Freedom and Responsibility

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Freedom and responsibility are two of the fundamental themes underlying the conservative revolution in Washington. It is these two principles that set conservatives apart from our liberal counterparts, as was evident in two recent events.

The first event was House Majority Leader Dick Armey's presentation of an outline for a conservative agenda. In a meeting with a handful of top Republicans, Armey said that policies should be judged by whether they increase freedom and promote personal responsibility. "Does a given government policy or program increase individual freedom? Does it trust individuals with greater responsibility? Does it value and preserve the freedom that makes this country strong?"

You say you don't believe that conservatives want to expand freedom and responsibility while liberals don't? Well, contrast Armey's statement to one made by Pete Stark (D-CA) when asked about Medical Savings Accounts (which give individuals more control over their health care dollars): "absolutely irrational, brain dead, sniveling, begging and fantasizing ills and pains."

There are several public policy areas in which the Majority Leader and conservatives believe they can expand personal freedom, which would promote more individual responsibility:

Freedom in Health Care. As an alternative to President Clinton's plan to restructure the entire health care system, most Republicans and a number of Democrats supported Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) - personal savings accounts used to pay for routine and preventive medical care, while a high-deductible (say $2,000 to $3,000) insurance policy pays for major medical costs. Patients with MSAs enjoy the freedom of deciding, in consultation with their physicians, how to spend their health care dollars, rather than leaving those decisions to an insurance company clerk or a bureaucrat in Washington.

Freedom in Retirement. The Medicare Trust Fund is going bankrupt faster than anyone expected - heading for insolvency by 2001. And Social Security won't be far behind. Congress is currently looking at a variety of reforms, but the solution should permit individuals to opt out of the Social Security and Medicare systems and establish their own personal retirement accounts.

Freedom in Compassion. In an effort to end the failed welfare system, several Republicans have offered some version of a charity tax credit - that is, a direct deduction off the amount taxpayers owe the government - for the money they donate to a private charity. In this way, individual taxpayers, rather than politicians, would decide how their share of the welfare bill would be spent.

Freedom in Education. To give parents more educational control, conservatives are promoting educational vouchers, which will let parents take their share of public education money and choose any public or private school for their children.

Freedom from Excessive Taxation. Conservatives are the standard bearers on both across-the-board and targeted tax cuts, which would give Americans more economic freedom.
But as the saying goes: you can't just talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk. And while Armey is talking the talk, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is walking the walk.

While 81 charges were brought against Newt Gingrich, 80 of them were dismissed as baseless. On the 81st, the Speaker agreed to reimburse the committee $300,000 in expenses that arose from an ethics investigation. The money paid was not a fine or penalty but a reimbursement.

Now, compare the actions of the Republican leader to those of several Democratic leaders. There have been four special investigations of Clinton administration officials: the president himself, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, former Agriculture Secretary Michael Espy and the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. And this list doesn't even mention the countless number of administration officials from Webster Hubbell on who have been investigated, indicted or imprisoned.

But will any of these individuals reimburse Congress a dime for all the time and money spent on catching, prosecuting and in some cases jailing them? Don't hold your breath. What we see coming from the White House is one denial after another with a total refusal to accept any responsibility for anything.

While the Speaker is only reimbursing the Committee for expenses, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) was actually fined $121,574.94. But did he reimburse anybody for the expenses he incurred?

The point is that if Republicans are going to lead in the House and Senate, they must feed and lead the troops. Feed them with a vision that embodies the conservative principles of a free market and limited government. And lead them by example.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey is feeding the troops by providing them with a public policy vision that promotes individual freedom and gives them more responsibility over their lives. Speaker Newt Gingrich is leading by example.

Don't you wish we could get either out of the White House?