Introduction by CEI President Fred L. Smith, Jr.
The new Democratic Congress begins its first session hoping, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, to "drain the swamps" of pork barrel politics. We wish the new Members success in this effort. Yet effort is no guarantee of success. A Republican team roared into Washington in 1994 with an ambitious reform agenda, but became mired in the bogs of Washington. Yet this is not necessarily cause for pessimism.
America’s political system has a built-in propensity for inertia—and that’s to the good. It slows positive change, but it also slows negative trends. The Founders enshrined checks and balances into the Constitution to ensure that we would look carefully before rushing into new areas. True to that spirit, CEI hopes to work with the new Congress to advance good ideas, and to block bad ones.
The Democrats are well aware that America has changed—that top-down solutions are no longer political winners. Thus, retaining their Congressional majority will likely entail some disciplining of Leviathan.
Speaker Pelosi has suggested revising some of the more burdensome aspects of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act; we hope to work with her and others on this issue. We hope to share with the new Congress our ideas on how to jump-start the stalled economic liberalization process—hampered by botched, partial deregulations in electricity, telecommunications, airlines, and other network industries. We also hope to work with the new Congress on Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reform, to speed the process of brining new life-saving drugs to market.
With major change comes major risks. As a Louisianan well aware of the something-for-nothing allure of populism, I see worrisome traces of it in the current political climate. Mistakes made in the name of "helping the little guy" can hurt everybody in the long run, by creating long-lasting damage to the American economy.
Proposals for one-size-fits-all mandates in areas like wages and prescription drugs threaten to undermine many of the new Democrats’ recognition of the marketplace as the best means of allocating resources. We will happily work with lawmakers of both parties to help stop bad bills such as these.
During the last Congress, Republicans massively expanded the federal government—and the voters reacted negatively. Now the Democrats have been entrusted to set aright the ship of state. In a globalized world, they will retain their majority only by eschewing the anti-market rhetoric of their party’s past. They, along with President Bush, hope to cement a legacy. There is no reason why that could not crystallize around a revitalized economic liberalization program. CEI’s agenda seeks to appeal to lawmakers, of all parties, to consider reforms to boost economic and personal liberties. It will be an interesting few years; we plan to be a part of the debate.