Earlier this month, President Obama renewed his push for free community college for two years. It is the latest installment of his vision — and that of the Democratic Party — to turn the federal government into the provider of first resort to the American people. Obama's mission, and that of his fellow travellers, is to subsume the family, local government and the states with a federal government that knows better than the people what is best for their future. Congressional Republicans should respond with a vision of their own: Defunding and eliminating the Department of Education.
Despite this historical reality, a Democratic House, Democratic Senate and President Carter created the Department of Education in 1979. It was opposed by President Reagan, who could not eliminate it because Democrats controlled the House throughout his presidency. Sadly, Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker, Republican and Senate majority leader during Reagan's first term, supported the department.
Years later, President George W. Bush would further strengthen the department by working with Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. John BoehnerJohn Boehner3 ways the next president can succeed on immigration reform Republican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE (R-Ohio), who was chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee at the time and is now Speaker, to make No Child Left Behind the law of the land. This misguided effort greatly increased funding for the Department of Education and imposed more regulations on the states. Republicans had devolved to ratifying federal involvement in education.
Once Republicans adopted the Democratic agenda for federal education, the road to Obama's announcement of a $60 billion plan to provide two free years of community college in January was a short one. His expensive and dubious plan is a nonstarter for the moment in Congress. But congressional Republicans have shown a tendency over the years to take big government ideas, "reform" them and pass them.
The idea is to triangulate socialism to win over the marginal voter. Reform the distribution method by which Uncle Sam doles out goodies, but don't end it.
Obama's ambitious plan to do to higher education what he did to healthcare can be stopped by congressional Republicans. The president has set up a College Promise Advisory Board "to spread the existing, different free two-year college models and recruit others interested in pushing the free tuition message nationally." Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Biden, will lead it. The board will crank out propaganda to make the left's dream of two free years of community college a reality.
Republicans should counter with the creation of an ad hoc board of their own to educate the public about how the federal government has overstepped its bounds by involving itself in education, the harm this has caused school districts and the resulting dimming of educational quality. This board should explain how federal involvement in higher education has distorted the value of a college diploma and syphons off taxpayer dollars for research at universities.
That a diploma has value and university research can provide value to society is not in doubt, but the federal government should not play a role in facilitating them. The states and the private sector are meant to carry out the work of education and research. Misdirecting the people's money to have the federal government do what the Constitution reserves to the people is not excusable even if the result is laudable.
Obama has presented Republicans in Congress with a chance to highlight how different their plans for education can be. The Republican vision for higher education should be one where parents, students and states are the entities making decisions about the role of community college and higher education generally.
The market should be deciding the value of higher education. It should not be dictated by a federal government that is over $18 trillion in debt and unable to manage its own finances, let alone that of a national free college tuition program.
Siefring is president of Hilltop Advocacy, LLC and a former Republican House staffer. Follow him on Twitter @NeilSiefring.