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Of all things, I am actually getting modestly hopeful that we might have a productive 113th Congress. Of course, our basis of comparison, the 112th, sets the bar absurdly low.
To be sure, the House is more polarized than the past one, the Senate has a more robust group of conservatives in the mold of South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seems to have brushed off his party’s disastrous Senate results and doubled down on his obstructionist approach.
But I also see several signs that the rethinking going on in the Republican Party is meaningful and real. It seems clear to me that Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has integrated the twin reality that President Barack Obama won re-election handily and that the GOP strategy of voting as a parliamentary minority — united in opposition to everything coming from the White House — is a losing one for the future.
It may even be the case that this time Boehner will have his leadership team working with him to find a resolution to the fiscal impasse. If that happens, and they can convince half or more of their conference that a balanced plan, including tax increases and significant cutbacks in the growth of major entitlements, is the best way out, we can have a deal. And that deal can probably include an increase in the top marginal rate, at least for those making more than $500,000.
This is not likely to happen in the next few weeks; indeed, it may not happen until Dec. 31, or maybe even after Jan. 1. It will almost certainly require initial action by the Senate, with the “gang of eight” supplemented by 30 more senators and with the support of much of the business community putting together a new budget that would include reconciliation instructions to do tax reform with a specific revenue target, to find a new formula for cost-of-living adjustments in several entitlements, and to come up with a better path than sequestration for reducing discretionary spending.
Also crucial is inclusion of a lengthy extension of the debt ceiling, along with a plan to have the debt ceiling increased automatically when a budget resolution passes. It will likely take the president negotiating like Ronald Reagan, standing firm on his tax commitment until the very end, to give Boehner the rationale to go to his troops and get them to sign on to a deal.
That kind of deal would be great, to get past the deeply destructive impasse we have been on that has downgraded our credit and sapped our role as the world’s economic leader. But it is a down payment on the kind of movement that Americans deserve and that would provide a breakthrough for the Republican Party to re-emerge as one that can compete not just to win the next elections but to win the allegiance of a majority of Americans over the long haul.