Yeah, it’s broke and here’s how to fix it

    What’s the big idea? Don’t ask me. At least in this column, there is none.

    Republicans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue last year tied their
    own shoelaces together while tackling big ideas. Despite President
    Bush’s valiant efforts, his attempt to modernize Social Security
    stalled amid Democratic intransigence and GOP cowardice. Meanwhile,
    greater presidential boldness might have yielded a dramatic reform of
    the Tax Code. Instead, a blue-ribbon panel offered an uninspiring
    mish-mash that quickly lulled the nation to sleep. And in Congress,
    wholesale attempts to reign in runaway spending floundered as the
    Republican appetite for pork proved strong enough to light a thousand
    barbecue pits.

    While America still needs personal retirement
    accounts, a low-rate flat tax, and massive reductions in federal
    outlays, perhaps Republicans this year should pass measures that would
    be slight in size but significant in restoring the party’s shattered
    image as the purveyors of limited government and free markets.

    Here are four proposals that should help the GOP get its groove back.

    First, Congress should adopt a rule requiring constitutional
    justification for all the legislation it considers. Every bill should
    begin, “Pursuant to U.S. Constitution Article X Clause, Y, Congress
    hereby enacts…” Senators and House members may fall back upon the
    “General Welfare” clause, but at least doing so would remind
    legislators that America still has a Constitution that is supposed to
    guide and restrain federal action. As Fred Smith of the Competitive
    Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank, likes to say: “The
    Constitution isn’t perfect, but it’s better than what we have now.”

    Second, before the next mid-term election, Congress should approve
    grants to states to finance free photo identification cards for poor
    voters who otherwise lack ID. In exchange, states should require
    citizens to show photo ID in federal elections.

    The 11th U.S.
    Circuit Court last Oct. 27 blocked a Georgia law that required photo ID
    at polling stations, saying the card’s $35 cost was just too much to
    ask of the poor and elderly. So why not let low-income and older people
    cash checks and board 747s without photo ID? If mandating picture ID at
    every precinct on Nov. 7 requires Washington to reimburse states for
    giving free IDs to the handful of voters who lack them and cannot
    afford them, Republicans should propose that trade off.

    Elections free of phantom and repeat voters should be expected in
    Earth’s leading democratic republic. Such an anti-vote-fraud measure
    likely would benefit the GOP, which too often suffers at the hands of
    union-controlled, big-city, political machines. If Congressional
    Democrats balk at such a deal, make them stand up and explain why they
    oppose free photo IDs for voters who need them.

    Third, the
    Senate and House should adopt a rule barring federal funding for new
    projects that bear the names of living and, even worse, sitting
    politicians. One must die before appearing on a U.S. postage stamp.
    Why, then, does California boast the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose
    International Airport, named after America’s still-breathing
    Transportation Secretary? One of Alaska’s notorious “bridges to
    nowhere” would be dubbed “Don Young’s Way” after the GOP House
    Transportation Chairman who champions it. Naming public works after
    politicians who are alive and even in office reeks of Pyongyang.

    This shady practice also gives incumbents an unfair advantage over
    their challengers. While his potential opponents for the U.S. Senate
    struggle to boost their name identification, Sen. Robert C. Byrd,
    D-W.Va., enjoys taxpayer-funded advertising every time voters see the
    Robert C. Byrd Federal Courthouse or travel the Robert C. Byrd
    Expressway. These monuments to vanity are unbecoming and deserve no
    further federal support. If GOP legislators can gather a pound of
    principle among themselves, they should apply the postage-stamp rules
    to bridges and highways.

    Fourth, Congress should bar federal
    farm supports and business subsidies to any American who earns more
    than $1 million. “No welfare for millionaires” is an idea that will
    help Republicans show some sorely needed fiscal restraint. If Democrats
    disagree, let them explain why rich people deserve free stuff.

    If Washington Republicans can steady themselves, they should think big.
    Barring that, it might help them in this election year to think wisely,
    but also to think small.

    (Deroy Murdock is a columnist
    with Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas
    Economic Research Foundation in Fairfax, Va. E-mail him at
    deroy.murdock(at)gmail.com.)