Obama is uniquely situated to right-size America’s entitlement overhang. Just as the famously anti-communist Richard Nixon had the credibility to open relations with China, a community organizer from the left wing of the Democratic Party has the credibility to fix entitlements.
In Boehner and the House Republican majority, Obama has the perfect partner, and foil, for this work. In recent years, congressional Republicans have been battered for their alleged willingness to “end Medicare” or “privatize Social Security” and lived to tell about it. They’ve already taken hard votes on this subject and they will again.
It’s not hard to imagine 218 votes in the House for a grand bargain that includes entitlement reform, a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, the expiration of some of the Bush tax cuts, a temporary short leash on operational debt, and an end to some lobbyist-driven tax loopholes.
In the Senate, Obama, with effort, could assemble a Coalition of the Sane — the 45 Republicans along with some combination of the two self-styled Virginia centrists and the seven red-state Democrats up for re-election in 2014: Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Max Baucus (D-MT), and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). He’d merely be asking 50 senators to vote in their own self-interest, a low bar for politicians of any stripe.
Democratic political operatives, barely clear of their election night party hangovers, will laugh at this prospect. To their point, Obama did win the election. But so did House Republicans, every last one of them. The voters deliberately threw these rival roosters back in the same coop — something they did not do in 2008.
The president should accept the opportunity divided government affords, use some of the “flexibility” he once boasted he would have after the election, and assemble a Coalition of the Sane to unwind both our short-term fiscal cliff and our long-term entitlement abyss at the same time. Rushmore requires nothing less.
Brad Todd is a Republican media strategist and ad-maker. His firm, OnMessage Inc., advises over two dozen Republican governors, senators and congressmen.