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Can Mitch Daniels Be Saved from Himself?

11:52 AM, Feb 18, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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While watching the video of Indiana governor Mitch Daniels' smooth CPAC speech, I had the same thought that I had when I heard him speak to a small group of reporters at the Heritage Foundation in June: He seems well-suited to do what the next president must do--reform entitlement programs.

Can Mitch Daniels Be Saved from Himself?

As Daniels told those gathered at CPAC, "Medicare 2.0 should restore to the next generation the dignity of making their own decisions, by delivering its dollars directly to the individual, based on financial and medical need, entrusting and empowering citizens to choose their own insurance and, inevitably, pay for more of their routine care like the discerning, autonomous consumers we know them to be." 

Although reforming entitlements obviously won't be easy, having a smart, sober, and articulate Midwesterner with executive experience in the White House could help reassure the public and improve the chances of real reform.

But what may be a big problem for Daniels--as a matter of policy and a matter of electoral politics--is his proposed "truce" on social issues. Jay Cost writes today that he thinks the truce makes a lot of sense. I'm doubtful for two reasons:

1. Daniels has not been able to explain what a "truce" would mean in practice or how it would help him pass his fiscal agenda.

2. It is not clear that running on a proposed truce would help Daniels win the general election, and running on a truce in the Republican primary will probably keep him from winning nomination in the first place.

As for the policy part of it: The president doesn't really have the ability to enforce a truce on social issues. The Congress passes bills, and the president may sign them into law or veto them. Would a "truce" mean vetoing all legislation dealing with social issues whether he likes it or not? Daniels hasn't said. He also hasn't explained what a truce would mean in the areas where the president has direct power: judicial appointments and executive orders.

When I asked Daniels last June if a truce meant that, if elected, he wouldn't issue an executive order reinstating Ronald Reagan's Mexico City Policy banning federal "family planning" funds to overseas groups that perform or promote abortions, he replied, "I don't know." About a week later, Daniels decided he's in favor of reinstating the Mexico City Policy on fiscal grounds. (Nevermind that the Mexico City Policy would not reduce amount of foreign aid by one cent, it would just keep tax dollars from flowing to pro-abortion groups.)

And then there's this question: Would a single member of Congress decide to vote for turning Medicare into a voucher program for future beneficiaries because President Daniels "set aside" social issues? "No one may take the offer," Daniels told Michael Gerson in June. "But I'm not prepared to give up on the idea we can address this thing. If we can't -- well, the cynics were right. But somebody has to try."

So there doesn't seem to be a reason to believe that declaring a truce on social issues--whatever that might mean in practice--would help solve the country's fiscal problems. After all, New Jersey governor Chris Christie has fought to get rid of liberal activist judges in New Jersey, and that hasn't hindered his ability to govern as a fiscal conservative. 

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