Sunday, November 7, 2004

Victory gives Bush mandate to charge on

President should press ahead in war, economy

By Amy Ridenour
Guest Columnist

It now is time for our national conversation to turn from polls to problems, and how to solve them. Here's my advice to President Bush for the next four years:

National security must remain central. The president's thrust so far 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--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. America now enjoys an economic growth rate more than double that of Europe's.

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 become eligible 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 persuade 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, too, 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. Our government at the federal level alone spends $25 billion more administering these rules. Yet regulatory reform is barely on the agenda, and a plethora of special-interest groups demand even more rules.

Over the past half-century the cost of lawsuits to our economy has grown three times faster than our gross domestic product. Unreasonable jury awards cost an estimated $70 billion to $126 billion extra in health-care costs every year, while shortages of doctors in high-risk specialties, such as obstetrics, are increasingly common.

Seventy-six percent of physicians believe excessive lawsuits hurt health care quality. Solid options for reform are trotted out regularly, but have been stymied in the 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.


Amy Ridenour is president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a Capitol Hill think tank. Readers may write to her at NCPPR, 777 N. Capitol St. NE, Suite 803, Washington, DC 20002, or e-mail her at aridenour@nationalcenter.org

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