In the middle of Ronald Reagan's seventh year as president of the United States, the administration's policy seems to be without form and void of the bright, bold colors that characterized the early years. But the powers of an incumbent president are awesome. If President Reagan decides to let there be light in the policy darkness that now is upon the face of his administration, there will be light.
To revive the policy thrust and drive of the administration, we need a week of new policy initiatives. Here is one possible package.
Build a Limited Missile Defense. In the morning of the first day, Reagan should announce that as long as the ABM Treaty is in force and continues to be in the interest of the United States, we should fully live up to its terms. Article III of the ABM Treaty provides that both the Soviet Union and the United States may have "one ABM system deployment area . . . and no more than one hundred ABM interceptor missiles."
The Soviet Union has already built and deployed its ABM system, and it now stands poised, ready to fire, providing a limited defense for many of the Soviet Union's intercontinental ballistic missiles sites, their industrial capacity, their leadership command bunkers and their population.
President Reagan should issue an order to begin the immediate construction and deployment of 100 Lockheed ERIS interceptor missiles. The technology is in hand, the cost is modest. If we worked on a crash basis -- including nights and weekends -- a powerful, effective limited missile defense that would protect the entire continental United States against a small number of nuclear missiles, whether launched by accident or by a rogue Soviet missile officer, could be in place, ready to fire, before the president leaves office.
Call for a Constitutional Convention. In the morning of the second day, Reagan should urge the states to call a constitutional convention for the sole purpose of drafting a brief amendment that would make it mandatory to balance the federal budget. We can't and shouldn't eliminate that huge deficit in one year, but we can and should phase it out steadily and surely over a five-year period. As painful as it will be to take the necessary steps to balance the budget, it will be far more painful for the United States to allow these unconscionable deficits to roll on unchecked.
Gramm-Rudman-Hollings was a brilliant, courageous piece of legislation, but it was fatally flawed. It is just another law, and Congress is already bowing to the pressure of special economic interest groups to change and circumvent that law. The one practical way left to stop this irresponsible spending is by constitutional amendment. And that will not happen until and unless Reagan goes over the heads of Congress and most of his economic advisers and takes the case for a balanced-budget amendment directly to the people.
Issue Gold-Backed Treasury Bonds. In the morning of the third day, Reagan should direct the secretary of the Treasury to issue $1 billion worth of gold bonds, whose interest and principal would be payable in ounces of pure gold. Gold bonds would carry substantially lower interest rates, thus reducing the federal deficit a tiny bit. But most important, the issuance of U.S. Treasury gold bonds would send a powerful message to the entire world. The transformation of even a small part of our monetary system into gold-backed securities would announce that the United States was very serious about maintaining a sound currency.
Repeal Draft Registration. In the morning of the fourth day, Reagan should issue an executive order that would repeal draft registration. The draft is an nfringement of basic American liberties. The experience of the all-volunteer force during the past decade has proved that a volunteer force is superior militarily to a drafted one. Having draft registration lulls us into a false security. Young, inexperienced draftees with little training will be of little use in a real national security emergency.
Instead we should continue to build up the combat readiness of both our active forces and especially our reserve forces. The elimination of draft registration would allow us to focus more sharply on real weapons and fully trained soldiers rather than waste time with computer printouts of potential teen-age draftees. It would also redeem one of Reagan's 1980 campaign pledges to the American people.
Transfer Welfare Back to the States. In the morning of the fifth day, Reagan should submit legislation to Congress that would transfer all welfare programs back to the states and localities, along with the federal tax sources necessary to pay for them. We don't need years of experimentation with minor new welfare reforms at the state and local level. We do need to invigorate the idea of federalism with meaningful action. The real beneficiaries of such a move would be those who cannot take care of themselves and who rely on welfare. A welfare system run by people close to the beneficiaries would be more compassionate and generous and would have less fraud and abuse. In the long run, it would result in more benefits for those who need help and in less cost to the taxpayers.
Decriminalize the Carrying of Mail. In the morning of the sixth day, Reagan should submit legislation that would repeal the Private Express Statutes. For over 100 years it has been illegal for U.S. citizens to deliver first-class mail for a fee. This is a small violation of liberty, but it is an anachronism whose time has come to go. It is time we legalized the carrying of first-class mail and abolished the federal government's monopoly.
On the seventh day, Reagan should rest.
The writer, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, was assistant to President Reagan for policy development in 1981-82.