Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why we need a ‘Grand Bargain’ and why it's also possible

‘’John Boehner is like a Republican state senator. He’s a golf-playing, cigarette-smoking, country club Republican, who’s there to make deal. He’s very familiar to me.’’

‘’The President and I, as I’ve made clear, have a very good relationship.’’
John Boehner

Paul Ryan is right - debt negotiations are long overdue. In his op-ed, the Wisconsin Congressman focuses on serious reforms. For a start, he suggests a GOP openness to raising medicare premiums for the wealthy. Raising taxes on the wealthy? Hardly the ramblings of an ideological warmonger.

But Ryan's seriousness only speaks to a broader, growing movement in the GOP.

Recognizing that Obama cannot and will not yield on ObamaCare, a number of Congressional Republicans are hinting at an alternate path towards ending the shutdown. Instead of focusing on health care, they want to pursue a ‘grand bargain’ with Democrats- addressing spending, revenue and entitlement reforms all at once. However, as Robert Costa has noted, other House Republicans are focused on a smaller deal - one that ends the shutdown but kicks big reforms down the road.

I understand the skepticism, but America needs a ‘grand bargain’. In the end, it’s the only way that we’ll cut to the heart of the shutdown.

Let’s be clear. Ultimately, this standoff wasn’t caused by ObamaCare. It’s always been about a bigger issue; the most abiding of political issues – the question of America’s state-society relationship. We’re witnessing a broader struggle for America’s future.

On one side, Democrats believe that the Federal government should constitute the central, redistributive support structure for those in economic difficulty.

In the GOP, the power of social conservatism is being displaced by an energetic fusion of fiscal conservatism and libertarianism. Still, the central Republican belief remains the same - that the common good is best served by facilitating individual aspiration.

In governing practice, where liberals see virtue in an American version of the European style ‘safety net’ social contract, conservatives (like myself) see disaster.

But though they're passionately held, these ideological divisions hide a simple truth.

We’ve seen the dividend of years of dysfunctional government. It hasn’t worked. Instead, Americans need a grand solution that rebuilds our political discourse. We need a solution in which both sides give and get. In short, we need Republicans to yield on sensible revenue generation and Democrats yield on entitlement reform.

For sure, the hacks will scream. Nevertheless, a ‘grand bargain’ compromise needn’t be toxic (my proposal!). Just as revenue generation can be centered in tax code reforms, entitlement reform can be rooted in protecting America’s most vulnerable. When the governing pillars of prosperity, responsibility and social justice are mutually reliant, all sides win.

And don’t believe the doubters, a ‘grand bargain’ is politically possible.

Consider Boehner’s warning that he won’t allow a debt default to occur. This message carries an implicit understanding – if necessary, Boehner will rely upon Democratic votes. Yet the Speaker knows that if breaks the ‘Hastert rule’, his Speakership may break along with it. Correspondingly, his statement illustrates something important – Boehner is willing to embrace major political risks for causes he believes in.
Recent evidence suggests that Obama may feel similarly.

In the cancellation of his long planned Asia trip (‘the pivot’ agenda being a key priority of his Administration), Obama has signaled that ending the shutdown is, at least in part, a Presidential responsibility. Though he's aware that his base is against a deal, the President also realizes that his shutdown legacy won’t be defined by the shutdown itself, but instead by what follows. More compelling - the President has regularly made clear that he wants a bargain. At this juncture, it would offer a positive conclusion to the shutdown.

In his book, ‘The Price of Politics’, Bob Woodward notes the respectful, friendly rapport that characterized the Obama-Boehner (and Biden-Cantor) interactions during the ‘grand bargain’ effort of 2011. Even though they didn’t reach a deal, the leaders ultimately respected each other.

Today, as in 2011, the President and the Speaker have two choices.

They can continue to clog Pennsylvania Avenue with partisan vitriol. Or they can take shared risks in the nation’s best interest.
Federal Debt Held by the Public Under CBO's Extended Baseline

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