Conventional wisdom says voters don't pay much attention to campaigns until after Labor Day. But crafty politicians take no chances. They like to hammer home their talking points early and often.
Take President Barack Obama. On Aug. 18, he took to the stump to criticize those on his political right. "They're not offering new plans," he told Democratic donors in Florida. "They're not offering new ideas.They're offering cynicism, and they're offering fear. They're offering distractions and wedge issues."
Not quite. In fact, all the ideas these days are conservative. And we've got plenty.
That's why we at The Heritage Foundation recently published "Solutions for America." It identifies the nature and scope of our most pressing problems in 23 policy areas, and recommends 128 specific policy prescriptions.
The most important step is to get spending under control.
In 2000, Washington spent approximately $20,000 per household. Today it spends $31,000, and that amount is slated to increase in the years ahead. President Obama has presided over a massive run-up in federal spending, including some $800 billion in "stimulus," the GM-Chrysler bailouts, Cash-for-Clunkers and the ongoing support of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
We need a firm cap on overall federal spending, and should limit future year-to-year growth to inflation plus population growth.
But that won't be enough. Lawmakers must also take responsibility for the "big three" entitlement programs.
As it stands, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are on autopilot. These programs cost more and more each year. Lawmakers should establish a five-year budget and include protective mechanisms, such as triggers, that would automatically keep spending within congressionally approved limits. Lawmakers could also reduce benefit promises for younger workers and implement means-testing so wealthier retirees get smaller monthly checks.
There are plenty of places to reduce discretionary spending, too.
The federal government now spends almost $1 trillion each year on welfare. Often, Washington bankrolls several agencies to do the same thing. Lawmakers should review all 71 means-tested welfare programs and cap annual year-to-year welfare spending growth.
Doing this would force Congress to consider new approaches that could actually help lift people out of poverty and reduce the need for welfare programs. For example, Congress should require able-bodied adults to do something productive in return for receiving benefits. And a portion of some benefits should be treated as loans, to be repaid when recipients get back on their feet.
Meanwhile, the federal government needs to take a sober look at its own payroll.
In the real world, workers are paid based on their abilities and competition helps hold salaries down. It's a delicate balance maintained by the free market. When it comes to the government, though, there's no such competition.
Most federal employees earn raises based simply on time served rather than results achieved. In positions common to both public and private sectors, federal workers receive benefits about a third higher than those of their private-sector counterparts.
Simply by bringing federal compensation in line with market rates, Congress would save taxpayers approximately $47 billion a year.
Finally, lawmakers should avoid tax increases. To raise taxes during a recession is a recipe for crippling economic growth and job creation. Lawmakers will need to act before year's end to lock in tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003. Restraining the tax burden to its current level is the least Congress should do.
The federal government has grown exponentially, not just in spending but in its reach. Government now intrudes into virtually every aspect of our daily lives, from the type of toilet we can purchase, to the mix of fuel we can put in our cars, to the kind of light bulb we can use.
The United States needs ideas, and it needs solutions. Conservatives have provided both. It's up to voters to make certain our leaders listen.
Dr. Feulner is the president of The Heritage Foundation.
First moved on The McClatchy News Wire service