Republican Party

10 Things the New GOP Congress Should—and Can!—Do

The reason policy agenda for 2015-2016

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There's something about holding the reins of power that induces amnesia. So it's a safe bet that when the 114th Congress convenes on Capitol Hill in January, Republican pre-election commitments to small government, civil liberties, and bureaucratic reform will quickly yield to the inevitable squabbles of a classic gridlock scenario: a lame-duck Democratic president, a newly empowered (but not veto-proof) GOP majority in the House and Senate, and a grumpy electorate that seems to be voting against politicians instead of for them.

But even with the added distraction of a presidential primary season already wheezing into gear, there are several concrete and long-overdue steps that lawmakers can take to expand the scope of human freedom and prosperity. So in the New Year's spirit of helpfulness, reason is offering the new Congress a 10-point list of passable policies that would help make the country more free, fair, and fun:

1. Restore "fast track" trade promotion authority: Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after Election Day that his caucus seeks to push more free trade agreements. Happily, in the wake of the more trade-phobic Democratic Party slipping back into minority status, President Barack Obama mouthed similar sentiments. Fast-track trade authority would grant the president power to make trade deals, which Congress can then vote up or down without amendments or filibuster.

The last such authorization expired when the Democrats took control of the Senate in 2007, leaving the president less able to negotiate reductions in trade barriers, complete the Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks, finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and move forward with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Reducing global trade barriers is one of the most effective ways to increase prosperity at home and abroad.

2. End blanket NSA surveillance: The USA FREE­DOM Act, which would have ended the National Security Agency's ability to engage in bulk metadata collection under the legal fig leaf of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, fell just two votes shy of a Senate supermajority in the lame duck session of Congress.

However, Section 215 expires in June, and surveillance advocates are already panicking about the possibility that their favorite legal theory for blanket surveillance might disappear overnight. Civil libertarians should take the opportunity to either pass a new version of the bill—preferably with tougher rules, such as requiring the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to make public all of its rulings—or have the courage to let the controversial and much-abused PATRIOT Act clause die.

3. Curtail civil asset forfeiture: Right now, as crazy as it seems, law enforcement agencies across the land are not just able but incentivized to seize and liquidate property suspected of being involved in a crime, even if the property owner is not being charged. The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, introduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), would amend the federal criminal code to increase government's burden of proof in forfeiture proceedings. The FAIR Act would also make it illegal for states to "federalize" investigations in order to circumvent state laws designed to stop the practice. And rather than going to Department of Justice coffers, seized assets would now go into the Treasury's general fund, making it harder for Justice to promise and deliver kickbacks to state agencies.

The federal government currently seizes more than $2 billion a year in civil assets from citizens who have little recourse to fight back. The practice, embraced by Obama's attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch when she headed the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, turns cops into robbers and justice into a joke.

4. Kill the renewable fuels mandate: In 2005, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act, which mandated the addition of up to 36 billion gallons of ethanol to the nation's transport fuel supplies by 2022. The lame justification behind the mandate was that it would reduce oil imports and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, we've learned that increasing the supplies of shale gas and oil by means of fracking are much more effective at both.

Any ethanol-based reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are negligible at best. In addition, the mandate has encouraged farmers to plow up land that was once set aside for conservation and pump it full of nutrients whose runoff into the water table has helped create annual low-oxygen dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. At a time when so many in the world are going hungry, requiring that food be converted into unnecessary and expensive fuel is a moral outrage. In December 2013, Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) jointly introduced the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act, indicating that eliminating the corn ethanol mandate once and for all might have some bipartisan appeal.

5. Lower the drinking age: The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which withheld federal funds from states that refused to raise the drinking age to 21, was one of President Ronald Reagan's worst ideas. Approved with public safety in mind, the law actually promotes binge drinking by encouraging teens to drink excessively in secret, fuels reckless behavior among college students, and worsens the problem of campus rape. Repealing the law would mitigate those bad consequences and at least begin the process of rehabilitating a federalist approach to social policy.

6. Audit the Fed: The Federal Reserve Transparency Act, a pet project of former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), would task the Government Accountability Office with reviewing the Fed's monetary policy decision making. The bill passed the House for a second time in September, with a growing amount of support from Democrats. It wouldn't end the Fed, and it might not do much overnight to change the bank's practices, but the bill would be a first necessary step in basic democratic transparency, allowing the citizenry a peek at what's on the Federal Reserve balance sheet.

