In his column today, David Brooks laid out the policy platform for his imagined nominee from the Hamiltonian/National Greatness Party. I’m going to quote the whole thing:
This reinvigoration package would have four baskets. There would be an entitlement reform package designed to redistribute money from health care and the elderly toward innovation and the young. Unless we get health care inflation under control by replacing the perverse fee-for-service incentive structure, there will be no money for anything else.
There would be a targeted working-class basket: early childhood education, technical education, community colleges, an infrastructure bank, asset distribution to help people start businesses, a new wave industrial policy if need be — anything that might give the working class a leg up.
There would be a political corruption basket. The Tea Parties are right about the unholy alliance between business and government that is polluting the country. It’s time to drain the swamp by simplifying the tax code and streamlining the regulations businesses use to squash their smaller competitors.
There would also be a pro-business basket: lower corporate rates, a sane visa policy for skilled immigrants, a sane patent and permitting system, more money for research.
We need this, Brooks says, because the Republican agenda is “stupefyingly boring, fiscally irresponsible and politically impossible” while the Democrats “offer practically nothing.” But read closely, isn’t this just the Obama agenda?
The Affordable Care Act cut spending on Medicare and raised taxes on wealthy Medicare beneficiaries in order to redistribute that money toward the young and the sick. It put growth constraints on Medicare’s future spending and on the tax break for employer-provided health care to free money up for other uses. It attempted basically everything anyone could think of to figure out how to define, track and pay for quality.
It looks to me like every single items in Brooks’s “targeted working-class basket” is also on Obama’s agenda. Early childhood education? It got a Race to the Top program — a program, incidentally, that Brooks admires — in the president’s 2012 budget. Same for technical education/community colleges. As for the infrastructure bank, Obama proposed it last year. Meanwhile, Obama’s State of the Union emphasized the exact sort of tax reform and R&D investment Brooks proposes, and he’s long supported high-skills immigration reform.
Now, I would argue that a lot of these proposals are underpowered. I’d like to see universal early-childhood education, for instance. Brooks is perhaps making that argument when he says the two parties’ “programs are unusually unimaginative” and “their policies are unusually incommensurate to the problem at hand” — though it’s hard to believe the Obama administration wouldn’t like to go bigger on most of these ideas. But then Brooks goes further and says that Democrats “acknowledge huge problems like wage stagnation and then offer ... light rail! Solar panels!” Come now. He knows better. There are plenty of politicians in America who propose Brooks’s favored ideas. The problem is passing them.
Perhaps my favorite moment of last night’s debate was when Newt Gingrich fielded a question on health-care reform and warned that electing a president wouldn’t be enough. Republicans would also need Senate and House majorities to make change. It was a bucket of cold water tossed on the CNN promise-fest, and the other candidates promptly ignored it. But it was true for them and it’s true here. Our problem isn’t that our leaders don’t want to govern ambitiously. It’s that, in most cases, they can’t.