WASHINGTON D.C. –Sen. Mike Lee delivered a speech at The Heritage Foundation yesterday titled “What’s Next For Conservatives,” in which he posited reasons the Grand Old Party is out of touch today and outlined opportunities it faces along with legislative initiatives he is bringing to promote a problem-solving conservative agenda.
Following are excerpts from Lee’s speech with captions added. The full text is attached under resources below.
… It has been quite a month in Washington.
It began with our effort to stop Obamacare — a goal that all Republicans share even if we have not always agreed about just how to pursue it. And it is ending with powerful practical proof of just why stopping Obamacare is so essential. This law is unaffordable and unfair; it’s getting worse all the time.
As of today, President Obama’s policy is to fine any American who does not buy a product that his bungled website will not sell them.
… a month like the one we have been through should lead us not only to re-commit to this essential, ongoing struggle, but also to step back and ask ourselves where we should be headed more generally.
Conservatives’ history, GOP out of touch
… I think the most instructive history that conservatives can learn from today is our own.
… The ideas that defined and propelled the Reagan Revolution did not come down from a mountain etched in stone tablets. They were forged in an open, roiling, diverse debate about how conservatism could truly meet the challenges of that day. …
Together, that generation of conservatives transformed a movement that was anti-statist, anti-communist, and anti-establishment, and made it pro-reform.
Contrary to the establishment’s complaints, conservatives in the late 1970s did not start a “civil war.” They started a (mostly) civil debate. Because of that confident and deeply conservative choice – to argue rather than quarrel, to persuade rather than simply purge – the vanguards of the establishment never knew what hit them. …
It’s hard to believe, but by the time we reach November 2016, we will be about as far – chronologically speaking – from Reagan’s election as Reagan’s election was from D-Day! Yet as the decades pass and a new generation of Americans faces a new generation of problems, the party establishment clings to its 1970s agenda like a security blanket.
The result is that to many Americans today, especially to the underprivileged and middle class, or those who have come of age or immigrated since Reagan left office the Republican Party may not seem to have much of a relevant reform message at all.
This is the reason the G.O.P. can seem so out of touch. And it is also the reason we find ourselves in such internal disarray. …
To revive and reunify our movement, we must fill the void with new and innovative policy ideas. … And three recent efforts show that we still can.
Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn, and Jeff Flake’s crusade against earmarks, Paul Ryan’s heroic work on Medicare reform, and Rand Paul’s stand against domestic drone-strike authority all demonstrate that thoughtful, idea-driven conservatism is as powerful today as it has ever been.
It’s time for another Great Debate, and we should welcome all input. Grassroots and establishment. Conservatives and moderates. Libertarians and traditionalists. Interventionists and non-interventionists. Economic conservatives and social conservatives. All are part of our movement, and all are vital to our success – so all should be welcome in this debate.
I submit that the great challenge of our generation is America’s growing crisis of stagnation and sclerosis – a crisis that comes down to a shortage of opportunities.
This opportunity crisis presents itself in three principal ways: immobility among the poor, trapped in poverty; insecurity in the middle class, where families just can’t seem to get ahead; and cronyist privilege at the top, where political and economic elites unfairly profit at everyone else’s expense.
Anti-poverty, upward mobility agenda
First, we need a new, comprehensive anti-poverty, upward-mobility agenda designed not simply (to) help people in poverty, but to help and empower them to get out.
Here, my home state of Utah can be a guide. A recent study found the Salt Lake City metropolitan area to be the most upwardly mobile region in the United States. In an addition to a well-managed, limited government where jobs and opportunity abound, Utah is home to an enormously successful private welfare system led by churches, businesses, and community groups and volunteers. …
This new agenda must recognize that work for able-bodied adults is not a necessary evil, but an essential pathway to personal happiness and prosperity. And it should also force Republicans and Democrats to acknowledge that there is another marriage debate in this country – one concerning fatherless children, economic inequality, and broken communities – that deserves as much public attention as the other.
Second, we need a new, comprehensive anti-cronyism agenda, to break up the corrupt nexus of big government, big business, and big special interests. We need a new corporate tax code and regulatory system to eliminate lobbyists’ loopholes and giveaways, level the playing field between businesses, big and small, and foster a dynamic, globally competitive private sector.
