Crunch time for Congress

Fac­ing bud­get de­mands, health care and im­mi­gra­tion re­form re­quires bold­ness, courage

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Peter Morici

It’s crunch time for the GOP — pri­or­i­ties for the FY2018 bud­get and leg­isla­tive so­lu­tions for the Dream­ers and Oba­macare — can’t be put off much longer. Many Repub­li­cans cam­paigned on cut­ting en­ti­tle­ments and taxes, send­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants home and re­peal­ing Oba­macare, but lit­tle of that is go­ing to hap­pen for the sim­ple rea­son that Amer­i­cans voted for a Repub­li­can Congress and Don­ald Trump more out of ex­as­per­a­tion than from a de­sire for rad­i­cal changes that could up­end their lives.

Amer­i­cans are al­ready too ex­hausted by wrench­ing up­heavals and have lit­tle ap­petite for ad­di­tional risk. Dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Wash­ing­ton is like morale in the Army — even in the best of times, sol­diers com­plain.

For most folks, glob­al­iza­tion and tech­nol­ogy have made work less re­ward­ing and more inse­cure. A gen­er­a­tion ago they could ex­pect to work 9 to 5 for the same em­ployer for decades, en­joy gen­er­ous em­ployer-paid health insurance and a guar­an­teed pen­sion, and ac­com­plish it all with a lib­eral arts de­gree or a good high school ed­u­ca­tion.

All that has been swept away by Asian im­ports, mostly-le­gal hard­work­ing im­mi­grants and a dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion that con­cen­trates wealth and op­por­tu­nity among those with de­grees in medicine and en­gi­neer­ing, ad­vanced tech­ni­cal train­ing or per­haps an MBA or law de­gree from a top 25 univer­sity.

Two Amer­i­cas have emerged, those liv­ing in the richer neigh­bor­hoods on the two coasts and the rest of us.

The price tag for a mid­dle class life — own­ing a nice home, qual­ity health care and taxes to pay for pub­lic schools or tu­ition for pri­vate schools and col­lege — has jumped dra­mat­i­cally. The rest of us want change — ei­ther from Democrats promis­ing more hand­outs to lighten th­ese bur­dens or from Don­ald Trump and the Free­dom Cau­cus to turn back the clock.

Nei­ther is vi­able. Pres­i­dent Obama be­queathed a fed­eral gov­ern­ment that will spend every tax dol­lar it takes in on en­ti­tle­ments within the next decade and im­poses tax rates so bur­den­some on cor­po­ra­tions and the small busi­ness sec­tor that the econ­omy can grow at barely more than 2 per­cent. Wash­ing­ton bor­rows fu­ri­ously from the rest of the world that ex­tend­ing the wel­fare state any fur­ther would likely be through its fi­nances in a Greek style bank­ruptcy some­time in the next decade.

Mr. Trump can’t sub­stan­tially cut taxes with­out sim­i­larly driv­ing the coun­try into in­sol­vency or slash­ing en­ti­tle­ments — he got elected by promis­ing the for­mer but to leave fed­eral hand­outs un­touched.

The Repub­li­cans can’t re­peal Oba­macare not be­cause their 52 vote ma­jor­ity is too slim. Rather, the Repub­li­can fifth col­umn — Sens. Shel­ley Moore Capito of West Vir­ginia, Su­san Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and a few oth­ers — have the pulse of the na­tion. Amer­i­cans want a free mar­ket in health care only if they don’t have to give up their Oba­macare sub­si­dies. The polls showed that when re­peal was on the ta­ble and sud­denly a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers thought the law was a good idea.

The same goes for our tired ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

Amer­i­can el­e­men­tary and high schools are among the worst in the world as mea­sured by test scores di­vided by dol­lars spent or sim­ply just test scores. Though char­ter schools and vouch­ers are avail­able in many places, most Amer­i­cans don’t want to give up their neigh­bor­hood schools for more rig­or­ous in­sti­tu­tions that would com­pel par­ents to su­per­vise home­work and limit time on so­cial me­dia.

Univer­sity alumni would rather con­trib­ute to salaries for suc­cess­ful foot­ball coaches many times greater than for even Noble Prize win­ning pro­fes­sors — and tol­er­ate thin-skinned un­der­grad­u­ates de­mand­ing safe spa­ces and vac­u­ous ma­jors like Peace Stud­ies — than re­ori­ent re­sources away from Saturday af­ter­noon pageantry and re­quire stu­dents to pick up skills use­ful for earn­ing a liv­ing.

I wish Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos well, but she might as well be try­ing to re­form the morals of Am­s­ter­dam’s red light district than get school su­per­in­ten­dents and col­lege pres­i­dents to stop be­hav­ing less like po­lit­i­cal hacks and more like ed­u­ca­tors.

The same goes for egre­gious zon­ing and build­ing codes that make new homes more ex­pen­sive to build with each pass­ing year.

Con­ser­va­tives like to blame the grip of en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists, union lead­ers and health insurance com­pa­nies on the deep state but the fact is Amer­i­cans want progress com­pelling com­pe­ti­tion, ac­count­abil­ity and in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­ity only when those im­pose no ad­di­tional risks to their cir­cum­stances and don’t vi­o­late their com­fort zones. Peter Morici is an econ­o­mist and busi­ness pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mary­land, and a na­tional colum­nist.

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