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The Freshmen's First Principles

Friday, November 1, 1996

Writers have so confounded society with government as to leave little or no distinction between them." So wrote Thomas Paine in "Common Sense" in 1776. He could be writing today about those who look to government to solve all of America's problems.

Congressional conservatives remind America what their election was all about

          The House GOP freshmen reject this view. We know that government is only a part of society. Society is not a part of government. Government serves as only a portion of the entire society, and is not the entire society.

          Think of society as a chair. The legs of the chair represent four different and separate institutions. Government is just one leg; the others are families and the institutions that support them, religious and civic institutions, and business.

          A stable chair frees you to sit, relax, eat, whatever you want to do, without worrying about falling on the floor. Similarly, the four institutions of society contribute equally to its stability. A child born into a society where all four institutions are healthy has the greatest opportunity for success in life. Consider the child's relationship to these four institutions: When family institutions are healthy, a child is more likely to learn respect for his parents. When government institutions are healthy, a child is more likely to obey the law. In healthy businesses, a child is more likely to learn the work ethic. In healthy religious institutions, a child is more likely to maintain a clear conscience before his or her God. With healthy and equal institutions, we can provide to every individual the freedom and security to pursue the promised opportunity for life, liberty, and happiness.

          During the past 100 years, America's government has become disproportionately large in relation to the country's other institutions. The result has been a burdensome governmental structure involved in virtually every aspect of our lives. The fundamental principles of the New Deal and Great Society programs -- the solving of social ills with governmental programs -- has resulted in a chair so unstable that a single finger can tip it over. Of all the money spent by government, 70 percent is controlled at the federal level, while 30 percent is controlled at the state and local levels. The 537 elected officials in Washington have substituted their "wisdom" for the wisdom of the thousands of local elected officials in our communities. The growth of the governmental leg has drawn too much away from the other core institutions, reducing their effectiveness and creating instability in America.

          Our families have been decimated over the last 30 years by divorce, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, juvenile crime, and failing educational institutions. Religious and civic institutions are not functioning to their full potential. In his article "Bowling Alone" for the Journal of Democracy, Harvard professor Robert Putnam documented the significant decline in "social capital" and in participation in the civic associations of "civil society." In the political arena, declining voter participation and the community's feelings of disempowerment are symptoms of the deterioration of these institutions. In the business realm, our current fascination with "downsizing," layoffs, and superheated stock markets is a result of unstable institutions. The political community is particularly concerned about job insecurity, which has probably exacerbated the decline of business as well as religious and civic institutions.

          These concerns, I believe, prompted Americans to send a Republican-led Congress to Washington in November 1994. Our new Republican majority went about aggressively downsizing government. We acted on the promises of the Contract With America, like blockgranting programs to the 50 states. We set about reforming or eliminating the myriad federal welfare, job-training, and housing programs. We focused on deregulation and tax reform, trying to encourage the marketplace to shed government control. We even considered eliminating the Departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development.

          Unfortunately, House Republicans failed to communicate a vision of America that included its other core institutions. We did not give enough thought to how families would react to the withdrawal of government from their lives. We did not articulate the need to re-create religious and civic institutions, or to develop self-regulation in the business realm. In short, we only looked at the institution we could influence directly: government. Until we can explain to the American people how we can rebuild the institutions of community while reducing government, then maybe we shouldn't be reducing government at all.

          Through its disapproval of the government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996, the American people have told us, "We agree with downsizing government, but we're not going to let you do it unless you can show us how America will be a better place for everybody as a result." Thus the task we freshmen have set ourselves is to articulate our vision of the "New America."

The Legislative Program

          The Freshman Class Vision articulates two essential elements (see box). One element is legislative reform, and the other is a higher level of personal responsibility in society. Both must happen simultaneously. The legislative program continues to be our priority in Washington. We must downsize, restructure, and reform government while we begin to rebuild the other core institutions. Four examples will give some idea of how this might happen:

          Social programs. During the 30 or so years of government expansion into welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid, dependency upon government has increased and the ranks of the needy have expanded. Many people believe that the values reflected in social programs and in helping with the care of the needy have a basis in Scripture, not in the Constitution. The Good Samaritan, after all, is found in the Bible. The New America vision calls for the care of the poor to shift from government to religious and civic institutions and the family, where it had historically resided prior to the development of the welfare state.

