Opinion

WEINSTEIN: What the next president must do

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer

Even without any declared candidates, conservatives have begun the process of debating who the next Republican presidential nominee should be. But the more important question is, what must the next president do?

Before weighing the relative merits of Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Chis Christie and the never-ending list of other serious and buffoonish candidates who have been floated as possible 2016 contenders, it would be helpful to figure out what the next president needs to actually accomplish in order to set America back on track after the Age of Obama. There are many things that should be done by the next president, but two issues stand out as vital: reforming America’s entitlement programs and reestablishing America’s preeminent position internationally.

Entitlement reform

In total, we face in excess of $80 trillion in unfunded liabilities as result of our entitlement programs — primarily Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and Obamacare subsidies — over the long term. Sometime around 2025, what we spend on entitlement programs and interest payments on our debt will consume the entirety of America’s tax revenues, according to CBO projections. That means every dollar we spend on anything outside our entitlement programs and debt interest, like defense and infrastructure, will have to be financed by more debt.

Yes, a rapidly growing economy would greatly help mitigate our budgetary problems. But there is little question that America’s ballooning entitlement programs remain our number one domestic challenge.

Democrats don’t want to touch these programs. It isn’t good politics. The Republican House, in contrast, has passed Paul Ryan’s entitlement reform proposals a number of times over the last several years. But the Ryan Plan has been a non-starter for President Obama and the Democrats in the Senate. Frankly, it isn’t clear what solution the Democrats have to this looming crisis other than reflexively saying, “raise taxes on the rich!” — which might make the Democrats feel good, but would do almost nothing to fix the problem.

But major reform is needed if America is to be put on a sustainable economic course.

If elected, whoever the GOP nominee is in 2016 has to make entitlement reform their number one domestic priority. He — and it will almost certainly be a he — must be willing to use his political capital to pass a comprehensive reform bill through Congress. Otherwise, we will once again kick the ball down a road that isn’t endless.

America incline

Obama’s foreign policy has been disaster. Forget being able to answer a 3 a.m. phone call, Obama doesn’t appear to be able to handle a 3 p.m. phone call.

After five years of President Obama, America’s friends now question whether our word means anything and America’s enemies don’t take the president’s warnings seriously.

President Obama’s Syria policy, for instance, has been incomprehensible. It is one thing not to intervene because there are bad actors on both sides, but to set red lines and then suck your thumb once those red lines are crossed sends a very bad message to other rogue actors on the international stage.

Then there is Obama’s complete withdrawal from Iraq without negotiating a status of forces agreement that would have allowed a contingent of American troops to stay in the country in order to solidify our gains there. Today, Iraq is a mess, with al-Qaida in the country bouncing back from near defeat.

In fact, from Syria to Iraq, al-Qaida now controls more territory than any time in its history, according to terrorism expert Peter Bergen.

The main question now is if President Obama will leave office having allowed Iran to become a nuclear power.

The next president needs to reassert America’s primacy in world affairs. He must restore the confidence of our allies and instill fear into our enemies. In the words of Charles Krauthammer, decline is a choice. Through his actions, Obama has chosen it. The next president must believe that America plays an important role in the world and reverse Obama’s course — or, if you prefer, aggressively pursue American incline. A world without a strong America is a dark and dangerous place.

There are other important issues, of course. But none are nearly as vital as these.

As conservatives evaluate potential 2016 presidential contenders, they ought not look for an Obama-like messiah figure. Better to evaluate whether the candidates check the box on these issues. It would also help if they could actually win the White House. Anyone who doesn’t go three for three shouldn’t get a second look.

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