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Sailing

After the victory, problems remain

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, November 5, 1996

By the end of the day, we will know who will control each end of Pennsylvania Avenue for the rest of this century. Whoever wins faces vexing problems — almost none of which were addressed in this focus group-framed and poll-driven campaign for president.

Problem: The incumbent didn’t ask for a mandate and the challenger forgot what he was asking for. Clinton’s “bridge to the 21st century” was a great campaign slogan but, like the bridge over the River Kwai, it will collapse as soon as the electoral vote is counted. The new Congress won’t have a mandate either: Democrats ran campaigns against Newt Gingrich as Republicans tried to prove their independence of the speaker of the House.

So, the search for solutions will proceed in a polarized atmosphere where neither the Congress nor the president will have a mandate — and the issues are not trivial. Take four:

  • Old age entitlements. There is a broad consensus among experts that Social Security and Medicare are headed for bankruptcy and must be fixed. Both play a large part in the life of the most rapidly growing segment of America’s population. But Republican initiatives in the 104th Congress to save Medicare were effectively demagogued by the Democrats. Social Security will go broke in 34 years without a radical overhaul — such as privatization — but both Clinton and Dole sidestepped the issue during the election.
  • Tax reform. The federal tax system is out of control. Each year Americans devote 5.4 billion hours to complying with the tax code, which is more time than it takes to produce every car, truck and van made in the U.S. The cost of compliance with the federal tax code adds up to $232 billion, an amount equal to $900 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. Tax writers need to throw it out and start over again with a pro-family, pro-savings, pro-investment, pro-growth tax that is simple and airtight and where all Americans, both individuals and corporations, will get an honest bill for their share of the cost of government.
  • Taxing and spending. The average family of four now pays more in taxes than it spends on food, clothing and shelter. The typical middle-income family of four paid just two percent of its income in federal taxes in 1948; today that same family pays about 24 percent in federal taxes — and almost 40% for taxes to all levels of government. It’s not the failure of America’s enterprise system that requires both parents to work today, compared to the 1950s. It’s the fact that government is spending ten times more of the family’s paycheck today than in the 1950s. Yet proposals to cut taxes and spending were generally dismissed by the media as so much hot air.
  • Two-tiered society. There’s increasing evidence that America is evolving into a two-tiered society — not because the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, but because workers without education and skills are unable to keep pace with the rest, and small towns and rural areas are often being left behind. Yet government policies in transportation, telecommunications and electric power favor investment in densely populated urban areas, and federal policy continues to pour more money into government schools that don¹t work. Still, campaign dialogue sidestepped most of these issues as well.

A mandate to hold office is not a mandate to govern, so not a lot will be settled in this century’s last presidential election.

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