7. Fix government worker pensions: Congress should help reform state and local pension systems, which have amassed more than $4 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Useful changes to policy would include amending the Internal Revenue Code to allow government workers to switch to 401(k)-style defined contribution retirement plans if their employers create them (like the federal government did decades ago), prohibiting "double dipping" of both pay and pension benefits, requiring transparent reporting of pension costs and payments, and denying access to federal tax-exempt bonds to state and local governments that borrow in order to make pension debt payments. These changes would help prevent more pension system abuse by government workers and support state and local governments trying to reform the mistakes of the past.

8. Implement sentencing reform: The Smarter Sentencing Act has bipartisan support and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2014. The bill would allow retroactive application of the crack cocaine sentence reductions enacted by Congress in 2009, cut federal mandatory minimums for various drug offenses in half, and expand the "safety valve" that lets certain low-level, nonviolent offenders escape mandatory minimums altogether. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has introduced an even better (though less politically viable) bill, the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would effectively eliminate federal mandatory minimums by allowing judges to depart from them in the interest of justice. Either one of these bills would be a considerable improvement to the illiberal status quo.

9. Let federal education funds follow kids: Federal education funding, which should (but won't) be eliminated, comes with a lot of strings attached. Instead of its currently elaborate allocation formulas, the $15 billion federal Title I program should imitate the model of the Pell grant system, with money following students to whatever schools they choose.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was signed into law in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's "war on poverty." But there is little evidence that Title I has led to any significant improvement in the academic outcomes of the low-income students it is intended to serve. Tying funds to kids would reduce the administrative burden on schools, promote school choice, and give principals more autonomy.

10. Respect marijuana federalism: The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, a simple but far-reaching bill introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) in 2013, would make the federal ban on marijuana inapplicable to people acting in compliance with state law. It would effectively abolish marijuana prohibition at the national level, allowing each state to go its own way.

Congress should also pass the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act, introduced in 2013 by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), which would protect financial institutions that serve state-licensed cannabusinesses from criminal prosecution, regulatory penalties, and loss of deposit insurance. Such legislation is necessary to address the lack of banking services that forces most marijuana businesses to deal exclusively in cash, which creates severe security and logistical problems.

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  1. I think number 10 could be much simpler, congress should just straight up remove cannabis from drug scheduling placing it under the same category as tobacco and alcohol. This would allow banking, remove the irs issues, allow states to choose their own laws regarding marijuana. This also would allow medical marijuana to be freely investigated without the politicians, law enforcement/DEA from interfering in medical research.

    End federal marihuana prohibition and allow states to choose their path!!!!

  2. Since “grope an intern” isn’t on the list, it’s unlikely to get their attention

  3. It’s a great list, but the only ones I see having much chance are 1 and 6. I’d add to the list getting out of our foreign wars, though that would also have little chance.

  4. Respect marijuana federalism

    How about just respecting federalism? While I’m sure *everyone agrees* about marijuana, it seems rather small in the context of other federalist topics (like, say, health insurance)

    1. But one of the biggest problems with health care (well, before the ACA which is now clearly the biggest) is states restrictions on out of state insurance.

      1. So deal with that state-level problem at the state level.

      2. Yep…and the notion that health insurance should pay for non-catastrophic events. Imagine how expensive auto insurance would be if they paid for every oil change.

  5. 5. Lower the drinking age

    No. Get rid of the federal drinking age standard and let the states decide – just like marijuana.

  6. Cut Spending

    1. They said ‘passable policies.’

      These people can’t pass a tentative, future cut in the increase of spending.

      1. If Republicans gave a shit, they would amend every bill Obama wants to cut something somewhere.

        1. That would be a great pledge for them to take: no appropriations shall pass without including an actual cut in overall spending.

        2. If Republicans gave a shit wanted to lose big in the next election, they would amend every bill Obama wants to cut something somewhere off money to voting constituents.

          ftfy

          Sorry, but spending cuts are a political impossibility.

          1. There may be a way to make the case that the Dept of Education is a waste. But for the big ticket items like Social Security…third rail.

            1. Why do you hate teachers?

              1. I love teachers. Children are our future, our most precious resource. And I know that parents want what is best for their children. That’s why I want to keep that money in your pocket, rather than send it to unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington. Here’s a chart of NEAP scores and here’s the DoE’s budget. Wouldn’t you rather that money be controlled locally to actually help children than wasted in Washington ?

                Why do you hate children ?

                (Not saying it would work, but it might)

            2. My favorite questions on this topic:

              If we shut down the Department of Education today, are there any schools that could not open tomorrow?

              Are there any that would be hurt?

              1. Are there any that would be hurt?

                Yeah, actually. Lots of schools depend on money from the Dept to pay for special programs intended to help poor kids and retards. Most schools depend on the Dept for 10% of their budgets, and in poor places the percentage is even higher. So yeah, lots of schools would be hurt.

