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To Save the Country, We Need ‘Grand Bargains’

One last time: the United States will not solve its monumental problems — which threaten our future as a great nation — without a series of grand bargains between Republicans and Democrats.

We need grand bargains to tame the burgeoning federal debt, which threatens the next generation’s ability to invest and grow — big bargains to reduce spending (especially entitlements) and reform taxes.

We need bargains on energy policy to reduce our costly dependency on Middle East imports, on immigration to ensure we can attract and keep skilled labor, on education to prepare our own kids for 21st century competition and on strategies to invest in infrastructure.

We probably will need a grand bargain to re-write President Barack Obama’s health care law, which the Supreme Court may strike down but which, if upheld, will impose enormous costs on the country.

We’ll get the bargains only if Republicans and Democrats work together, because neither party is ever likely to so dominate the government that it can push through its entire agenda.

Democrats had that power after the 2008 election — including 60 votes in the Senate and control of the House and White House — and promptly lost it through over-reaching liberalism. Voters don’t want over-reaching conservatism either.

This is a  “one last time” call for bargains because, after 48 years in journalism and nearly 20 writing this column, I am semi-retiring and leaving it to others to bang the gong for centrist problem-solving.

I’ll chime in from time to time, but now it’s up to the likes of David Brooks of the New York Times, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria of CNN and Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution and The New Republic to carry the cause.

And there are many in U.S. politics who understand the need for bipartisan action to solve America’s problems — as witness the “gang of six” Senators working to defuse the federal debt bomb before it brings down the U.S. economy.

If arch-conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and ultra-liberal Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) can agree to support the recommendations of Obama’s debt commission, there’s hope for the nation.

If House Republican leaders can team up with moderate Democrats to keep the government running — and refuse to yield to tea party ideologues and the demagogic presidential wanna-bes and radio-talk blowhards who urge them on — there’s hope.

If Republicans and Democrats can agree, as they did in the lame duck session of the last Congress, to extend President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for two years and also extend unemployment benefits and reduce payroll taxes, there’s hope.

To be sure, that agreement involved dispensing largesse and increasing deficits. Defusing the debt bomb is going to require enormous political courage — which is why Republicans and Democrats have to do it together.

Polls show that while the voters want deficits cut, they think it can be done simply by slashing foreign aid and raising taxes on the rich, not reducing Social Security, Medicare and middle class tax breaks.

And so-called leaders — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) come to mind — seem bent on making the task harder by claiming that Social Security benefits needn’t be touched.

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