Republicans have long struggled in urban areas; and, more recently, the GOP has lost ground in suburban areas. To win back swing voters, Republicans should adopt a reform agenda that shows that they understand the challenges faced by average citizens everyday. In particular, Republicans should offer solutions to address the student debt crisis, housing unaffordability, and the fundamental unfairness in criminal law.
Student Debt Crisis
Republicans need to propose a meaningful solution to the student debt crisis. To begin with, they need recognize that there is a student debt crisis and that much of the debt was incurred by young, naïve students. Consequently, lives — marriages, children, homebuying, etc. — are being put on hold as young adults struggle with college debt. Two of the best policies to deal with this problem would be to reprivatize college loans and bring back bankruptcy for college debt. If a college alum cannot find a decent job a decade after leaving college, then they should be able to discharge that debt just as a consumer can discharge ill-considered credit card debt or the owner of a failed business can discharge business debt. Furthermore, the college that admitted the student should be required to pay back half of the bad debt.
Republicans should work to solve the problem of housing unaffordability. According to one 2018 estimate, the US needs 7.2 million more affordable homes on the rental market. One of the factors contributing to housing unaffordability is illegal immigration so Republicans should continue to fight to ensure that our laws be enforced. Some estimates put the number of illegal immigrants around 10.5-12 million. Many illegal immigrants live in places where housing affordability is particularly bad, including Boston, New York, DC, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
Republicans should also work locally — emphasis on local — to remove as many hurdles to home construction as reasonably possible. These barriers are numerous, including slow and costly permits, lengthy environmental reviews, and unnecessary energy efficiency standards. Rather than requiring the construction of unaffordable homes that suit the tastes of bureaucrats, policies should generally allow the market to decide what homes are built, where they are built, and how they are built. The faster homes are built, the sooner market forces are likely to bring down prices and allow young adults to rent or buy homes of their own.
The Credit Reporting Industry
Republicans should support reform of the credit reporting industry. The huge credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion —have a lot of power, and yet they continually fail at some of the most basic tasks, including making sure that information about consumers with similar names or Social Security numbers winds up in the correct file. Although the credit bureaus have repeatedly promised to improve their processes to reduce these mistakes, they have utterly failed — if they have even tried. Even worse, credit bureaus currently enjoy broad immunity from lawsuits even when they harm consumers. Credit bureaus do not deserve this immunity and should lose it. Also, more competition should be encouraged in the credit reporting industry; perhaps a new competitor would do a better job.
Mens Rea Reform
Republicans should advocate for mens rea (which means “guilty mind”) reform which would help protect the innocent from being imprisoned for doing things that they did not realize were illegal. Although some laws require that an offender be aware that their actions are wrong in order to be found guilty, many laws do not when in certain circumstances it would be appropriate. There are literally thousands of federal laws and hundreds of thousands of federal regulations with criminal penalties and countless more state laws and regulations. It is impossible for anyone — whether a veteran legislator, career bureaucrat, or experienced lawyer —to possibly know all of the crimes that they might be committing.
If doing the right thing is insufficient reason for legislators to support mens rea reform in certain circumstances, they should remember that there are partisan prosecutors who would not hesitate to use the law to bankrupt and ruin their political opponents.
By pursuing a reform agenda, Republicans can locally help right wrongs while likely winning back some swing voters. For some unknown reason, Democrats choose to focus on catering to special interest groups leaving the general public to fend for itself. Republicans should take full advantage of this opening and demonstrate that they are the party of the people, by the people, and for the people. If Republicans need an additional reason to support reform, they should remember that they probably will not like the “solutions” that Democrats offer to deal with these problems.
Richard McCarty is the Director of Research at Americans for Limited Government.