Praise Congress! It looks as if Republicans and Democrats will work out a deal on spending cuts to avoid a government shutdown on Saturday. Shame on Congress! The expected deal will be good for only a few weeks, simply delaying the tough choices needed to solve the nation’s whopping debt crisis.
Lawmakers have been focused on the wrong showdown by wrangling over cuts only for the rest of this fiscal year (to Oct. 1). The more important and smarter cuts, the vital fiscal move for the country, is to reform costly entitlements – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Everyone in Washington knows this. But few are willing to make the first move toward adjusting these highly popular programs. President Obama’s idea is for both parties to hold hands and jump off the political cliff together. But someone still needs to be first and stick out a hand.
Could this be a job for those new GOP House members elected with support of the tea party movement?
As the nation has just observed in the skirmish over this year’s budget, the 87 freshmen Republicans in the House have clout. They stuck together and forced Speaker John Boehner back to the drawing board for deeper cuts.
That’s in part because Mr. Boehner broke the mold of recent predecessors and allowed the freshmen to have a say, rather than bring down the iron fist of the speaker’s office.
But much is because of the attitude of these newbies. They’re the largest incoming class in decades, so they’re feeling confident. They’re on a mission to reduce the size of government, not to make friends. Many of them don’t care if they lose the next election, as long as they stay true to their ideals. They are also so new they don’t yet owe lobbyists any favors.
It’s also important that many of them also say they want to consider entitlement reform. It matches their goal of getting the country back into sound fiscal shape.
If they wanted to, the tea party freshmen in the House could form a “Gang of 87” and spell out the details for such reform. They could lift their sights far higher than today’s skirmish over seven more months of federal funding – a skirmish that could explode into a partisan war that kills any chance of solving the big fiscal problems. These freshmen could even bring some like-minded Democrats into their fold.
Over on the Senate side, a bipartisan “Gang of Six” brave senators is actually working on a way to rein in the cost of entitlements. They have a blueprint to help them – the report from President Obama’s bipartisan commission on deficit reduction, released in December. It’s a report that the president has mostly left on the shelf.
The House freshmen have shown they don’t want to play Washington games. They don’t care about back-room deals. They’ve got spine, and that’s what’s most lacking when it comes to tackling programs that are weighed down by baby boomers and national debt.
Their opportunity now is to lead the revolution that counts, to redirect their fervor to a much greater goal. If they did that, and if Boehner joined them, the president just might come along. Then they would all be heroes.