President Barack Obama will send his budget to Congress today. It’s behind schedule and apparently dead on arrival.
Some Republicans are grumbling anyway. They’re upset the budget won’t include cuts to future Social Security benefits, like last year’s spending blueprint.
Cutting entitlement spending may or may not be a good idea. But perhaps Obama’s changing views on the cuts can serve as a teaching moment for politicians in both parties, which is:
When the other side is trying to surrender, take the deal.
To be clear, Obama’s surrender last year was conditional — he’d only cut entitlements in exchange for higher taxes. That trade was deeply unpopular in the GOP, which hates raising taxes more than it likes cutting spending.
But Obama’s willingness to even discuss entitlement reductions was an explicit concession that spending on retirement programs and retiree health care is too high. That’s exactly what Republicans have been saying for years.
Here was a chance for the GOP to take the White House offer and claim victory. Instead, they did nothing — and this year, Obama walked away.
Democrats are about to make a similar error.
Last week, GOP Rep. David Camp of Michigan quietly introduced an ambitious tax reform package, with lower rates, simpler deductions and easier regulations. A middle-class family of four, he said, would take home an extra $110 a month if the plan passes.
Just as importantly, though, it’s revenue-neutral. It won’t provide more money to Washington, but it won’t take funding away either.
That’s a Democratic dream. Imagine a tax reform plan that simplifies taxes for tens of millions of people, cuts rates, but doesn’t cut cash flow to Washington.
There are potential political benefits, too. Help pass the Camp plan and you can claim partial credit for compromise — around the time millions are filing their taxes. At the same time, you force recalcitrant Republicans to defend the current tax system.
The Democrats’ response? Pfft.
Thirty years ago, a deal would have been obvious. Link Camp’s tax reform with entitlement cuts. Throw in extended unemployment benefits, maybe a higher minimum wage. Spend a little more on defense. Done.
In fact, that’s exactly whatdid
happen in the 1980s. Revenue-neutral tax reform. Cuts in future Social Security spending. An expanded safety net. More for defense.
Ronald Reagan, whose own budgets were often DOA, knew when to take a deal. His heirs, in both parties, have forgotten how.