# 520  

November 2004



Bush's Second Term Agenda


by Amy Ridenour

 

Our national conversation now turns from polls to problems, and how to solve them.

Here's what President Bush should focus on during the next four years:

National security must remain central. Bush's thrust has been sound. When it comes to the threat from Islamic militants, half-measures won't do. If democracy does not take root in the Muslim world, terrorism will thrive. We must stick -- literally -- to our guns, and not be distracted by critics who believe anything less than perfection means failure.

Afghanistan's elections were a stunning success. Iraq's are on schedule. We're safer now than we were, and we'll be safer yet if we persevere.

The Administration's policies vis-à-vis a potentially nuclear Iran and North Korea likewise are sound.

Economic prosperity will remain a key priority. Thanks in part to investment spurred by Bush tax cuts, the economy grew at a 3.7 percent annual growth rate during the third quarter.1 America now enjoys an economic growth rate more than double that of Europe's.2

Maintaining economic growth in the long-term, however, requires that we get a handle on excessive spending -- both discretionary and on Social Security and Medicare. We'd also do well to put brakes on regulatory growth and out-of-control lawsuits, and reform our health care system.

During this next presidential administration, the first baby boomer will receive a Social Security retirement check and approach eligibility for Medicare benefits. By 2030, 80 million Americans will be 65 or older. Yet, both programs are technically insolvent. Radical reforms are needed or our economy -- and our young -- will drown in red ink.

To rescue Social Security we should permit younger Americans to invest some of their Social Security taxes in private retirement accounts. Since Social Security currently receives more in taxes than it pays out, this can be done without reducing benefits to current and near-future retirees. In exchange, today's young Americans would accept reduced government benefits after they retire, easing the strain on taxpayers, but because their private accounts would likely grow at a much faster rate than they receive from Social Security, they'd ultimately retire with more money.

This system is wildly popular in Britain. We need presidential-level leadership to convince Americans to try it.

Bush's core suggestion for overall health care reform involves increasing every American's control over his own health care. This should be aggressively pursued.

Regulations, the so-called invisible tax, cost every American household $8,000 per year, rivaling the cost of the federal income tax system.3 Our government at the federal level alone spends $25 billion more administering these rules.4 Yet, regulatory reform is barely on the agenda, and a plethora of special interest groups, environmental organizations chief among them, demand even more rules. Despite the fact that environmentalists seem to think Bush is their worst enemy, the regulatory burden has not lessened under Bush, who could make regulatory reform a higher priority.

Over the past half-century the cost of lawsuits to our economy has grown three times faster than our GDP.5 Unreasonable jury awards cost an estimated $70-126 billion extra in health care costs every year,6 while shortages of doctors in high-risk specialties, such as obstetrics, are increasingly common. 76 percent of physicians believe excessive lawsuits hurt health care quality.7 Solid options for reform are trotted out regularly, but have been stymied in the U.S. Senate. Presidential leadership could break this logjam.

It no doubt is too much to ask that any one President, in a four-year term, simultaneously wage the War on Terror, promote prosperity, and fundamentally overhaul Social Security and Medicare while reforming our health care, regulatory and legal systems. But he can lead a national conversation about the fundamentals involved in tackling each one.

If he does so, he'll fix some problems, and start work on others -- and hand over to his successor a stronger, freer America.

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Amy Ridenour is president of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments may be sent to [email protected].



Footnotes:

1 Tim Kane, Ph.D., and Rea Hederman, "Past. Present! Future? Economic Growth in America," Heritage Foundation WebMemo #601, October 29, 2004, available online at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Economy/wm601.cfm as of November 2, 2004.

2 Tim Kane, Ph.D., and Rea Hederman, "Past. Present! Future? Economic Growth in America," Heritage Foundation WebMemo #601, October 29, 2004, available online at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Economy/wm601.cfm as of November 2, 2004.

3 Heritage Foundation "Issues 04 Briefing Room: Regulation," downloaded from http://www.heritage.org/research/features/issues2004/regulation.cfm#FF on November 2, 2004.

4 Heritage Foundation "Issues 04 Briefing Room: Regulation," downloaded from http://www.heritage.org/research/features/issues2004/regulation.cfm#FF on November 2, 2004.

5 U.S. Tort Costs: 2002 Update, Tillinghast-Towers Perrin, as cited by the Business Council of New York State.

6 "Addressing the New Health Care Crisis: Reforming the Medical Litigation System to Improve the Quality of Health Care," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C., March 3, 2003, as cited by sickoflawsuits.org.

7 As cited by Donald J. Palmissano, M.D., J.D., representing the American Medical Association in testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, Committee on the Judiciary, Washington, D.C., June 12, 2002.


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