                Do those programs achieve their intended goals? Well, that’s another debate entirely.

                1. Not sure we need a whole department to cut checks – that maybe we should never have started cutting.

                  Feds are involved in local schools why, again?

                  1. Feds are involved in local schools why, again?

                    Because it’s free money! It comes from the feds! It means it doesn’t come from property taxes! It’s free!

                    Seriously though, it’s just what the feds do. They offer money, get you dependent, then start piling on conditions for continued payment.

                    1. Damn the pusher man

                    2. He gives the kids free samples, because he know full well, that today’s young innocent faces, are tomorrow’s clientele

                      Tom Lehrer

                    3. Odd that I still pay $13k for my 1 acre and house. While paying for my kids to attend decent private schools.

      2. These people can’t pass a tentative, future cut in the increase of spending.

        This is accurate and telling. Our government doesn’t even have the will to pretend to reduce spending. When the most “reform” leaning in Congress can only propose cuts decades from now you know we are well and truly fucked.

        1. Those who rob Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.

          Those who vote to cut off money to Paul can be sure that he will vote for someone else.

    2. I believe the correct formulation is “no, fuck you, cut spending”. Especially after a hearty “fuck off, slaver” thrown in for good measure.

  7. Rand Paul is in New Hampshire today. He was on the radio this morning and asked, why do you want to be President, what would your agenda be. He said, cut spending. No equivocating or finessing. Will he get specific on what to cut ? I guess we’ll find out as the campaign rolls along.

    1. He can’t and wont be specific unless he wants to alienate the voters who would be affected by the cuts.

      1. Whoever those voters are, I’m sure we can count on political ads showing Paul wheeling their grandma over a cliff.

        1. They’ll make him sound worse than Reagan. Some of us remember the 1980 campaign.

  8. Twice, now, I’ve had actual Republican legislators swear up and down to me that deregulation was a big priority.

    And then, literally the very next day, introduce a bill cranking regulation on hospitals.

  9. So basically a list of things that won’t happen.

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  13. 1. Disband.
    2. Take the year off.
    3. Declare each day of the calendar not already claimed by some holiday as a remembrance for prominent anti-Federalists.
    4. Impeach President Obama.
    5. Put a sunset provision of 10 years on all existing statutes.
    6. Call a Congressional hearing on torture.
    7. Cut spending back to 2001 levels and balance the budget.
    8. Release all the Roswell files. (68 years is long enough to keep the secrets.)
    9. Cut funding for all the federal employees designated non-critical during the previous government shut-down.
    10. Switch all new federal employees to defined contribution plans for their retirement.

  14. Repeal FATCA
    Exempt anyone from US individual income taxes if they live abroad for more than 300 days per year.
    Force the Federal Reserve to have a zero inflation target.
    Cut corporate income tax to 25% max rate.

  15. (1-10) Pass the “LAST Amendment(s)” to the Constitution and make justice completely independent of politics and make politics completely independent of money by requiring ONLY public funding for politics.
    (2-10) Every 1 Presidential judicial appointment countered by 1 Representative appointment made by the opposing party)
    (3-10) Reserve human rights for humans and require retirement of newly appointed judges at age 68.
    (4-10) Increase the variable shrinking size of SCOTUS from 16….12 and require geezers to retire to compensate for political shifts caused by geezer or other deaths in order to always have equal appointments from “liberals” and “conservatives”. D/R etc.

  16. Reduced global trade barriers have done more than anything else to eviscerate the Middle class.

    Whereas a guy once could earn a middle class life by manufacturing a quality product. . . reduced trade barriers have allowed companies to “outsource” and “offshore” manufacturing to 3rd World Shitholes where they can pay $0.37/day for sweatshop-quality goods.
    I suppose it’s a good thing, because the decimation of the middle class means that there will be more people who can only afford to buy sweatshop-quality goods, driving up demand. . .
    win/win for companies and their government whores, but not so good for everyone else.

  17. #1. Fast Track = destroying small business and leaving the people most effected negatively, w/o a voice.

    #2. School choice = destroying public education, which is what has been possible by those who support school choice for decades. More popular since desegregation.

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  19. Published on Thursday, January 15, 2015 byCommon Dreams Don’t Buy the Hype:

    20 Years of Data Reveals ‘Free Trade’ Fallacies ‘

    In their speeches and commentary, the administration, corporate interests and GOP leadership disregard the real, detrimental impacts that previous fast tracked trade deals…have had on America’s middle class.’

    http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015…..-fallacies

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