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Five Easy Pieces By: Fred Barnes
The Weekly Standard | Thursday, May 29, 2008


The story of the Democratic Congress is this: So much to do, so little done. Issues of importance are crying out for attention. The alarms are largely ignored. The list of big issues is long and includes immigration, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, health care and health insurance in general, and energy.

It might make sense for Republicans to demand these issues be brought up this year, as President Truman did in 1948 to embarrass the "do nothing 80th Congress." But political stunts seldom work the second time. Besides, these are especially complex issues.

There's an alternative, however, that might galvanize Republicans and lift the party's spirits. Republicans could--indeed, should--insist that five simple, one-idea proposals be voted on. They're designed to bring immediate (though partial) relief to serious problems facing the country.

Here are the one-click issues, easy to deal with in a single vote:

(1) Double or triple the number of foreigners given H-1B visas to work in America. We need more highly educated and skilled workers from abroad, but only 65,000 H-1B visas are handed out annually. This causes two problems: Jobs requiring special skill or training go unfilled, and those who might fill them migrate to other countries, which become more competitive at America's expense.

The lid on H-1B visas is one of the most counterproductive parts of our immigration policy. High tech companies, for example, need to hire foreign scientists, engineers, and programmers because there aren't enough qualified Americans. But the limit on H-1B visas makes it difficult. In 2007, Microsoft was unable to hire one-third of the foreign-born workers it had jobs for, Bill Gates told Congress in March.

Gates said it would be preferable if the American education system produced workers for these skilled positions, but it doesn't. Without more foreigners, "American companies simply will not have the talent they need to innovate and compete," he said. This problem could be solved by a single vote in the House and Senate boosting the number of visas to 130,000 or 195,000. One click.

(2) Allow nationwide purchase of health insurance. Today, you can buy auto insurance in any state, but you can buy health insurance only in your home state. This leads to great disparities. A single 25-year-old in New Jersey pays five times as much for a standard policy as he'd pay if he lived in Kentucky.

A nationwide market would spur competition among insurers, driving down prices and blunting the rising cost of health care generally. Republican congressman John Shadegg of Arizona has long championed this common sense reform. "People should be able to get the health insurance that suits their needs," he says. And they'd be able to buy it on the Internet, providing further savings.

(3) Reduce the corporate income tax from 35 percent to 25 percent. The United States has the second highest corporate tax rate in the world, putting American companies at a severe competitive disadvantage. The high rate also has the effect of causing companies to leave their overseas profits, well, overseas.

The average corporate rate for countries with significant economies happens to be 25 percent. Reducing the rate here can have a strikingly favorable impact. A few years ago, Ireland cut its corporate tax rate to 12.5 percent. The Irish economy boomed, and the Irish people are on their way to having the highest standard of living in Europe.

(4) Lift the moratorium on offshore oil drilling. How high does the price of gasoline have to go before America wakes up and demands we explore and then drill for oil off the Atlantic and Pacific shores? An unheard of $4 a gallon? Whoops, I forgot. We're already close to $4.

There's plenty of oil out there. Drilling wouldn't create unsightly views from beachfront homes of the wealthy. Perish the thought. Thanks to technological advances, drilling is now possible in the deep waters far offshore and is highly unlikely to produce spills. The moratorium bars drilling within 200 miles of the coast. That makes no sense. For both national security and economic reasons, tapping the offshore oil is a necessity.

(5) Let the private sector build highways. Increased use of mass transit has not alleviated the need for more highways. And there are hundreds of billions of dollars that private enterprises, some of them foreign, are eager to invest in fancy new roads all over America. Of course, these would be toll roads. That's how the companies would make a profit. But the new highways would be located mostly near clogged (free) highways, where drivers would benefit from having traffic siphoned off.

This is a no-brainer, particularly since revenues in the Highway Trust Fund are needed to repair and renovate the Interstate Highway System, once a wonder of the world but now rundown and unable to handle the traffic load.

The difficult part of pushing these five easy pieces is getting Democrats to hold votes. No doubt Democrats would balk. The media probably wouldn't give much coverage to them either. But who knows? Maybe the press would find a hook for the story, something like: Republicans aren't dead yet.

And a point could be made: Democrats have produced a do-nothing Congress, even spurning a series of potentially helpful, easy-to-understand proposals that wouldn't take much time to consider. It's a point worth making.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.


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