We need solution-oriented conservatism

Conservatives have a rare moment of opportunity right now. Liberalism has discredited itself through overreach and incompetence. Most Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction under liberal rule. Gallup shows 78 percent of the public dissatisfied with the state of the country. Trust in government is at a staggeringly low 19 percent according to the Pew Research Center.

Health care was supposed to be the issue that made Americans return to the big-government fold. Instead, Obamacare has had exactly the opposite effect, confirming people’s suspicions about the ability of government activism to improve their lives.

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To seal the deal against liberalism requires one more thing: that people come to see not only that its policies make things worse, but that there are ways to address our practical problems by limiting government and freeing markets. Americans need to see, that is, that conservatism’s sound principles lead to real solutions.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what conservative policymakers are demonstrating. In the states, conservative governors like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal are balancing budgets without tax increases—and sometimes cutting taxes.

In Washington, D.C., too, solution-oriented conservatives are breaking through the stale debate between “the establishment” and “the tea partiers.” They’re not trying to make deals for their own sake, and they’re not just trying to advertise their philosophical purity either. They are identifying the public’s concerns and showing how policies based on conservative insights can address them.  In short, they’re demonstrating how to govern conservatively.

Conservatives in Congress have long offered solutions to the problems of high energy costs and weak job growth. They have tried to let energy exploration and development, including the vital Keystone XL pipeline, go forward—and our YG Network polling suggests the public is with them. Now some in Congress are seeking to broaden and deepen that popular conservative agenda.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is pushing for tax relief for middle-class families. Most Americans know that raising children is the most important investment in the future that they make. The tax code does not recognize that truth. Lee’s idea is not only solid policy, our polling demonstrates that the proposal enjoys a broad base of support, including from groups with whom conservatives have often had difficulty connecting.

Americans are increasingly concerned about the skyrocketing cost of education, with our poll finding 87 percent of respondents think college education and debt are too high and need to be reduced. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is leading the effort to bring competitive pressure to this market.  His Student Right to Know Before You Go Act would let applicants and their parents know how well graduates of different schools, and with different majors, fare in the job market.  This information will give students and their parents a better idea of what kind of return they can expect on their investment in a college education, and a better idea of what that education should cost them in the end.

Students and parents today have to navigate a maze of different and often temporary tax provisions that are supposed to help them finance higher education. That would change under reforms that Rubio and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) are championing. They want to consolidate those tax provisions into a single, permanent, and simple tax incentive.

Health care is where the conservative opportunity is most obvious. Gallup shows that the more familiar people are with Obamacare, the less they like it—and we are all getting more familiar with it every week.

More and more conservatives are stepping forward with solutions to the problems that have long plagued our health-care system. The Republican Study Committee has gotten behind a bill by Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Dr. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) has another bill.

Their approaches differ in detail, but both would protect people with pre-existing conditions, make it easier for people to buy health insurance for themselves and their families, and restrain costs by empowering consumers and forcing providers to compete for their business.  Many other ideas to increase access to insurance and promote fairness in the health care market are percolating in the conservative policy community, all of them moving in the opposite direction from Obamacare, rejecting its tax increases, its bureaucracy, and its centralization of medical practice.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has been encouraging new conservative ideas. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year, Cantor argued for “Making Life Work” as a central conservative theme.  His point was that conservative reforms could make a concrete, positive difference in Americans’ lives.  In another recent speech, Cantor returned to this message: “We have a built in advantage. Our conservative solutions actually work to address the problems people face every day.” The challenge for conservative lawmakers is to devise and promote those solutions—and it’s a challenge that an increasing number of them are taking up.

Ponnuru is the policy director for YG Network, a non-profit 501(c)(4) dedicated to supporting conservative center-right policies and the efforts of policymakers who fight for those policies.