The Reagan Democrats. Margaret Thatcher's Essex Man. John Howards' battlers. The squeezed middle class, hardworking families striving for opportunities to improve life for themselves and their children. Decent and responsible Americans who like the local government that provides them with services, like good roads, and detest China's cheating and crony socialism. But also people who worry about the debt, unemployment, red tape, higher taxes, and the cost-of-living. Those are the voters our party needs to win in November. They are the strivers.
America's working families have suffered under President Obama. Many have seen their incomes and home values plunge, even as jobs become more difficult to find and the cost-of-living rises. These people want honest solutions that help ordinary folks. They don't care about economic theory, they want a fair chance to work, an opportunity to be free.
1) Put Money Back in Taxpayers' Pockets: John McCain proposed this in 2008. Some Conservatives may dislike this because many lower-income families have already been taken out of the tax system. However, there are many taxpayers who remain entrapped, and increasing the personal exemption would allow them to keep more of the money that they earn tax-free. This should be coupled with reforms in the Earned Income and Child Credits to simplify the personal tax code, help families, and encourage work (See President Bush's Tax Reform Panel).
Grade for the GOP: 5/10
2) Encourage Middle-Class Workers to Save and Invest: Mitt Romney has a common-sense proposal that should really be more visible. Exempting taxpayers earning below $200,000 from Capital Gains Tax is a good idea. It encourages middle-class strivers to save for their future and take part in the process of wealth creation, while giving a big boost for small business. It's the best way to give such families a chance to create a better life. Another way in which this can be achieved is by allowing people to invest a portion of their own payroll taxes in personal accounts. This may be a politically-dangerous idea, but could also prove to be revolutionary.
Grade for the GOP: 5/10
3) Affordable and Sustainable Energy: Build the Keystone Pipeline, expand fuel exploration, invest in basic research, and slash through red tape, including the offshore drilling ban. Make sure American drivers are shielded from high gas prices by creating an automatic gas tax holidays when prices spike, which would expire when prices stabilised. This could be modelled after Britain's Fair Fuel Stabiliser. And hold the line against a national energy tax.
Grade for the GOP: 8/10
4) Reform the Welfare System: We should take off where the 1996 bipartisan reforms left. While the reforms worked for a while in tackling the culture of dependency, it left many other programs untouched. Now is the time to make welfare truly work. Harsher penalties and stricter checks for fraud. Making sure people who can work, do work, possibly based, again, on Britain's Work Programme or John Howard's "Work for the Dole" scheme in Australia, which was maintained by a Labour Government. Capping welfare benefits for each person to ensure people are better off in work. A drastic simplification of the benefits and tax credits structure. And reforming training and re-employment programs so everyone is equipped for work. Welfare reform is one of the smartest ways, both politically and fiscally, to wean people off dependency on big government. Another part of this could be means-testing social security. All these could be used to pay for additional tax relief for working families. (Iain Duncan Smith in Britain has passed ambitious reforms which should be studied by conservative policymakers in a Romney administration.
Grade for the GOP: 2/10
5) A Choice for Every Parent Means a Chance for Every Child: Governor Romney has covered this area in detail- tying federal funds to students to promote parental choice in education, ensuring schools are honest and accountable to parents, and ending the government monopoly of higher education funding, among other sensible measures. The only problem now is how they will be implemented, which remains to be seen, and whether bolder reforms to refocus the federal role in education are needed.
Grade for the GOP: 7//10
Of course, there remain a variety of other policies- the death tax, income tax, payroll tax, regulatory reform, immigration reform, entitlement reform, Obamacare etc. for the GOP to address. But these are just areas where I think the GOP should focus on.