Policy: Economy

Economic populism, not Gang of Eight immigration reform, will boost GOP's future

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Conn Carroll,Columnists,Immigration,Republican Party,Big Government,Economy,Analysis,Libertarian Populism

Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics.com's senior elections analyst, rattled Washington this month when he challenged the conventional wisdom that the Republican Party must give citizenship to current illegal immigrants if it ever hopes to win a national election again.

Trende argued that instead of pandering to every demographic group, Republicans should instead adjust their agenda to better appeal to Reagan Democrat/Perot Independent voters who stayed home last November.

"Ultimately, the basic prescription for the GOP is a healthy dose of economic populism," Trende writes. "This includes a lot of changes Democrats would presumably enjoy, such as jettisoning the pro-big business, Wall Street-style conservatism that characterized the Romney campaign."

Here is what such an agenda might look like:

- Rollback the surveillance state: The government is collecting too much information on law-abiding citizens. The National Security Agency must be reined in.

- End the Drug War: Prohibition did not work in the 1920s, and it is time to stop breaking up millions of families every year by punishing non-violent behavior today.

- End deportations: Criminals and threats to national security should always be deported. But what is gained by pretending the American people have the will or resources to deport the millions of illegal immigrants who will always be in the country?

- Break up the banks: Big banks are not a product of the free market. They are a product of over-regulation and regulatory capture. Dodd-Frank has only made the banks bigger. It's time to cut them down to size.

- Return infrastructure to the states: Why should gas-tax dollars go towards a high-speed rail boondoggle in California? And why should San Francisco bike lovers pay for Dallas' highways? States should keep their transportation dollars and make their own decisions.

- Return education to the states: Federal spending on K-12 education has increased 375 percent since 1970 yet math and reading scores have not improved. The states can get better results.

- End student loans: Not only do student loans not make college more affordable, since they only drive up tuition further, but they also leave millions of young Americans deeply in debt at the exact time they need resources to start new families. Drive down higher education costs by ending accreditation monopolies.

- Revenue-neutral tax simplification: The vast majority of tax breaks go to the highest-income Americans. Phase out things like the mortgage interest and state and local tax deductions, lower rates for everyone, and still give the biggest tax cuts to those who earn the least.

- Market-tested health care: The health care system is screwed up for the simple reason that no one pays for his own health care so no one knows what anything costs, let alone tries to manage it. If government subsidies were phased out for first-dollar health insurance coverage, truly universal catastrophic health insurance would be affordable for all.

Contra Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., government is not "simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together." When a couple combines their lives, buys a house, and starts a family, the government didn't do that, a community did.

As Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, recently said, "The essence of human freedom, of civilization itself, is cooperation."

The problem is, too often the federal government is making it harder, not easier, for Americans to freely cooperate.

Forging a new set of policies around this principle is one way Republicans can expand their party's appeal beyond its existing boundaries.

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