Working with the next administration
While we’ll obviously work on different issues than we might have otherwise, our mission, values, brand and approach under Biden will remain the same as it was under Trump. In fact, I have every reason to think that, ultimately, the likely balance of power in Washington gives our institution an historic opportunity to enhance our impact on public policy. In the scenario America will face come January—a Democratic president, a narrowly Democratic House and a Senate somewhere between a 50-50 tie with the vice president casting the deciding vote and a two-seat Republican majority—the type of “real solutions” that R Street promotes have an unusual degree of salience.
For example, as an organization, we’ve long cared about some issues—climate change, worker organizing, electoral reform and racial justice—that are often considered more important to the left than the right. And, all of these topics were central to the Biden campaign agenda. That said, R Street’s approach in these areas focuses heavily on solutions that involve limited government roles, liberty and individual choice: hardly the stuff of the far left. To take a few examples, R Street rejects massive energy subsidies, a “green new deal” and burdensome regulations as solutions to climate change. We also support more individual choice in the workplace (including right-to-work laws) and seek to make voting easier, while still preserving institutions like the electoral college. To my own great relief, a range of proposals from the left wing of the Democratic party have no chance of becoming law in the next two years with the current Congress. Furthermore, some things we tend to favor like fiscal restraint are simply more likely in divided government.
Put simply, in all likelihood, making progress on issues that a Biden administration cares about will require finding a practical, market-oriented path that can have broad appeal. Our proposed solutions are not “moderate,” “split the difference” or “third way.” Some of what we propose—for example, wholesale elimination of certain classes of regulations, speedy phase-down of long-standing subsidy programs or a clean slate rethinking of labor law—is decidedly radical. But, we simply apply free-market, small-government principles to deal with all sorts of public policy problems including those that our fellow travelers on the right sometimes ignore.
But, make no mistake, we recognize the importance of institutions, our views are grounded in individual liberty and we take a cautious attitude toward any scheme that claims to improve the human condition but ignores the lessons of history, the wisdom gained from experience and the truths of human nature. As such, we believe our ideas are ones that a Biden administration can sell to the right of his own party, as well as at least a few Republicans. In the last 72 hours or so, I’ve already talked with several people who will have formal roles in the Biden transition and at least one other who is likely to be a top informal advisor. All were very eager to talk.
But, we already know that we can work with Biden’s people because we’ve already shown we can influence the Trump and Obama administrations even while expressing significant policy disagreements with them. Under the present administration, #MAGA was never the word of the day around the R Street office. In fact, as an institution, we have been extremely critical of Trump’s absence of fiscal restraint, disdain for free trade, threats to use antitrust enforcement for political ends, nearly-unlimited construction of executive power and failure to search for market-based solutions to climate change. The president’s personal behavior presents a problem too: his ongoing refusal to concede an election he decisively lost, while making baseless allegations of fraud and attacking the press, are simply additional elements in a long litany of disrespect for democratic norms.
These critiques notwithstanding, we didn’t just wash our hands of the past four years and decide to resist. I visited the White House myself, and at least two R Street employees left us for policymaking jobs in the administration. Action on regulatory relief, professional licensing reform, criminal justice reform, energy development, telecommunications policy and national parks are all places that R Street can claim direct influence on public policies that I believe are good. The overwhelming majority of Trump’s appointees were competent, public-spirited men and women who would have been plausible choices for the same jobs in any other Republican administration. Indeed, I strongly disagree with those who suggest that those who served Trump should be excluded from polite company or “canceled.” Making progress on policy requires working with nearly everyone and merely following disagreeable policies in one area or another does not place a person beyond redemption. Having very significant policy differences with someone does not make that person an enemy and we certainly don’t see the incoming administration that way. We work in broad coalitions as a core operating principle and we’ll continue to do so for the next four years—and beyond.
I’ll close with thoughts that are almost identical to those I expressed upon learning that Trump would be America’s next president: While I am a registered Republican and personally disagree with Joe Biden on many important issues, I wish him well. He will be the president and my president. With the right policies, attitude and smarts, he can achieve his goals, advance liberty and begin to unify a riven nation. And, as always, R Street stands ready to help.