Building a Republican Bill Clinton, Cont.

Yesterday I riffed on this Bruce Bartlett interview where the old Reagan consigliere brainstormed ways to build a Republican Bill Clinton with enough fresh ideas and cross-over appeal to win in 2012. Bartlett's big three ideas were: 1) Shut up about tax cuts; 2) Call for smaller government and then actually deliver; 3) Enact a sales tax to repair the deficit.

My initial take was that this zero-promises/zero-fun platform would be about as popular as selling broccoli to a Kindergarten class, and I came up with two more suggestions. Then US News blogger Matthew Bandyk found my list and thought of four more. Crowd-sourcing is fun!

My two cents:

1) Education: Embrace student loan reform and a national test standard, while trumpeting district innovation and school choice.

2) Environment: Come out for a low carbon tax as an alternative to government-allocated carbon caps.

And Bandyk's four:

1. Guest worker compromise on immigration: New "smart" cards that would tie temporary workers to jobs in the US. This is the "Red Card" solution as advocated by some.

2. Lessen the bailout culture: Lessen the incentives for the big financial giants to create too much risk. For example, the FDIC required big banks to pay more in premiums. More actions like that would please people on the right and the left who are sick of all the money we've spent on bailouts.

3. VAT as a replacement, not an add-on. Make a VAT easier ... to swallow by stressing that it won't just be a whole new tax on top of the existing system. Instead, couple the VAT proposal with reductions in inefficient taxes like the corporate or estate taxes

, and also simplify the income tax.

4. Retake the innovation debate. Cut taxes for startups in their early years, and reform Sarbanes Oxley to make it less burdensome for small companies so there's an incentive for more IPOs.

5. End the tax exemption for employer-based healthcare. Sign onto something like the proposal in the Wyden-Bennett bill already endorsed by many Democrats (and Republicans), and the partisan arguments won't stick.

I think these are cool ideas, but a quick note about the estate tax. This isn't a terrible deal even if it's slightly askew -- I'll trade you one slightly regressive sales tax for tax relief for the rich -- but if we're operating under Bartlett's "let's get serious about the deficit" principle (and that's a principle I'd like to operate under) it doesn't make sense to do much with the estate tax as it exists. Not only do I consider it a moral tax, but also it's an incredibly valuable tax -- repealing it would add almost $1.3 trillion to the deficit between fiscal years 2012 and 2021, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. I know, I know, we're designing a candidate who has to be elected, not a think tank president, but I would prefer a deal that didn't shift the tax burden away from the top tax brackets so dramatically.