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3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? I have no idea.
Bruce Bartlett is the author of Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.
1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? Yes, though not for the typical reasons. Obama's top mission, upon entering office, had nothing to do with legislation or garish political actions. It was to end the subornation of the United States Civil Service. Whatever your political persuasion, even if you are a libertarian (and I once keynoted a Libertarian Party national Convention), and even if you despise "bureaucracy" in principle and wish there were less of it, any decent American nevertheless wants the existing agencies and departments to at least function well, efficiently doing their lawful jobs.
Well, almost everyone. If you list the chief effects of the neocon era, endless, debilitating war ranks only number two, and largesse-stimulus to a rising oligarchy was only number three. Task number one was regulatory capture—the use of appointments, bullying, and manipulation to turn agencies and bureaucrats into the direct servants of special interests. This is not paranoia, but rather a standard and recurring methodology. It is why the Democrats, of all people, finally eliminated the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Civil Aeronautics Board, and several other major agencies, because they had been irredeemably "captured."
In contrast, can you name a single agency that was eliminated, during the long span when the GOP owned every branch of government and every lever of power? Why trash it, when you can suborn it? The Minerals Management Agency, the scandal that brought us the Gulf oil spill, is just the iceberg tip of what went on.
I may disagree with Obama on many points. He likes regulation more than I do. But at least he proved sincere about letting the civil servants get back to the jobs we pay them to do. Morale among those men and women has skyrocketed and they are back at work. Whatever your abstract libertarian yearnings, you should be glad of that. After all, you are paying their salaries.
2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? I was afraid that Obama would try for a Canadian-style health care system...or even a kludge like Hillarycare. Instead, he pulled a jiujitsu move and presented a slightly modified version of the Republican Alternative Proposal that the GOP, under Newt Gingrich, presented back in 1993, as their response to Hillarycare. That's the essence of Obama's "socialism." If every portion were in full action now, we'd still have the least socialized health system in the industrial world.
Do I think it's flawed? Sure. Would it have benefited from GOP input and negotiation? You bet. Perhaps negotiation and deliberation will return, someday. Our parents generation did it. But we aging boomers are hopeless. We were sanctimonious twits, back when we were hippies and anti-hippie rednecks. And now were are grouchy sanctimonious "culture warriors" in our sixties.
Our kids will be well rid of us. Maybe they can ditch the absurd dogmas and mantras and go back to the American genius for pragmatic problem solving and negotiated solutions. That's when Ben Franklin and Barry Goldwater can stop spinning in their graves.
3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? Triple R&D and make schools teach science. More than half of our GDP growth in the last 60 years came from technological breakthroughs. Jet planes, satellites, pharma, computers, the web...we made new patents faster than others could steal them! We got so rich we could afford huge trade deficits that uplifted Europe and Japan and Korea out of poverty, then Malaysia and Taiwan and the rest, and now China and India! A prodigious feat, accomplished via Wal-Mart! But in order to afford it, we had to innovate.
The War on Science has eviscerated our rate of new creativity. R&D has collapsed. Clearly, sustainable energy will be the next highly profitable wave, but it will be the first one that America doesn't lead.
Congress should restore the Office of Science and Technology Analysis. It should pass full funding of Dr. Regina Dugan's manufacturing initiative, in DARPA, to spend a billion dollars on developing new industrial methods of distributed design, rapid prototyping, and agile manufacturing. A nation that can't make stuff is almost as bad as one that despises science.