Our elected officials are experts at ignoring the nation's multiple looming entitlement crises. But the coming year will bring one they can't avoid, as the Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund is set to be depleted in 2016. SSDI was intended to support people who are physically unable to work, but now it too often serves as a permanent dole for many who could work. If it reforms the program properly, Congress has a chance to both restrain spending and promote personal responsibility while helping disability insurance better serve its original purpose.
The economic crisis that sparked the last recession was at its core a housing crisis, yet the multiple ill-designed federal housing policies that made it possible have barely changed at all. To avoid repeating old mistakes, policymakers must do more than tinker with rules and requirements. They should fundamentally rethink how we encourage people to become homeowners.
Since the nation's earliest days, the federal government has provided compensation and care to those injured while risking their lives to defend the nation. But this promise to veterans has come under increasing strain, and last year's waiting-list scandal made clear the urgent need for serious reform. Rather than doubling down on the public monopoly model of health care for veterans, policymakers should let veterans benefit from a new system of flexible, portable health coverage and ready access to private care.
The past year has witnessed several prominent public controversies involving the treatment and mistreatment of black men by law-enforcement authorities. These troubling incidents raised questions about race and poverty, crime and punishment, and law and order. But beneath those more familiar debates are buried questions that are not taken up as often — questions about the state of black men in our society, and what might be done to help them more easily rise and flourish.
The Obama administration has routinely abused its executive and administrative powers, but a new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency would set a new standard for overreach. The "Clean Power Plan" leverages a rarely-used section of the Clean Air Act to require each state to regulate its production, transmission, and consumption of electricity, and compels states to participate through unprecedented punitive threats. It constitutes perhaps the most virulent form of federal coercion the states have ever faced.
Americans have never loved Congress, but they now seem to hold it in utter contempt. The institution just doesn't seem to be working, and the problem looks not to be a matter of personalities or ideologies but of a discrepancy between the structure of the rules that govern Congress and the structure of contemporary American life. The Constitution empowers each house of Congress to set its own rules, and it is time that members considered some key changes.
American journalism is in trouble, and local reporting — which is essential to the functioning of America’s federalist system of self-government — has been hit particularly hard. One obvious way to help fill this gap would be a shift toward a greater emphasis on local reporting in the Public Broadcasting System, comprised of 364 television stations and 1,048 radio stations which are mostly managed by independent licensees and are present in every state and major city. But some key structural changes would be needed before such a plan could succeed.
America's higher-education system exists both to prepare students to compete effectively in our complex 21st-century economy and to shape and refine the sensibilities of students to better enable them to be free and virtuous citizens. These two goals are often in tension, and the economic pressures now confronting higher education have only heightened that tension. It is no exaggeration to say that America's future depends on how we balance these goals.
Last year's Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case had all the makings of a Supreme Court blockbuster: birth control and sexual liberation, Obamacare, religious freedom, corporate rights, the power of employers, and the rights of workers. But the case was actually about something far more significant still: the nature and meaning of liberty in the American constitutional system, and whether an increasingly assertive federal government will be able to crowd civil society out of American life.
The conservative legal movement is in the midst of a great debate about its future. For decades, originalism — the idea that the original meaning of the Constitution is binding on today's interpreters — has been the default theory of legal conservatism, and so it remains. But the meaning of originalism is now in flux, as novel theories have challenged longstanding beliefs about its core philosophical premises.
Few public intellectuals have shaped America's self-understanding as profoundly as Ben Wattenberg. Over a stretch of 60 years, he has published at least one critically acclaimed book each decade that has challenged and reshaped conventional wisdom. By layering engaging narrative with revealing statistics — an innovative practice that he was the first to term "data journalism" — Wattenberg has refuted doomsayers and pessimists, and given Americans reasons to believe in the future.