January 19, 2001

January 19, 2001 | News Releases on Political Thought

Heritage Foundation Suggests Policy Priorities for President-Elect Bush

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2001-Before his election, President-elect George W. Bush promised to "focus the nation, the Congress and the presidency on big goals." A new Heritage Foundation book identifies which goals the president should focus on-and maps out precisely how he can accomplish them.

"This is a blueprint for action-an effective and practical agenda-that addresses the most important domestic and foreign policy issues confronting our nation today," said Heritage Vice President Stuart M. Butler, one of the editors of "Priorities for the President." Draft copies have already been delivered to key members of the Bush transition team.

"Priorities" is the latest volume in Heritage's 20-year-old "Mandate for Leadership" series. It suggests that the new president "focus intensely on a limited number of key policy areas, including health-care reform, Social Security and Medicare, tax policy, military readiness, free trade, welfare, missile defense, education, and relations with China and Russia," said Mandate director and Heritage Visiting Fellow Al Felzenberg.

The election results should be interpreted as "a public cry for bold action," Butler said, arguing that it was largely the "inaction" of the past eight years that cost Vice President Gore the race, despite the advantage normally enjoyed by the incumbent party in a strong economy. "Throughout the campaign, George W. Bush distinguished himself as the candidate willing to propose and discuss fundamental reforms of major programs," Butler said. "President Clinton won his first term by campaigning as an 'agent of change.' George W. Bush did the same, pressing for a major change in direction on many policy fronts."

The stakes are high for the new chief executive and the nation, Butler said. Social Security and Medicare are now eight years closer to financial insolvency. A missile-defense system has yet to be deployed, despite a growing threat from rogue states. The U.S. tax code is overly complex and blatantly unfair. Military readiness has declined. Student test scores continue to founder. And a "hyperactive but inconsistent foreign policy" has left America less admired and respected as a foreign leader, he said.

But to make progress in these areas, President-elect Bush must be prepared to fulfill his campaign vow to be "a uniter, not a divider," Butler said. "He must build a bipartisan consensus with conservative and moderate Democrats."

"Priorities for the President" is part of an ongoing series of policy guidebooks published by The Heritage Foundation every four years (with one exception) since 1980. It is part of Heritage's "Mandate for Leadership Project," which was named for the original policy blueprint that The Washington Post said served as the "bible" of the Reagan administration.

"Priorities" was preceded this year by "The Keys to a Successful Presidency," in which political scientists, presidential scholars, former administration officials and veteran political journalists said the most successful presidents focus first on a limited number of high-priority items that can "make or break" their presidencies. A final "Mandate 2000" volume, on how to deal with the federal budget, is about to be released.

In keeping with this theme, the new Heritage book urges President-elect Bush to focus on the following:

Social Security: This is no time for bailouts, the book stresses. Without comprehensive reform, future generations will be strapped with deficits running into the trillions of dollars. "We've got two problems with Social Security," Butler said. "It's going to start running out of money in about 15 years, and it's simply a bad deal, in its current form, for American workers."

The Bush administration needs to put the program on a secure financial footing and improve its "rate of return" for young workers, he added. That means guaranteeing no benefit cuts for current or near-term retirees, while offering young workers the option of investing at least part of their payroll taxes in personal accounts that can easily beat the paltry 1 percent to 2 percent rate of return younger workers can expect from Social Security.

Medicare: President-elect Bush has "an unprecedented opportunity" to reform the $220 billion program, Butler said. This is due largely to three critical factors: rising dissatisfaction with the current, regulation-bound system; increasing political will to address the system's untenable financial situation; and a growing consensus about the best way to reform the program.

The book urges the new president and Congress to build on the work done last year by the Bipartisan Commission on Medicare Reform (which was co-chaired by Sen. John Breaux, D-La.). Under such a plan, Medicare would be transformed into a system based on patient choice and market competition, similar to the popular Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The FEHBP is the 40-year-old health plan that covers members of Congress and 9 million federal employees, retirees and their dependents.

Missile Defense: Today the United States cannot stop even one incoming ballistic missile. With Iran, Iraq, North Korea and other countries working hard to acquire long-range missiles, deploying a national missile defense is "an urgent necessity," said Dan Fisk, deputy director of Heritage's Davis Institute for International Studies. What's needed is a layered missile defense, with sea-, space- and land-based components.

Fisk said the president's first step should be to reaffirm America's commitment to building a missile defense "as soon as is technologically possible," as mandated by the National Missile Defense Act of 1999.

Military Readiness: Optimistic pronouncements aside, the U.S. military now faces serious readiness problems, said Fisk. The pace of military deployments has increased, even as the number of enlisted personnel has shrunk.

The book calls on President-elect Bush to propose a five-year, $100 billion increase in the Defense Department's procurement budget. Key investments would include a significantly beefed-up U.S. Navy-because future combat scenarios almost universally require heavy naval commitments-and pay hikes to make military careers more competitive with the private sector.

Free Trade: The key to continuing growth in global prosperity is to promote further expansion of economic freedom and free trade, said Fisk. "The new president must secure 'fast-track' authority from Congress to negotiate up-or-down trade deals with foreign leaders," he said. "He should also reaffirm U.S. support for the World Trade Organization and work to create a Free Trade Association of countries with open markets."

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