After months of "change," Americans have had enough. An Aug. 8 Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows only 30 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction. Two-thirds (65 percent) think America is on the wrong track.
The same overwhelming majority tell Rasmussen they want smaller government - one that does less, costs less and operates far more efficiently.
Progressives scoff, asserting that Americans want Big Government - they just don't want to pay for it. Besides, they argue, there are no other options: Conservatives have no ideas on how to address our problems.
They're mistaken. The proof is found in "Solutions for America," a comprehensive 54-page guide from The Heritage Foundation that presents more than 120 conservative policy prescriptions to get our nation back on the right track. Some of the recommendations are groundbreaking. Others are familiar. All have one thing in common: They would return power to the people. And, collectively, they will transform America.
For example, "Solutions for America" calls for ending the era of open-ended entitlements. Spending on the Big Three entitlement programs - Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - is on auto-pilot, consuming an ever-increasing share of GDP without even a vote in Congress. Lawmakers need to bring these programs into the budgetary process, establishing firm, five-year budgets and making sure that those needing help the most get it.
We should raise the Social Security retirement age, and encourage people to work longer by eliminating payroll taxes for those over retirement age. We should let needy families choose how to spend their share of Medicaid dollars, allowing them to purchase higher quality private insurance. And when entitlement spending exceeds congressionally approved levels, automatic triggers should keep costs in line.
We must cap welfare spending, which now, across all levels of government, approaches $1 trillion. Congress should consider all 71 means-tested welfare programs as a whole, eliminating duplicative programs and capping annual increases in welfare spending at the rate of inflation.
Moreover, lawmakers should break the culture of dependency by making sure that able-bodied welfare recipients give something in return for their benefits. In some areas, this will mean strengthening work requirements. In others, it may involve treating some benefits as loans to be repaid.
Spending overall also needs to be restrained. "Solutions" recommends a mechanism to force Congress to live within a reasonable budget: a binding cap that limits future year-to-year growth in federal spending to inflation plus population growth. The general goal should be to lower spending to the historic norm of no more than 20 percent of GDP.
Other common-sense policy proposals in "Solutions" include:
n Aligning the top tax rate on corporate earnings with those of our 30 largest trading partners, so we can better compete for business globally.
n Letting states opt out of inflexible, D.C.-based programs, so they can resume their traditional leadership roles and freely pursue innovative approaches in areas such as education and transportation.
n Ending corporate welfare and earmarks.
n Returning to a foreign policy of "peace through strength" to deal with the growing threat of nuclear proliferation and well as the dangers posed by global terrorism and hostile conventional forces.
At a recent fundraiser, President Obama asserted: "The other side isn't offering anything new." As if centralized government based on the principles of control, spending, debt and redistribution of wealth is new. It isn't. It's been tried worldwide and has consistently failed.
Yet the calls for lavish spending continue - the only answer we get from the current leadership. Conservative answers start from a very different place. The counterpoint to thoughtless and expensive government programs is not new thoughtless and expensive government programs. The counterpoint is real reform.
The principles that our nation was founded upon aren't ideas to be discarded. They're exceptional goals to be rediscovered. Real government reform is itself an untested idea. That's what conservatives offer. It's an idea whose time has come.
Edwin J. Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Press of Atlantic City