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Jenkins: Obama Misses the Point of TR’s Square Deal

First announced Friday by the political boss of the Kansas Democratic Party, President Barack Obama will give a campaign speech today in the eastern Kansas district I represent in Congress. We are told this speech, planned for Osawatomie, is designed to evoke President Theodore Roosevelt’s concept of “New Nationalism.”

Outlined by Roosevelt about 100 years ago in Osawatomie, “New Nationalism” was a vision of the American dream where the federal government allowed every American an equal chance to succeed through what Roosevelt called the “Square Deal.”

Roosevelt believed the rules of the game should allow every person willing to put in the work to make a success of himself or herself, without help or hindrance from a special interest or restriction of a socioeconomic class. This notion, that any one of us through hard work, ingenuity and perseverance could be the next Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg, is engraved so deeply in our national identity it has defined what it means to be an American for generations.

Yet, while the president’s words will attempt to evoke these images of the American dream as he makes his case for re-election, his actions demonstrate that he has forgotten one key aspect of Roosevelt’s New Nationalism: it is equality of opportunity for every American that is promised, not the equality of results.

You see, the president’s rhetoric calls for everyone to get a fair shot, but rather than finding ways to level the playing field for all by using government to provide an environment in which everyone has a chance to succeed, Obama seems intent on using the federal government as a results equalizer, punishing success and stifling future success through higher taxes, tedious regulations and excessive mandates.

I believe the Washington that Roosevelt sought has far outpaced his vision. Growing from 2 percent of our nation’s economic output when Roosevelt spoke to more than 25 percent when Obama speaks today, the federal government has long since outstripped its Constitutional mandate and budgetary requirements. There is a great separation in wealth in today’s America, but taking more money from the successful and pumping it into government coffers doesn’t provide a fair shot for the middle class. It only serves to grow a Washington that is crushing small business.

The Kansans whom Obama will address today, much like those Roosevelt addressed in 1910, understand that our government has a role in creating an environment of fairness, but that fairness is not going to be achieved by dis-incentivizing success. Equality of opportunity for all Americans is going to be found through a fair tax system, a less burdensome government, and the freedom to maneuver in the marketplace.

A fair shake isn’t going to be found when our job creators spend as much time complying with the tax code as they do running their businesses. So let’s ease the burden on our small businesses and allow hardworking families to keep more of their paycheck each month through comprehensive and fundamental tax reform. By closing loopholes that favor only those who can afford high-powered tax attorneys, setting fairer and lower rates that broaden the tax base and ease the compliance burden, we can create a playing field that allows everyone a fair shot at the American dream without overtaxing them.

When the government mandates that individuals and businesses buy certain products, take unnecessary actions or jump through certain bureaucratic hoops, it creates more barriers to equality and individual success. And a government inspector who must find a violation to justify his trip to the worksite in Osawatomie is not providing anyone with a fair shot at success. So let’s review all of our government’s regulations and dismiss those that create more harm than good and keep those that are protecting and ensuring fairness for hardworking Americans.

Mr. President, I wish I could be home to introduce you to the hardworking folks of Osawatomie who just want government to get out of their way so they can have a fair shot. I can’t be there, because I’m in Washington, working to find solutions to the problems you keep talking about.

So enjoy your short time in Kansas. When you are finished with your speeches and vacation, please come back to Washington and work with Congress to create the equality of opportunity the American people deserve. You may be surprised to find that many of us agree with Teddy Roosevelt and are here fighting so every hardworking American taxpayer has a fair shot at the American Dream.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) is a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

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