The Left is acting as if its political dominance -- super majorities in both houses of Congress and, of course, the Presidency -- eliminates the need for thoughtful debate. Over the past eight months, politicians in Washington have pushed an ambitious agenda highlighted by several trillion dollar proposals (Stimulus, health care and climate), all of which deserved substantive debate and cautious consideration.
Unfortunately, all these proposals were rushed, diminishing debate even as dissenters were summarily dismissed. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused boisterous dissenters of being "un-American," while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) characterized efforts to engage in a substantive debate as "obstructionist tactics." Similarly, President Obama often notes that "doing nothing" is not an option. Critics and opponents of liberal reform are now in the crosshairs.
All this rhetoric obscures one simple fact: Americans are genuinely concerned with the direction of our country. Recent events at town hall meetings across the country are evidence the American people want to engage in a genuine debate about our country's future. Unfortunately, the Left would rather ignore or demagogue the existence of alternative points of view. And while you wouldn't know it from the media coverage, there are plenty of alternatives.
Let's take a look.
During the "Stimulus" debate, President Obama said "the strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate." B, he added, Congress needed to "pass this plan" "without delay." Such a formulation, while eloquent, was intended to dismiss the very thoughtful options proposed by others. Republicans in the House and Senate offered a comprehensive alternative. Senator Jim DeMint's (R-S.C.) American Option emphasized international competitiveness and aimed to reward entrepreneurship. Senator John Ensign's (R-Nev.) Fix Housing First Act, while flawed, was another good-faith alternative. There were plenty of good ideas to stimulate the economy. What was lacking was our political leaders' willingness to engage in real debate.
Health Care Reform
Senator Reid's fond of saying that those who oppose liberal health care reform support the "status quo." Yet a quick glance at The Patients' Choice Act of 2009 demonstrates that no one has a monopoly on reform.
The legislation, introduced by Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) along with Representatives Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), is equally as ambitious in its attempts to transform America's health care system, though it does so through very different mechanisms. The aforementioned Senators repeatedly offered to discuss their proposal with Senator Reid. According to well-placed sources, the invitation has gone unacknowledged.
Senator DeMint also has his Health Care Freedom Plan, which is far from the status quo. Again, ideas are abundant and, in this case, actually preceded the hodgepodge of liberal ideas being discussed.
In case you haven't noticed, the President and many of his allies have abandoned their climate-change rhetoric, instead opting for code words like "clean energy incentives," "all of the above" and "jobs." The new verbiage is based on poll-tested language that was necessitated when the public rejected a cap-and-trade scheme. If liberals want to talk about energy production and jobs, conservatives have ideas and actual legislative proposals that would really work.
The American Energy Act, introduced by House Republicans, and the energy-focused No Cost Stimulus Act introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-La.) and Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) are just two examples. This isn't the debate the House of Representatives had this year, but it's the debate the American people deserve.
Small Ticket Alternatives
The existence of alternatives is readily apparent to any intellectually honest observer. And alternatives were offered on other contentious laws enacted this year. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offered a conservative alternative to the State Children's Health Insurance Program expansion. Senator Burr offered an alternative, along with Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), on tobacco regulation reform. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) offered a thoughtful and workable alternative to the wage discrimination legislation. This is hardly a "just say no" philosophy.
New, Innovative Ideas
Conservatives have also offered some innovative ideas of their own. Representative Joe Pitts (R-Penn.) introduced legislation that would bring a new approach to nuclear power, jettisoning subsidies in favor of regulatory certainty. Representative Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and Senator Vitter introduced the RAISE Act, which would remove the "seniority ceiling" on wages paid to unionized workers. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced the Government Ownership Exit Plan Act to set a date certain for ending government ownership of banks, auto companies and various other private entities.
It is disingenuous to say conservatives are without ideas. If the media, Congress and the President are interested in real reform, real dialogue and a real American-style debate, they should recognize that they don't hold a monopoly on ideas, community organizing or the passion of the American people.
Dan Holler is deputy director of U.S. Senate Relations at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in Human Events