July 19, 2011
In proposing to cut entitlement spending, Republicans risk everything. They could ignite the furor of senior citizens (who reliably show up to the polls) so terribly it might jeopardize the GOP’s chances in 2012. But, Republicans rightly insist, social programs must be reformed to avert fiscal disaster. If President Obama offered to trim entitlements as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling, Republicans surely wouldn’t balk because the offer included a small tax increase…. Would they?
Alas, they would and they do. Obama has courageously offered to touch the “third rail” of American politics, not to mention the pride and joy of modern Democratic policymaking. While Republicans were prepared to exhaust their political capital to cut Medicare and Social Security, now their mortal enemy has asked to do this unenviable work for them if they’ll only agree to a very modest tax increase.
“We have a responsibility — and an opportunity — to reduce our deficit as much as possible and solve this problem in a real and comprehensive way,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. “I’m willing to do what it takes to solve this problem, even if it’s not politically popular. And I expect leaders in Congress to show that same willingness to compromise. The truth is, you can’t solve our deficit without cutting spending.”
Obama’s most sweeping proposal in these talks that Republicans rebuffed amounted to $4 trillion in savings over 10 years (no, that’s not a typo). Republicans have revealed their top priority is not debt reduction nor entitlement reform but reflexive opposition to raising any taxes at all. Disgraceful.
I wish this weren’t so. I ran as a reform-minded Republican for Congress in 2006, and though I had major policy disagreements with Republicans, especially on the Iraq war, I believed the GOP was the party more willing to do what is necessary to right out fiscal ship. Now, facing a real financial crisis when the conversation even involves the word “default,” Republicans show they are focused on narrow political gains at the cost of the nation’s economic health. This is not acceptable.
Consider the courage it took Barack Obama to propose entitlement cuts. He surely noticed how the public treated George W. Bush’s effort to reform Social Security and modernize Medicare. What President Bush’s got for his boldness was inaction from his own party and disapproval from the public on Social Security. He also succumbed to signing a Medicare prescription drug bill that vastly expanded the healthcare program without changing its “defined-benefit” structure. Now the “big-government socialist” Obama is poised to do what Bush wanted to do but couldn’t, and Republicans want no part of it.
The Congressional GOP is not only stubborn, but delusional. It wants the debt deal to include a Balanced Budget Amendment. What’s so crazy about this idea is that it would need to go before not just Congress but our state legislatures. We need a solution to the debt problem and we need it fast. There’s nothing fast about amending the Constitution.
Contrast this with the president’s proposal. He wants to close tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporations. Why the outrage at such a modest, responsible idea? The special tax breaks that rich people, oil companies and all other fat-cat beneficiaries of our current distorted tax code receive are simply welfare-queenism of a kind that today’s Republicans can’t recognize. It’s perfectly consistent with conservative values to ask the well-to-do to sacrifice for the good of all Americans. It’s even more desirable if Obama’s opponents can leverage tax hikes for spending cuts. Unfortunately, Republicans have abandoned their war against the debt in favor of a war against common sense.
When the great British historian Paul Johnson wrote that what really separates Americans from the rest of the world is not that we have no problems, but that we solve big problems. Left or right, Republican or Democrat, all agree that we have to make changes. With competing visions of the role of the state, a solution will involve compromise. The President is willing to do this, showing great political courage. Republicans should join him for the sake of the nation and their own credibility.