Today is my first full day as president of The Heritage Foundation, and the first thing I want to do is thank my predecessor Ed Feulner for the institution he has built over the past 36 years. The second thing I will do is tell you that we will not change the boundless optimism and pride in our country you’ve come to expect from Heritage—or our commitment to make sure America remains a beacon of freedom to the world.
Heritage has always believed the values that made America great—honesty, industriousness, courage, determination—should inform our policies and our public institutions. We must never forget the ideas and principles that made America the strongest and most prosperous nation in history.
Our principles will stay the same, but we will constantly need innovative policy ideas to address our nation’s new problems. Heritage’s experts and researchers are busy every day working out solutions to our myriad national challenges. We don’t need new principles. Our values have stood the test of time. It’s important that we draw this distinction between timeless values that have been with us for centuries and new policies that we will need in the 21st Century.
I’ve been traveling across our country since being selected to succeed Ed, and I can report that our country shows what works and doesn’t. After 50 years of liberal policies, Detroit is bankrupt, culturally as well as financially. There are more than 400 liquor stores in Detroit, but not one chain supermarket. And states like California that have been controlled by liberals for decades might soon go the way of the Motor City.
But conservative principles are working while liberal schemes are failing. In Louisiana, they’re getting their schools to work by giving parents the freedom to choose. In Michigan, they have found freedom to work.
Despite facing long odds, Americans aren’t giving up.
In South Carolina last week, the Heritage team met Lisa Stevens. She had served in the State Board of Education and was told that there was nothing that could be done to fix some middle schools in that state. Lisa didn’t give up—and she fought regulators until she and a bunch of parents opened Langston Charter School, which now has 1,500 students competing for 450 places.
We also met Willard Galvez. When he lost his job in 2010, he and his wife decided they didn’t want to rely on others to support them and their four children, so they started their own business.
Liberal policies have destroyed families and communities and created dependence on government. Putting our society back together will require work.
Take Obamacare. Our government has been making promises it cannot keep. Medicare and Medicaid are already on an unsustainable path, leaving health care for seniors and the poor at risk.
Obamacare’s promises fuel our fiscal challenges, but that’s not the worst thing they do. They make millions of Americans dependent on the government for their health care. By 2021, nearly half of all health care spending will be controlled by the government. To protect the country from this tipping point, Congress must stop the new spending on expanding Medicaid and subsidizing coverage through Obamacare.
Dependency is a scourge eating away at our national fiber and undermining the values that made us a shining city to the rest of the world.
Today, more people than ever before—69.5 million Americans, from college students to retirees to welfare beneficiaries—depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid, or other assistance once considered to be the responsibility of individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches, and other civil society institutions. The United States must reverse the direction of these trends or face economic and social collapse.
And the most important social tool to fight dependence on government, the family, is also under attack. The Supreme Court is considering challenges to two marriage laws, and hopefully the judges will stand up for marriage as we have known it since the dawn of time.
Whatever the Court’s decision in June, Heritage will redouble its efforts to restore a culture of marriage in this country, particularly for the most vulnerable. We know that children born and raised outside marriage are five times more likely to experience poverty. Marriage precedes government, and government policy will either witness to the truth or tell a lie about this fundamental institution.
The last point I want to make is about the energy sector and the federal government’s attempt to micromanage it. Never has there been so much promise—or so many hurdles—to exploring and developing the nation’s natural resources. Energy production on private and state lands is thriving, while production on federal lands has slowed or is nonexistent, because large swaths of land and water are completely off limits.
Congress and the federal government need to open access to America’s resources on federal lands and ultimately transition the permitting and regulatory process to the state regulators where that energy lies. This is one of the keys to getting our economy going again.
I promise you that Heritage will not let up on these and many other issues in the years to come. All of us here will put our shoulder to the wheel to restore American society to what it once was. This is my guarantee to you on my first day.
Senator Jim DeMint