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Column: Reclaim American rights, unlimited opportunity

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In a world where the federal government changes your light bulbs and micromanages the water level in your toilet, it seems as if there’s no limit to Washington’s power and influence. But that’s exactly why this is the right moment for Americans to begin pushing back and reclaiming our rights to limited government and unlimited opportunity.

Today, too many Americans are either out of work or have altogether given up on looking for a job. Overall compensation has been flat over recent years. College graduates are moving back in with their parents as jobs fail to materialize.

But those problems are the result of misguided government policies.

We need bold reforms that meet the demands of the moment and address the magnitude of the challenges before us. The goal is to enable a prosperous and secure nation, where the American Dream is within everyone’s reach, including:

  • Middle-class families struggling in a bad economy.
  • Young people worried about their future prospects.
  • Those stuck in poverty, reaching for the ladder of opportunity.
  • Entrepreneurs and job creators seeking to expand prosperity.

Government in the past half-century has expanded, centralized and bureaucratized to the point that it is now the chief barrier to creativity, innovation and economic growth.

But America is still the land of opportunity. The American Dream grows out of the exceptional principles this country was founded upon.

So how should we begin reining in the power of government? It starts with putting an end to tax increases. True tax reform should create a fair, flax tax structure that anyone can understand and comply with.

Likewise, spending must be reformed.

For example, few lawmakers would vote for Social Security or Medicare in their current forms. The programs have been able to grow out of control because they’re treated as “entitlement” spending and left on autopilot. We need to make them part of the budget and thus part of the spending discussion. Doing so will encourage long-reaching reform, such as returning Social Security to its original purpose as an insurance program.

Congress also should cut spending and impose firm caps. Like any American family, our federal government should live within its means.

Washington can encourage people to do more if bureaucrats are expected to do less. Federal bureaucrats are trying to micromanage huge chunks of the economy, from energy to banking and beyond. Entire sectors are drowning in red tape. Lawmakers should take control, reviewing existing regulations to ensure they remain necessary. They should also review new regulations before they can take effect and impose sunset dates on any new regulations.

Finally, it’s important to note that energy has always been plentiful in the United States. In our earliest days there were an abundance of trees. Later coal and oil powered our surging economy. And today, fracking is delivering so much energy that new Secretary of State John Kerry called us the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

The federal government should regulate carefully, protecting the environment without stamping out this revolution in energy production. Policymakers should also prevent the EPA from misusing the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide. A free market will deliver all the affordable, clean energy we need; federal interference would only hold us back.

Based on the principles proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, generations of Americans have created a nation unlike any other in history. Our economy produces almost a quarter of the world’s wealth, and our military forces are the most powerful on the globe.

The institutions of civil society — families, religious communities and private associations — thrive in America, forming an independent people that are among the most hard-working, generous, and forward-looking in the world.

We can reduce the size and scope of government and restore economic productivity. We can reform the core programs of government to provide assistance the deserving and a way out for those who fall on hard times.

All this is possible only if we make a concerted effort to change America’s course. That means building a consensus in favor of a new direction, and advancing a forward-looking reform agenda to strengthen free enterprise and eliminate cronyism. By firing up the engines of opportunity and upward mobility, providing for our nation’s defense, championing liberty and rebuilding constitutional self-government, we can succeed.

Matthew Spalding is vice president for American studies at The Heritage Foundation. Readers may write to the author in care of The Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; Web site: Information about Heritage’s funding may be found at

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