My initial reaction to Room to Grow was negative. Let me try to offer a more balanced assessment.
A. One could argue that the purpose of the project is to shift the conservative conversation away from spending cuts, tax cuts, and a balanced budget. The idea is to focus on policies that will improve the way government deals with ordinary Americans in terms of health care, education, and work. My comments on that are:
1. I commend the conservative reform movement for trying to come up with policies that help ordinary people. I think that is the right thing to do.
2. Having said that, I think that the less populist parts of the conservative agenda, such as reducing taxes on capital and putting entitlements on a sustainable path, are also the right thing to do. Maybe it is prudent for conservatives to set those goals aside for a few years, but it would be wrong to abandon them altogether.
3. I think that one can argue that many progressives approaches for helping ordinary people have been at best ineffective and at worst harmful, with the latter a frequent result.
4. I think that there is zero chance that progressives will admit that conservatives have better approaches for helping ordinary people. I think that there is zero chance that the progressive media will credit conservatives with caring about ordinary people.
B. The glossy paper and colorful layout of RtG led me to expect a finished product. It is anything but that. I think it would have been better presented as a conversation starter than as a program. My specific complaints are those that I have outlined in earlier posts.
1. The chapters are not coordinated, and so the ideas do not fit together. In some cases, they are clearly incompatible with one another. For me, the lack of coherence makes it misleading for RtG to call itself an agenda.
2. Sometimes, problems are identified, such as the power of incumbents in health care and education to block innovation, without proposing bold solutions.
3. At least four chapters propose new tax credits.* I think we should be taking support for “merit goods” (aka social engineering) out of the tax code, not putting more of it in. While I support the thrust of reducing the tax burden on ordinary working Americans, I think that cutting payroll taxes would be a better approach than loading more tax credits into the system.
*Maybe more. I just remembered that the chapter on employment policies proposes a business tax credit for hiring workers who have been unemployed for a long time.
4. I worry that RtG lends itself to legislative gesturing. A member of the House or Senate can introduce one of these proposals in isolation, issue a press release, and say “Look at me. I’m offering a solution for X.” In fact, the sort of coherent approach to policy that I think is needed can probably only come from the executive branch.
5. I am increasingly convinced that all of our means-tested programs need to be consolidated along the lines I have suggested. At the very least, somebody needs to think about the interaction among them.
6. RtG did call my attention to two issues that I had not considered before: child-care subsidies; and potential marriage penalties embedded in means-tested programs. I will think about those issues and revise my ideas if necessary.