Crunch time for Congress
Facing budget demands, health care and immigration reform requires boldness, courage
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.