The GOP’s Duty: Explain the Cost of ‘Free’
Republicans can’t outbid Santa Claus, but they can make the case for honesty, liberty and aspiration.
Redacted from article by Bobby Jindal
Wall Street Journal May 30, 2019
Progressives are changing the Democratic Party’s focus from building stronger safety nets for the disadvantaged to subsidizing everything for everybody. Whereas Barack Obama once appeared radical for subsidizing Health-care costs for the middle class as well as the poor, Democrats now promise free college, free health care and more—for everyone.
Republicans can’t outspend Democrats, but they can make the case for freedom and against the idea that everything is “free” without sounding like Scrooge.
The Republican ideal isn’t penny-pinching but an aspirational society. The American Dream is to get a good job and live better than one’s parents; becoming dependent on government is the American nightmare. Even Howard Schultz, the man who brought America $5 coffee, realizes promises like Medicare for All are unrealistic and too expensive.
Yet Republicans have to do more than mock the Green New Deal’s bans on air travel, targeting of flatulent cows and subsidies for those unwilling to work if they want to persuade young voters of the case for limited government and personal freedom. Many Americans remember the Great Recession but not the Reagan Revolution, and they may find the false promise of government-provided economic security tempting, not having seen a better alternative.
In reality, “free” means more government control at the expense of consumer autonomy. When progressives promise government will pay for health care and college, they are really saying government will run medicine and higher education. Medicare for All explicitly calls for the abolition of private health insurance. Whereas Mr. Obama falsely promised that Americans who liked their plans could keep them, progressives now say if you like your plans, too bad.
Progressive health, education and energy policies would result in government interference in larger parts of the economy, affecting more people’s lives in profound ways. Consumers have a hundred choices of coffee but won’t be able to choose their health plans. Government paying for college would result in even more political interference with academic freedom. Progressives admit they want government to take ownership stakes in the projects mandated by their energy plan.
It is one thing for Ford to tell consumers they could have any color Model T, as long as it was black, and quite another for government to tell citizens they cannot choose their health plans. Consumers and workers rightfully resent their decreasing bargaining power against large, sometimes oligopolistic companies, but the answer is not to consolidate power further in the hands of an even less responsive government bureaucracy.
The correct response to reduced competition is more capitalism, not less. The way to resist consolidation in corporate America is to enforce existing antitrust laws and, especially, to reduce the regulatory pressures that cause consolidation in the first place.
“Free” means less efficiency, more expense and lower quality. While progressives highlight the unpopular aspects of private insurance, they won’t tell voters the private sector is more likely to promote innovation without concern for lobbyist-armed special interests and rent-seekers. Think of how long it took for the federal government, via Medicare, to pay for prescription drugs, ambulatory surgery and other outpatient services. It already takes tens of thousands of pages of regulations to administer Medicare, whereby the government sets thousands of prices in thousands of counties for millions of beneficiaries.
The top-down, one-size-fits-all Industrial Age approach is especially ill-suited to the constantly changing health care and education sectors. Hence the popular support for Medicare Advantage, charter schools, Veterans Choice and other programs that empower consumers with more control and harness the efficiency and creativity of the private economy to deliver public benefits.
“Free” means robbing from America’s children. It is one thing to take money from the present-day wealthy. It’s another to take it from future generations. Despite proposed marginal rates as high as 70% or even 90%, none of the tax plans Democrats have put forward would raise nearly enough revenue to pay for the promised spending. It is immoral for adults to force their children to sacrifice their quality of life and pay higher taxes to subsidize today’s spending. Good parents sacrifice to give their children more opportunities. This is the opposite.
Progressives aren’t willing to let America’s $22 trillion debt slow them down. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez objected to Congress’s pay-as-you-go rule, already honored more in the breach than in the observance; and progressives have conveniently discovered a monetary theory that allows them to ignore deficits and simply print whatever they want to spend.
Republicans have lost credibility on fiscal responsibility. Spending vastly increased on their watch. Even so, Medicare for All’s $32 trillion price tag makes even today’s appropriators look miserly. Republicans must remind voters—and themselves—that deficits are a drag on the economy, with interest payments crowding out private investment and government spending. It wouldn’t hurt for the GOP to act as if deficits matter when they govern, not merely when they’re in the minority.
Republicans can’t outbid Santa Claus. Americans are willing to work hard and sacrifice for a better life but need to know how pro-growth policies benefit them. Voters may be tempted by progressives’ crazy plans because they desperately want more affordable health care, reasonable tuition costs and a sustainable environment. They will embrace effective market-based solutions that promote freedom if Republicans offer them, but voters will only wait so long.
Mr. Jindal served as governor of Louisiana, 2008-16, and was a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.