There have been three great Republican victories in my lifetime. In 1980, a campaign centered on strengthening defense, cutting taxes and renewing faith in American civic culture produced a landslide for Ronald Reagan. In 1994, the Contract with America with its ideas of reforming welfare and balancing the budget produced a 53-seat gain in the House that gave Republicans control for the first time in 40 years. The outcome of the midterm elections this year brought the third great triumph. But the work is far from done: Follow-through on five major issues now will determine whether the recent election gains translate into a real mandate for the GOP in 2004.
- National security is a much larger problem than most people realize. We are in a war with reactionary Islam. The minimum price for our continued dominant leadership role in the world is allocating 5% of gross domestic product for defense, intelligence and the Foreign Service. Foreign aid and homeland security add another 1%. In the near term, we must invest in the creation of a British-style MI5 antiterrorist agency separate from the FBI as well as a new approach to border security and an overhaul of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
- Economic growth is central to maintaining defense and foreign policy. But getting the wheels turning faster again needs decisive moves that Congress has dithered over for too long. We need policies that allow American jobs to modernize and compete with jobs in the world market. We need further tax cuts--including the permanent abolition of the death tax, a cut in the capital gains tax, ending the double taxation of dividends, and the ability to expense capital investments in one year. And we need a new guest-worker program, which helps control the border by legalizing the flow of honest people who want to work, play by the rules and pay taxes.
- Health care will require the boldest leadership and will likely face the heaviest demagoguery from the Democrats. The current system tolerates two million hospital-induced illnesses and an estimated 44,000 to 98,000 deaths in hospitals from medical error each year. Increases in health-care costs have caused more people to seek government solutions. But now is a time to think clearly: A modernized health system using information technology could improve quality while actually lowering cost. But reforming health will work only if doctors are able to allow others to learn from their mistakes without exposing themselves to unreasonable lawsuits. Which brings me to my next wish.
- Litigation reform is essential to both long-term economic growth and quality-focused health reform. The current model of predatory trial lawyers using their wealth to launch even more financially rewarding lawsuits is a downward spiral that sickens the entire culture. In the area of health litigation, reformers are working hard for transparency and cooperation in the systems, The burden will be on the trial lawyers to argue that it is better that someone dies so the family can sue than it is for doctors and hospitals to share information that could save a life.
- Scientific environmentalism offers a great opportunity for a healthier environment through technology and entrepreneurship. Republicans now have an opportunity to act for the environment through an alternative to the dominant regulation-litigation, bureaucratic model. Sound science, increased research budgets, and better technologies will produce better environmental policy. If hydrogen fuel cells were to receive the same subsidy as ethanol, the transition to hydrogen in automobiles would move forward by at least five to eight years.
By building on the policy achievements starting with Mr. Reagan, and by avoiding the public-relations errors that bedeviled my Contract, Republicans have the opportunity to meet, and a leader capable of meeting, these great challenges. If met, they will solidify a Republican governing majority for a generation.
Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.