The fundamental governmental changes the Republican Congress has been trying to make for more than a year would be invaluable in saving the current generation of college and high school students from economic and social crisis.
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich '65C (R-Ga.) visited his alma mater April 15 to deliver this message to an audience of several hundred Emory community members. The appearance was co-sponsored by the President's Office and the College Republicans, a group Gingrich founded at Emory during his undergraduate days.
Balancing the federal budget and decentralizing the power of the federal government in favor of state and local governments have been hallmarks of the Republican Congress that was swept into office in November 1994. And Gingrich has been the primary spokesman and representative of what many have called the "Republican Revolution."
Eliminating the federal deficit, Gingrich said, is more than just sound fiscal policy for the present. More importantly, it is an essential step in averting a national crisis when the Baby Boom generation begins retiring in 15 years. Congressional Republicans allowed two government shutdowns to occur, Gingrich said, in the sincere hope that the result would be a balanced budget agreement. Since the budget impasse began last fall, the government has kept operating through short-term continuing resolutions, because Congress and President Bill Clinton have yet to agree on a budget for fiscal year 1996.
"We really thought there was a good chance to get a balanced budget agreement," Gingrich said. "But any agreement that we would support would have to do with changing the way that Washington gives away money." Because of that change, Gingrich said that Clinton's "liberal allies" would not allow the president to support any of the budget proposals Congress put forth.
"We believe that for your generation, balancing the federal budget is a crisis situation," Gingrich told the audience of mostly Emory students. "If the federal budget were suddenly balanced by magic, interest rates would drop by 2 percent," reducing the cost of an average home by $37,000, Gingrich said. "We are still determined to get to a balanced budget. If we don't get our house in order, the financial burden of the Baby Boom retirees will be crushing for your generation."
In addition to budget balancing, Gingrich said the federal government must entirely rethink its role in today's more technologically advanced and globally competitive society. Large bureaucracies such as the federal government, Gingrich said, act in ways that preserve the status quo. Given the rapidly changing pace of technology, which he said will only accelerate in the years to come, the government must decentralize its traditional powers and allow state and local governments, as well as businesses and individuals, to embark on an entrepreneurial and more flexible style of addressing society's problems.
"What we want to do is accelerate our capacity to accept technological change," Gingrich said. "Political systems usually protect the past." He also said society has many "guilds," such as the legal and medical professions, which work to protect themselves from change.
Decentralization, Gingrich said, releases people from the rigidity of bureaucracy and allows them to take an entrepreneurial approach. "The more you decentralize the experiment, the more likely you are to make breakthroughs," he said. "We need a decentralized, entrepreneurial society with lots of people experimenting. Bureaucracy values credentials, but entrepreneurism values achievements."
Gingrich outlined what he sees as the three primary challenges of the college-age generation:
*How can the country get into the information age as smoothly as possible while minimizing disruption to people's lives?
*How can the country compete effectively in the world marketplace in the face of problems such as terrorism?
*To what extent is American civilization unique and worth preserving? What does it take to preserve it?
"How your generation answers these questions will have a tremendous impact on the course of American society," Gingrich said. "As Emory graduates, you will be in a position to lead in your communities. If you don't lead, and you leave that to people who perhaps aren't as well educated and able, you will have a weaker community, and a weaker nation. You have a civic responsibility to provide that leadership."