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