Two days ago, I wrote that Republicans should be bold on entitlement reform. They should aggressively and sensibly make the case that, with mandatory spending by itself now surpassing total federal revenues (for this year, according to the president’s projections), we cannot in good conscience continue down this road and imperil future generations. Alice Rivlin, former head of the Congressional Budget Office and former budget director for President Clinton, offers similar advice, calling for Republicans to “be bold” when they release their budget (within the next few weeks) for fiscal-year 2012 (and thus for 2012-2021).
I have since been persuaded that Republicans are probably better off grandfathering those who are 59 or older, rather than merely those who are 64 or older (as I had previously advocated), from any proposed Medicare reforms. This would balance the crucial need to show savings over the next ten years from these reforms (which grandfathering in those who are 55 wouldn’t do) with the equally crucial need to avoid moving too quickly and thereby giving somewhat more credence to the Democrats’—and particularly the president’s — inevitable attempts to demagogue the GOP proposal in lieu of offering a credible proposal of their (or his) own.
But my general advice remains the same: Tackle these pressing problems in a way that will show substantial fiscal improvement over the next decade, thereby offering a clear contrast with President Obama. Obama’s approach is to ignore our fiscal problems while initiating almost $10 trillion in new deficit spending, on top of our $14 trillion in current debt, over the next decade. Republicans need to do much better.
On the matter of the serial continuing resolutions for fiscal year 2011, however — made necessary by the failure of the then-Democratic Congress and President Obama to even pass a budget last year (better to just keep spending without one) — the same advice does not hold. Almost no one in America is impressed or satisfied with the do-nothing Democratic Senate. Voters are merely biding their time before they have a chance in 2012 to make it a Republican Senate. The only thing that can help the Democratic Senate politically is if the Republican House overreaches and makes the Democrats’ inertia look somewhat more appealing in comparison.
Right now, the contrast is between a Republican House that is insisting on reasonable cuts to non-security discretionary spending — spending that rose by 24 percent under the last Congress and this president, and by 84 percent including their “stimulus” — for the remaining six months of this fiscal year, and a Democratic Senate that didn’t pass a budget and now shows almost no interest in providing one even for the remainder of this year. The Democratic Senate looks aimless right now. Democratic senators are almost openly rooting for a “government shutdown,” hoping they can lure Republicans into one, so that they will be able to say, in effect, we may be useless, but look at them! They are extreme!
Republicans shouldn’t take the bait. There are bigger fights ahead in the near-term, fights over the direction of the country for the next ten years and beyond, not merely over the fate of non-security discretionary spending for the next six months. Save the big guns for then, and fire them with determination and skill.