There will be plenty of knock-down, drag-out fights between Republicans and Democrats on everything from implementing Obamacare to taxes and defense spending, but in some areas there could be genuine collaboration. Here are the top five opportunities:
1: K-12 education reform. It should be agreed that, after more years of falling test scores, what we are doing isn’t working.
From the perspective of federalism, conservatives should join Democrats in refashioning No Child Left Behind. Testing kids to death apparently isn’t teaching them much (although it does annoy parents and students). Some compromise should be available that allows for block-granting, greater state control, charter schools and school-choice experimentation.
In one of his better speeches in the campaign, Mitt Romney included this message on education reform: “I will give the parents of every low-income and special needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school. For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted. And I will make that choice meaningful by ensuring there are sufficient options to exercise it. To receive the full complement of federal education dollars, states must provide students with ample school choice. In addition, digital learning options must not be prohibited. And charter schools or similar education choices must be scaled up to meet student demand.”
If Democrats want to subsidize the hiring of more teachers, trade-offs can be made.
2: Privacy. All it takes to interest the right in cyberprivacy is the FBI snooping on military leaders. Conservatives, who have in the past been overly enamored of prosecutorial power, should be concerned (if only because the Democrats have the White House) about drone spying, for example. Before the technology genie is completely out of the bottle, civil libertarians of all stripes should start thinking about reasonable limits on federal power.
3: The medical device tax . Obamacare may be the law of the land, but few taxes are as counterproductive as its medical device tax. It is regressive (hitting rich and poor users of medical devices), anti-business and anti-innovation. Replacing the revenue for Obamacare will be dicey, but certainly lawmakers can come with something better than taxing wheelchairs and innovative insulin-testing equipment.
4: College tuition and school loan reform. We’ve devised a system in which students are encouraged to load up on debt, regardless of their likely future income; universities have little reason to curb costs or to deliver education in an efficient manner; and too few people work in skilled technical positions.
Rather than perpetuating this system by falsely insisting that everyone must go to a four-year college and taxpayers must subsidize uneconomical choices, lawmakers on both sides should rethink the student loan system, figure out ways to encourage alternative educational avenues (two-year colleges, technical certification programs, etc.) and hold universities that are subsidized by taxpayers to account in delivering a meaningful education at a reasonable cost.
5: Energy policy. The Wall Street Journal reports: “A shale-oil boom will thrust the U.S. ahead of Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by 2020, a radical shift that could profoundly transform not just the world’s energy supplies but also its geopolitics, the International Energy Agency said.”
Surely there is a bipartisan group of lawmakers to push a real all-of-the-above energy strategy. President Obama may be ideologically joined at the hip with radical environmentalists, but the promise of energy independence and new jobs may prove too alluring. Moreover, if presented with bipartisan legislation, it is impossible to imagine the president would veto it. On this, as on much else, congressional dealmakers may have to forge ahead.