The 2012 election, fraught with bitter rhetoric, has finally passed. Yet, for the billions that were spent by the two parties and their respective allies, this campaign was largely devoid of details and vision, leaving major questions unanswered about the country’s future. My fellow Republicans especially must face political reality heading into the 113th Congress.
First and foremost, we have yet to debate the fundamental question of this generation. Over the next few months, Congress must decide which avenue the United States should follow to control its profligate deficits and stabilize its debt-to-GDP ratio.
Consider the two primary drivers of future federal spending. House Democrats, with their staunchly liberal caucus, ignore reality by refusing to consider meaningful reforms for Medicare and Social Security. On the campaign trail, many Democratic candidates exhorted that the GOP would end those two programs as we know it. However, with their rigidity, the country will be bankrupt within a few decades.
For years, most Americans received more payouts from entitlement programs than they ever paid in through payroll taxes. This phenomenon was possible through robust wage growth, a burgeoning population, and incrementally higher tax rates. Recently though real wage growth has slowed immensely, and most politicians are unwilling to raise the payroll tax rate any further, a feat that would endanger job creation. Without these options, significant reforms must be implemented soon to preserve the solvency of those two critical programs on which millions rely.
Meanwhile, consider the revenue aspect. The Republican ticket’s budget plan that involved ratcheting up defense spending and cutting marginal income tax rates by 20 percentage points across the board was equally foolish. Limiting tax deductions and closing loopholes, while economically an excellent idea, would not increase revenue nearly enough to counter the strains created by increased spending and extensive tax cuts, even under the rosiest economic conditions. The only red Republicans would see would be the extensive red ink bleeding from reports by the Congressional Budget Office. The Simpson-Bowles commission’s proposal that increased revenues from capped deductions be used to help lower tax rates modestly provided a more plausible and practical roadmap.
Now, I have choice words concerning the Republican Party. I joined the GOP because of its dedication to small government, enterprise, and opportunity for those with a strong work ethic. Those values are the ones that helped the son of Taiwanese immigrants and proud American citizens reach Harvard. I intend to remain a Republican for years to come.
However, few individuals in my generation share this faith in the party of Lincoln and Reagan. Today’s GOP is perceived as overwhelmingly white and elderly, utterly unreflective of the diversity that pervades American youth. We cannot afford to lose the Latino and Asian-American vote by over 40 points, and rhetoric of “self-deportation” does nothing to remedy the situation. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush exemplifies the type of leadership the GOP needs in confronting the party’s deep, long-term structural problems. We must encourage talented, aspiring individuals from around the world to live, work, and ultimately become citizens in this nation.
We must also nominate candidates that are intelligently conservative: for instance, I will be pleased when Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) arrives on Capitol Hill next January. Cruz speaks passionately about conservative principles with intellectual rigor, and will contribute greatly to our political discourse.
Unfortunately, other staunch conservatives, through inexperience or sheer idiocy, have cost the GOP valuable U.S. Senate seats. Some fellow Republicans celebrate this as the ascendancy of ideological purity. However, I caution that purity also provides a one-way ticket to perpetual political and electoral insignificance.
When Speaker Boehner and President Obama meet in early 2013, I earnestly hope that they reach a grand bargain. This does not entail conservatives bending over backwards to sharply increase taxes, but it will require compromise on our part in raising revenues primarily from the wealthiest Americans through capping deductions and restructuring the tax code. Similarly, I hope Democrats, like President Obama did during the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations, will offer meaningful entitlement reform. A significant debt reduction and tax deal is the strongest stimulus government can provide, simultaneously reducing the uncertainty clouding job creators’ business prospects and invigorating investor confidence.
From there, Republicans can expand the playing field. This entails not only improved rhetoric, but also actual policy proposals ranging from immigration reform to a plausible and rational economic vision. Perhaps then, the American people will entrust the White House and Senate to GOP hands once again.