Nine ideas to revive the Republican Party [Commentary]

I've been running around the country hawking my new book, listening to what people are saying, and scribbling notes about what a new Republican platform should contain — at least what one should contain if we ever want to win again.

Herewith, my top nine planks, offered for your consideration at a time of continuing economic angst and rapid cultural change:

Reduce spending by half a percent.

Seventeen and a half trillion dollars of debt and counting (not to mention the hundreds of billions spent on interest each year). Both parties are responsible, but the Obama era has been spectacularly expensive with over $7 trillion in new debt added over the past five years alone.

This fiscal approach is unsustainable — and immoral. And while there is no silver bullet to cure our self-imposed spending dilemma, some slowing of our spending pace is in order. I propose half of 1 percent. Such a cut equates to a savings of $18.9 billion next fiscal year.

I realize that even this minimalist proposal will excite those who rely on federal largesse. In a word, they will go "nuts." Apocalyptic predictions will dominate media coverage. But this would not be the end of the universe as we know it. The federal government would still spend nearly $4 trillion dollars. The market would respond in spectacular fashion. And for the first time in a long time, America's creditors (especially the Chinese) would see that we might be serious about a fiscal policy that sustains our super power status.

Real entitlement reform

Entitlement reform is long past due. The allegedly untouchable "third rail" may no longer be electrified; the burden of doing nothing is better understood today than in previous generations.

So, let's keep it real — and doable:

1. Increase the Social Security retirement age (from today's 66) phased in at the rate of two months per year. Those born in 1973 and later would be the first to plan for a new retirement age of 70 years old. TheCongressional Budget Office estimates such a change would save $120 billion by 2021. We are living much longer than originally envisioned; our benefits should reflect this fact of life.

2. Increase Medicare premiums for the wealthy. This is a big revenue raiser ($50 billion in President Barack Obama's budget). One would hope that liberal purveyors of the "hands off Social Security" mindset might find this proposal too tempting to pass up.

3. Reform the Social Security Disability Trust Fund, presently scheduled to run dry within the next two years. A quadrupling of beneficiaries since the beginning of President Obama's first term reflects a broken program suffering rampant fraud, as evidenced by recent Congressional oversight reports. This should be the (politically) easiest trust fund to fix.

Immigration done right

The borders remain porous, and there are as many as 13 million people in the U.S. illegally. The Democrats have given up, finding it more politically expedient to ignore the law (sanctuary status, two tier drivers licenses) than enforce it.

Conversely, some Republicans want to round up the 13 million dragnet style and send them home. These folks do not live in the real world.

To borrow a phrase from my friend, Charles Krauthammer, we need "radical fence building," followed by "radical legalization." We must build significant barriers (along with high tech drones and anything else we can throw at the problem) that work — i.e., slow the flow to a trickle. Only after a successful security initiative will the country's leaders possess the credibility to institute a "path to legality." Then, the illegal millions will be placed in line behind those who have followed the law, but only after back taxes are paid, after criminal background checks and after passable English is learned. Yes, it's a path — just not a free path.

Advantages abound. Border security strengthened. Out-of-the-shadows living (and paying-taxes) for millions, a potential path to legal status (green card) that could lead to citizenship, and a strengthening of the rule of law.

Obamacare: repeal, replace, repair

Thomas Jefferson once famously warned, "Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities."

Yes, single party work products tend to be dysfunctional. They by definition have little room for error and enjoy shallow reservoirs of good will. But what to do about it?

How about "repeal, replace, repair". This approach would allow for the continuation of Obamacare's most popular provision: the elimination of pre-existing condition disclaimers. Prime candidates for repeal include "one size fits all" in the individual marketplace, the infamous "Independent Payment Advisory Board," the adverse selection doomed exchanges, and (count 'em) 22 new or expanded taxes, especially the ill-advised "medical device tax." Replacement provisions would be focused on market orientated ways to expand coverage, including writing policies across state lines, portability, health savings accounts and protocols for state based tort reform measures. Most Republicans would support means testing of Medicare, too.

As it becomes more apparent that Obamacare's over-hyped promises were just so much baloney, the GOP must do more than watch this house of cards fall apart.

An urban New Deal

Long ago, the government decided to subsidize poverty — and got more of it. And not only more poverty — we got the dissolution of the nuclear family, high rates of addiction, gun violence run amok, and (more than a few) dysfunctional public school systems. More spending on a larger nanny state is not the answer.

Let's try freedom — hyper-freedom of the Hong Kong model — as in no tax job investment zones and radical school choice. Basically, Jack Kemp-style enterprise zones on steroids, and "all of the above" on school choice, targeted to our most decayed areas.

The establishment will explode. Urban political machines will fight to the last. Teachers unions will cry foul. And all to protect a crumbling power base that cheats the poor and powerless.

Freedom beckons — let's go for it. We can't do worse than the status quo.

An energy revolution

Not so long ago, our energy paradigm was so 20th century: wind mills vs. nuclear — "pick only one." Such false choices were brought to you by the church of environmental extremism, where even a hint of dissent about (man made) global warming was met with wholesale condemnation from the "mainstream" media.

As it turns out, man made modeling may not be 100 percent accurate. Worse yet, our next energy revolution will emanate from another fossil fuel, only this time the much cleaner (and domestically plentiful) natural gas.

All of which does not solve the ugly fight between the absolutist haters of all things carbon and the absolutist deniers of global warming. But new technology is leading us to cleaner energy independence. We just have to ensure government does its environmental due diligence, ensures our safety and then gets out of the way as the market does its thing.

Federalism can live ... again

The 10th Amendment lives, at least according to a spate of recent Supreme Court opinions.

Accordingly, many of our divisive cultural debates are most appropriately handled at the state level. These include abortion restrictions, gun control initiatives, expansions on the right to marry, capital punishment, criminal justice reform and election integrity.

Alas, easier said than done. The temptation to federalize is endemic toWashington, D.C. Violations bring few electoral consequences. Federalist principles can be revived, but only with the people's understanding that not every want and need is the federal government's business.

A fatherhood initiative

The evidence is in. The American family is sick. And widespread fatherlessness is the primary culprit.

We do not need yet another government program. Pro-dependence government programs caused this crisis. We need our political and cultural leadership to issue a clarion call for what used to be an obvious value: Children need fathers. Secondary message: Don't father the kid if you're not willing to pay the price.

An increasingly promiscuous society invited this cultural catastrophe. It has been especially devastating to the African-American community. Only an "all in" response can reverse it.

Free trade: now

The Obama Administration, free trade Democrats and the GOP agree: The president should have fast track authority to negotiate trade deals. But Majority Leader Harry Reid and organized labor stand in the way.

Two major deals are at issue: one with the European Union and the other with 11 countries within Asia and the Pacific Rim.

Free trade built this country. Success here means more jobs and lower prices for U.S. consumers. But what should be a no-brainer is made unlikely by the likes of protectionists like Senator Reid.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around" and "America: Hope for Change" — books about national politics. His email

 To respond to this commentary, send an email to Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad