Americans choose leaders to make decisions for us. But sometimes, the way to lead is by following. For conservatives to regain power in 2010, they need to do what voters want. As Ronald Reagan said, "Trust the people."
Begin with spending.
According to Consumer Reports magazine, two-thirds of Americans planned to reduce their spending on holiday gifts in 2009. After all, unemployment was up and employee pay wasn't. If only our federal government would follow suit.
Instead, President Barack Obama declared in December his administration would keep trying to "spend our way out of this recession." Mr. Obama wants to throw more federal funding at infrastructure and give new tax breaks to certain homeowners: "cash for caulkers."
But the administration has already spent more than most Americans can even imagine. Mr. Obama's budgets would create as much government debt as every other president from George Washington to George W. Bush. Combined.
Mr. Obama plans to spend a trillion here and a trillion there, and that adds up fast. One trillion is so large it would take several lifetimes to even count it. And it will take several lifetimes for our children and grandchildren to pay off the debt our government has already rung up. Conservatives should slash spending instead.
We should also promise real health care reform. By early December, polls showed little support for the reform bill being raced through the Senate. A CNN poll in December showed that a mere 36 percent of Americans supported the Senate's legislation, while 61 percent opposed it.
The New Year will bring a "reconciliation meeting" between members of the House and Senate. But it is the American people they need to be reconciled with. The messy legislation they've passed won't provide what Americans want.
Instead, conservatives should vow to kill both of these unpopular measures and start over with real reform, one that uses free market principles to expand and improve insurance coverage.
Conservatives should also take a strong stand against pork barrel spending. Remember when the health care bill was supposed to "bend the cost curve?" That promise disappeared. Health reform became a big spending bill that allowed lawmakers to direct expensive favors to their states.
And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid actually praised the pork! "I don't know if there is a senator that doesn't have something in this bill that was important to them," he said. "And if they don't have something in it important to them, then it doesn't speak well of them." Actually, it doesn't speak well of our elected officials when they're buying votes with our tax money. Pork barrel spending is a gateway drug to an ever-growing federal government, and conservatives must promise to end this practice.
Speaking of promises, Mr. Obama vowed to run the most transparent administration in history, but delivered business as usual. It seemed only fitting when a December workshop on federal government openness was closed to the public. Conservatives should demand - and deliver - real government transparency.
Conservatives should also vow to reinstate the security measures that kept us safe during the early years of the War on Terror. The Obama administration wants to close Guantanamo Bay and give Khalid Shaikh Mohammed a trial in a New York civil court. These steps wouldn't protect Americans. As the attempted Detroit plane bombing shows, our enemies remain serious about killing us. Conservatives must make it clear we're serious about stopping them.
Finally, nobody likes a tax increase, so conservatives should work to make the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent. Many of those cuts are set to expire at the end of this year. Unless they're renewed, the 10 percent tax bracket would disappear, replaced by a 15 percent rate. Couples would see the marriage penalty return, and taxpayers with children would lose 50 percent of their child tax credits.
It's seldom a good idea to raise taxes. But jacking them up as the country is struggling to recover from recession could push us back to the brink of economic disaster.
As this election year kicks off, conservatives have a chance to lead by listening to the American people. They should draft a new "Contract with America" that promises to do what Americans want their leaders to do: Reduce spending, fix health care, keep us safe and hold the line on taxes.
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D., is President of The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in The Washington Times