          Churches and faith-based organizations, nonprofit social-service agencies, and charities should have a prime role in providing for those in need. But if we are to begin to rely on nongovernmental institutions, then we must create legislation that encourages this transfer. How can we structure tax policy, for example, to provide a smooth transition from government programs to the religious, civic, and family institutions of this country?

          In my opinion, we should encourage religious and civic institutions to take up social programs by giving healthy tax deductions to those contributing money to churches, charities, and other nonprofit groups. Under this policy, institutions caring for the needy expand, while the revenue propping up the government sector shrinks.

          Regulation and tax relief. As we reduce taxes and regulation of business, we reduce the overhead of a regulatory government. At the same time, the market will redirect resources currently consumed by taxes and regulatory compliance toward business expansion.

          Education. Properly handled, reforms in education would help restore the institution of the family. The educational system, a governmental structure, must be accountable to parents, not the state. This can be achieved in part through voucher programs. My personal preference is to increase local control, and therefore encourage parental participation. The most telling problem with education, at least in local school districts, is that local elected officials have very little discretion over school spending; most is determined by state and federal mandates. If we send more dollars unencumbered to the local level, we will encourage more parents to get involved in their children's education. This will encourage parents -- and their children -- to assume personal responsibility for educational decisions.

          Localizing. Localizing government, as with education, means shifting responsibilities back to the state and local levels. When we localize decisionmaking, we reduce the overhead of the federal government, thereby reducing its role.

Personal Responsibility

          By downsizing government and reinvigorating other institutions to fulfill their proper roles, we have begun to address our obligations as the freshmen elected in 1994. We have taken a necessary, though not sufficient, first step toward a New America.

The central challenge is to downsize government in a fashion that rebuilds other core institutions

          Still, something is missing. The nongovernmental institutions are not functioning to their full capacity. By encouraging local control and involvement, we may have begun to address issues like juvenile crime and school accountability. Our problems, however, demand another, essential element: personal responsibility.

          Congress cannot raise the conscience of the American people, decrease our reliance on governmental institutions, and encourage the development of individual and community-based solutions to community problems. Personal responsibility cannot be legislated in Washington. We can't create good parents by passing a law. We can't make everybody go to church or other religious institutions or be ethical in business. There are some things that even Great Society advocates would agree government simply cannot do. Encouraging and creating personal responsibility is ultimately the task of the nation's religious institutions. It must happen in concert with downsizing government, and won't happen without it.

          Family institutions. For members of a family, taking personal responsibility means meeting obligations, participating in family activities, and raising children well.

          Business institutions. Encouraging personal responsibility in business institutions would accomplish at least two things. One result would be fewer lawsuits; another would be the development of peer review, such as doctors policing doctors, lawyers policing lawyers, and like businesses policing one another. Peer review would achieve a more cost-effective regulatory scheme than government, with better results.

          Governmental institutions. We need to spread responsibility among the tens of thousands of state and local elected officials across the country. By raising the conscience of the American people, we can eventually change the distribution of government resources from 70 percent controlled at the federal level to 70 percent controlled at the state and local levels.

          The central challenge is to downsize government in a responsible fashion that rebuilds the other core institutions in this country until they all achieve a final equality and balance. It is a huge job. It is one my colleagues and I face every day, and it will require the ongoing support of the American people. But it is a task we must accomplish to restore the stability of the American Dream and to provide freedom and security for all.

Blueprint To Renew Society

          In order to provide greater freedom and security, the 74 members of the Republican Freshman Class stand for structural reform in America.

          We believe that government is too big in relation to other institutions in America. We believe that reducing government should not, and cannot, occur without renewal of family, religious/ civic, and business institutions in American society.

          A balanced budget that privatizes, localizes, and eliminates federal government activities is the blueprint to renew society. To renew society, however, the conscience of the American people must be raised, increasing personal responsibility and hence the effectiveness of all of our institutions.

          Our vision is one in which family, religious/civic, business, and government institutions contribute equally to the foundation of a New America.