A Real Opportunity Agenda | Commentary

Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:10pm

The most important debate occurring in Washington today isn’t about partisan politics or 2016 prognostications. It’s about what Washington — particularly, the Republican- controlled Congress — will do to regain the trust of the American people.

For most Americans today, life is tough; it’s getting tougher, and they feel nobody in Washington cares. Sadly, they are often correct. Americans don’t just want more legislation and signing ceremonies. They want governance that speaks to their very real anxieties.

To address these concerns — which stem from job insecurity, stagnant wages and price pressures across the household budget — requires more than a stale agenda focused on the priorities of those who can hire teams of lobbyists to walk the halls of Congress. Americans expect more than repeal of the medical device tax, authorization of the Keystone XL pipeline and reform of the archaic corporate tax code. Though noble goals, they do not constitute a bold, inspiring agenda that answers the anxieties American families are facing daily.

Over the past several years, conservative rising stars and outside scholars have produced a wide array of innovative policy solutions that provide a real governing vision. Those proposals could serve not only as the framework for a year of meaningful legislative action, but also as the core elements of the next president’s first-year legislative agenda.

The Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action for America are releasing “Opportunity for All, Favoritism to None,” a book of policy essays that highlights some of those ideas. Concurrently, we are convening our second annual conservative policy summit. There, scholars and lawmakers will discuss bold reform proposals such as:

The RAISE Act, which would allow employees to earn more than the rates forced on them by their unions;

The EXPAND Act, which would expand America’s energy boom by opening access to federal lands and reining in the worst excesses of the Environmental Protection Agency;

The PATH Act, which would end the dominance of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the housing market; and

The HERO Act, which would offer relief to students, not by extending the federal government’s role in subsidizing higher education, but by injecting price-cutting competition into the education marketplace and ending the dominance of the federal accreditation cartel.

A common theme ties these proposals together: Empowering all Americans with opportunity instead of letting Washington pick winners and losers. For too long, our politics have been held hostage by special interests — union bosses, the green-for-profit industry, Wall Street, K Street, the realtor lobby, the education cartel. They have stifled basic reforms for the common good in order to preserve their own political and economic dominance. The success of the Democratic Party’s political strategy hinges entirely on directing handouts to its coalition of favored interest groups. But too often, the Republican Party has veered off course as well, conflating pro-business corporate welfare with pro-free market policy.

We write today as conservatives eager to see the Republican Party be more true to its declared principles and for the left’s populist rhetoric to be exposed for the sham that it is. Through subsidies, bailouts and anti-competitive regulations, big government has done far more to enrich and entrench the powerful than it has done to help working Americans struggling to overcome joblessness, dependency and stagnating wages.

That’s an easy case to make. Taking a firm stand against favoritism and in support of opportunity for all is not only the right thing to do, it’s a great way to start building a mandate for leadership in 2016.

Jim DeMint is president of The Heritage Foundation and is a former Republican senator from South Carolina. Michael Needham is president of Heritage Action for America, a political advocacy group.