true.

    “Lower tax rates spur economic growth, which generates more government revenue. ”

    Tax cuts don’t pay for themselves. Sorry, they just don’t.

    “Nationally, charter schools and voucher programs produce better results with less money.”

    This is also false. Charter schools do NOT produce better results than public schools. They statistically just don’t and haven’t in multiple studies. Yes there are outliers but there are outliers in public school too.

    Agree with 1, 8, 9, 10

  • Oldskool

    He’s always puzzled me. For every sensible thing he says he makes up for it with something crazy.

  • balconesfault

    CD – 5) I’d be worried about selling insurance across state lines without setting up a federal regulatory system for insurance. Having worked in insurance, trust me you want strong regulations. We screw people over in hundreds of ways non experts can’t even think of. Also this goes against federalism.

    Thanks. While not having worked in insurance, I’ve always seen the credit card market as a good analogue for what cross-state-line insurance sales would end up looking like – and that’s hardly a great model of competition and consumer protection.

    And as you point out – it’s a direct attack on the principle of federalism, with the Big Federal Government suddenly swooping in and telling state governments they can no longer regulate a certain kind of economic activity.

    The cross-state-line insurance thing has always seemed like fairy dust to me … sprinkle it out there, and prices will drop. Really!

  • Saladdin

    6. Neuter the czars; let the sun shine in. Since when are Presidential advisers problematic? I’ve never heard this group of advisers attacked like this. This isn’t new or remotely centrist, in fact it tends to be a standard Glenn Beck talking point.

  • Saladdin

    balconesfault Thanks. While not having worked in insurance, I’ve always seen the credit card market as a good analogue for what cross-state-line insurance sales would end up looking like – and that’s hardly a great model of competition and consumer protection.

    I agree. All my cc payments are sent to Delaware, are there any other states that offer cc?

  • CD-Host

    Thanks. While not having worked in insurance, I’ve always seen the credit card market as a good analogue for what cross-state-line insurance sales would end up looking like – and that’s hardly a great model of competition and consumer protection.

    Nah insurance would be much much worse. Credit cards aren’t nearly as complex as health insurance. The more complicated and the more statistical the harder it is for people to see what’s going on.

    Don’t get me wrong, I actually have helped implement some pretty slimy things for credit cards too but that was all just about trying to make sure people who always pay their bills on time mess up infrequently.

  • Read: McKinnon’s Centrist Manifesto | Finance Planet

    [...] Read: McKinnon’s Centrist Manifesto [...]

  • sinz54

    A few thoughts:

    Frum has certainly changed his thinking since I started reading this blog. The original mission of FrumForum (back when it was called “New Majority”) was: “Building a conservatism that can win again”. In fact, that was right underneath the title logo on the main page. Now Frum has decided to build centrism instead??? I guess he’s forced into that; since in two weeks, we are likely to see that conservatism is winning again without taking Frum’s advice.

    That said, a slightly right-of-center platform is probably where the center of gravity of the American electorate is these days (given the polls I’ve seen). But you know the old joke about the statistician who drowned while crossing a stream whose average depth he determined was only four feet. It’s relatively easy to average out positions on budgeting and tax policy. (One side says X dollars, the other side says Y dollars, so the average is (X+Y)/2 dollars.)

    It’s harder to average out positions on foreign policy than on finance policy. (What’s the “centrist” position on Afghanistan or Pakistan or China?) And it’s much harder to average out positions on social policy. (What’s the “centrist” position on abortion or the death penalty?)

    Finally, note that the experience that Charlie Crist is having in FL is a cautionary note for “centrist” politicians. He’s getting slammed by Rubio on the right, and by Meek on the left. He can’t expand his following toward one side without being attacked as a hypocrite and sellout by the other side. If he moves toward the right to take votes away from Rubio, Meek instantly attacks him as a “closet conservative” who is not a real centrist. And likewise if he moves toward the left to take votes away from Meek. Crist has to walk a real tightrope.

    The only way that a “Centrist Manifesto” has a prayer is if it’s championed by someone who is already admired by the American public. One scenario is as follows:

    Next year, Obama throws in the towel and decides to withdraw from Afghanistan in defeat. General Petraeus bitterly dissents from that, and resigns in protest rather than being ordered to oversee a defeat on his watch. Then Petraeus decides to run against Obama on a third-party centrist ticket.