TheDC’s Jamie Weinstein: Let’s just say it: The Democrats are the problem

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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In a high-profile essay in the Washington Post, think tank scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein declared that the current morass in Washington can almost entirely be laid at the feet of the GOP.

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics,” they wrote. “It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

But just take a look at the number one issue facing America domestically: our looming entitlement crisis. If we don’t radically change our entitlement programs and put them on a sustainable course, our country is in deep, catastrophic trouble. We face in the neighborhood of $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities. That’s trillion with a “t.”

In terms of getting our fiscal house in order, nothing even comes close to entitlement reform. Defense, foreign aid, the bridge to nowhere, taxes on the rich — it’s all just noise. The entitlement programs, especially Medicare, are where the money is at. But what has the Democratic leadership proposed — on paper — to fix our long-term debt problem that is serious and even the slightest bit politically risky? I can’t think of a single thing.

Mann and Ornstein suggest that while the Democrats aren’t exactly perfect, in the end they are all basically just “centrist protectors of government, reluctantly willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits to maintain its central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures.”

There is nothing centrist about this. It is radical when what threatens our national long-term prosperity and solvency is exactly what the Democrats steadfastly refuse to consider touching. In fact, they apparently oppose such reform enthusiastically.

In a Wall Street Journal review of Robert Draper’s new book on the current Congress, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl summarized how the Democratic House caucus was prepared to oppose serious entitlement reform that was supposed to be part of the “Grand Bargain” President Obama was working on with Speaker of the House John Boehner in summer 2011 (it was not, of course, released on paper):

“In ‘Do Not Ask What Good We Do,’ Robert Draper vividly describes a closed-door caucus meeting of House Democrats just after the world learned about Mr. Obama’s secret talks with Mr. Boehner,” Karl writes.

“Nancy Pelosi prepared her fellow House Democrats to go to battle against the president. She told them she would deliver the message directly to the White House the next day. ‘Do I have your permission,’ Ms. Pelosi, her voice rising, asked her fellow Democrats, ‘to go over there and say, ‘We’re not cutting Medicare, we’re not cutting Social Security?’ The party rank-and-file ‘applauded wildly,’ Mr. Draper says.”

If you are confused by the he said-she said debates on this issue, my advice is to simply follow the courage. Who has proposed a solution that isn’t likely to help them at the polls? Only the GOP.

Nearly the entire Republican House chamber twice voted in favor of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget plan. The plan is not politically advantageous to the GOP. It tackles what is widely considered the third rail of American politics — Medicare. Old people vote and conventional wisdom dictates that they don’t particularly like it when politicos touch their sacred program. But without touching Medicare, no fiscal fix is worth a damn.

In the fall, the Democrats will demagogue the GOP’s noble effort to reform entitlements by saying, as they already have, that Republicans want to kill grandma. Several House GOP members may lose their seats because of their vote for the Ryan plan — it could even potentially condemn Mitt Romney to defeat. As far as I can see, there is no obvious political advantage in supporting serious Medicare reform — only the benefit of knowing you did the right thing to help save this country.

And what of the Democrats? Every single one voted against the Ryan plan. Not a single serious proposal to fix our long-term fiscal situation has been supported by Democratic leaders. Most recently, the president was seen prancing around the country promoting the Buffett Rule on millionaires, which may make some in his base feel good but doesn’t even qualify for the laugh test, never mind pass it, as a serious proposal to fix our budgetary problems.

That’s what the Democrats are offering: political gimmickry. And for this, Ornstein and Mann essentially say they are the reasonable party. Meanwhile, the GOP has at least tried to address our looming fiscal crisis (even if I think they could have gone further). It’s worth repeating: nearly the entire House put their name on a politically risky proposal in order to save us from going over the fiscal cliff! In return, two high profile think tank intellectuals call the GOP legislators the radical ones.

Am I missing something here?

Sure, as Ornstein and Mann note, the GOP may use the filibuster too loosely. But the Democrats have been big practitioners of it as well, especially when they were in the Senate minority. And, by the way, who began the politicization of presidential nominees, particularly judicial nominees? The Democrats! Remember Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork for the Supreme Court? Apparently Mann and Ornstein don’t.

Despite what you hear from a certain class of foreign policy intellectual that America is in decline and China is on the rise, the fact of the matter is we are far and away the best positioned country to lead the 21st century. We just need to make some critical reforms, the most important of which is serious entitlement reform to get us on a sustainable fiscal path.

So far, Mann and Ornstein’s much more sensible party has refused to seriously address that issue. Only the GOP’s “radicals” have been willing to make the tough calls — and do so on the record.

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