Diana Furchtgott-Roth: A private-sector challenge to a Maryland incumbent

Now is the summer of our discontent. First-time claims for unemployment insurance have reached 500,000, the highest level in nine months. More than 14 million Americans are out of work, almost half of them for six months or more.

The state of the economy is a stunning indictment of the economic policies pursued by President Obama and Congress.

With hundreds of billions of dollars spent on “stimulus” — exceeding $1 trillion, when all programs are combined — first-time unemployment insurance claims should be down, not up, if government spending worked to stimulate the economy.

Congress just voted to spend an additional $26 billion to prop up the jobs of state and local government workers who are already compensated far above private-sector workers.

But government spending hasn't resulted in sustained job creation or solid gross domestic product growth.

It's time for new blood in Congress, and incumbents throughout the country are facing challenges from ordinary people who have never before run. Only 21 percent of Americans approve of what Congress is doing, and 72 percent disapprove.

In Maryland's 8th District, author and journalist Bill Thomas — my neighbor — is challenging Congressman Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Two years ago, Van Hollen won with 75 percent of the vote, and no one thought he would face a serious challenge in 2010. Yet four Republicans will be on the ballot in Maryland in the Sept. 14 primary, including Thomas, who began his working life as a General Motors assembly line worker and is a former member of the United Auto Workers.

Thomas is not a professional politician. Rather, he is a citizen concerned about government's growth. He is bursting with enthusiasm, and is as happy to talk to neighborhood children about his campaign as to potential voters.

He told me, “I'm running for Congress to stop out-of-control federal spending and reverse the costly and destructive expansion of government. If something isn't done soon to change current economic policy, the government spending bubble will burst.”

Thomas is running on a specific plan to reverse government spending, reduce the debt and lower the deficit.

He wants to halt additional stimulus spending and return unspent stimulus funds to the U.S. Treasury. In particular, he opposes the Troubled Asset Relief Program and corporate bailouts.

To save money, Thomas wants to freeze budgets and hiring in most federal agencies — except public safety and national defense — starting with 16,000 new proposed Internal Revenue Service agents. He suggests reducing the size of most federal agencies by not replacing workers who retire and quit.

In addition, he wants to end subsidies for private energy projects, and for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service.

In the environmental area, Thomas believes this is not the time for cap-and-trade environmental regulation, and he wants to stop to Environmental Protection Agency restrictions on carbon emissions.

In health care, Thomas wants to repeal Obamacare and promote affordable, portable health care plans, controlled by individuals, not government.

What about jobs? To encourage employers to hire, Thomas wants to reduce individual and business taxes, decrease red tape and government regulation, and increase domestic fuel production by opening more areas to exploration and production of oil, natural gas and coal.

Thomas has a tough road ahead of him. Before he faces Van Hollen on the ballot on Election Day, he has to best three other candidates — Michael Philips, a telecommunications manager; Bruce Stern, a lawyer; and Christine Thron, a home educator — in the primary.

But these are unusual times, and if there's any opportunity for newcomers such as Bill Thomas to be elected to Congress, it's now. Then perhaps the summer of our discontent will turn into a glorious autumn of better economic times.

Examiner Columnist Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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