We need to end subsidies that unfairly favor some businesses and industries over others. And the Republican Party must make a fundamental commitment to end its support for corporate welfare in any form – including for the Big Banks. …
Working class, middle class agenda
… the third essential piece of our new agenda: a new conservatism of the working and middle class. Today, working families’ take-home pay is flat, but the staples of middle-class security and opportunity – health care, education, homeownership, work-life balance, and children – are becoming harder to afford all the time.
Progressives say we just need more programs to give working families more government money. But as we have seen once again over the last five years, big government creates opportunity for the middlemen at the expense of the middle class. It only masks the broken policies that artificially raise costs and restrict access in the first place. …
The first and most important policy goal Republicans must adopt to improve the lives of middle-class families is, and will remain, the full repeal of Obamacare.
It’s important to understand why. Health care is one of the main reasons why the cost of living in the middle class is increasing too quickly for many Americans to keep up. At the same time, it is the main reason why government spending and debt are out of control.
The law the Democrats enacted on a party-line vote in 2010 is going to make both of those problems worse – accelerating health care costs both for families and the government.
To do my part, today I want to talk about four pieces of legislation specifically designed to address four leading challenges facing middle-class families today: the cost of raising children, the difficulties of work-life balance, the time Americans lose away from work and home, stuck in traffic, and the rising costs of and restricted access to quality higher education. These bills won’t solve every problem under the sun. Raising a family isn’t supposed to be easy. But each would restore to working families more of the freedom they deserve to pursue their happiness: to earn a good living and build a good life.
… I will be introducing in the Senate the “Family Fairness and Opportunity Tax Reform Act.” My plan calls for a 15 percent tax rate on all income up to $87,850 – or $175,700 for married couples. Income above that threshold would be taxed at 35 percent. Like any good conservative tax-reform plan, my bill also simplifies the code, eliminating or reforming most deductions. …
So my plan eliminates this anti-family bias in the tax code, while improving pro-growth incentives for the economy.
Labor law reform
… today, federal labor laws restrict the way moms and dads and everyone else can use their time. That’s because many of those laws were written decades ago, when most women didn’t work outside the home. Because of these laws, an hourly employee who works overtime is not allowed to take comp-time or flex time. Even if she prefers it, her boss can’t even offer it. …
In May, the House of Representatives passed the “Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013,” sponsored by Representative Martha Roby of Alabama, to equalize flex-time rules for all workers. And this week I am introducing companion legislation in the Senate.
House-hunting middle class families today often face a Catch-22. They can stretch their finances to near bankruptcy to afford a home close to work. Or they can choose a home in a more affordable neighborhood so far away from work that they miss soccer games, piano recitals, and family dinner while stuck in gridlocked traffic. The solution is not more government-subsidized mortgages or housing programs.
A real solution involves building more roads. More roads, bridges, lanes, and mass-transitsystems. Properly planned and located, these projects would help create new jobs, newcommunities, more affordable homes, shorter commuting times, and greater opportunity for businesses and families. …
Congressman Tom Graves and I are going to introduce the Transportation Empowerment Act. Under our bill, the federal gas tax would be phased down over five years from 18.4 cents per gallon, to 3.7 cents. And highway authority would be transferred proportionately from the federal government to the states.
Higher education reform
… While it’s true that college has never been for everyone, as we transition from an industrial economy to an information and service-based economy, post-secondary education cannot be a luxury available only to a select few.
Some combination of higher education and vocational training should at least be an option for just about everyone who graduates from high school. …
Because eligibility for federal student loans is tied to the federal accreditation regime, we shut out students who want to learn, teachers who want to teach, transformative technologies, and cost-saving innovations. …
I will be introducing the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act. Under this legislation, the existing accreditation system would remain unchanged. …
But my plan would give states a new option to enter into agreements with the Department of Education to create their own, alternative accreditation systems to open up new options for students qualifying for federal aid.
Especially in the wake of recent controversies, many conservatives are more frustrated with the establishment than ever before. And we have every reason to be. But however justified, frustration is not a platform. Anger is not an agenda. And outrage, as a habit, is not even conservative. Outrage, resentment, and intolerance are gargoyles of the Left. For us, optimism is not just a message – it’s a principle. American conservatism, at its core, is about gratitude, and cooperation, and trust, and above all hope. It is also about inclusion. Successful political movements are about identifying converts, not heretics. …
To deserve victory, conservatives have to do more than pick a fight. We have to win a debate. And to do that, we need more than just guts. We need an agenda.
Full text of Lee’s speech: Sen. Mike Lee – What’s next for conservatives 20131029
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