Democrats should support a freeze on federal hiring and pay increases. Government isn’t a privileged class and cannot be immune to the times.
The most important area for spending restraint is entitlement reform. Democrats should offer changes to the system that would save hundreds of billions of dollars while preserving the safety net for our neediest. For instance, we could introduce “progressive indexation,” which would provide lower cost-of-living increases for more affluent Social Security recipients, or devise a more accurate measure of inflation’s effects on all recipients’ income.
Democrats should also improve legislation already enacted. Health care reform, financial regulation and other initiatives were first attempts at solving complex problems, not holy writ. The administration’s grant of sensible exemptions to the health care bill, permitting some employers to offer only basic coverage, is an example of common-sense, results-oriented fine-tuning.
If President Obama and Congressional Democrats were to take these and other moderate steps on tax reform, deficit reduction and energy security, they would confront Republicans with a quandary: cooperate to make America more prosperous and financially stable, running the risk that the president would likely receive the credit, or obstruct what voters perceive as sensible solutions.
Having seen so many moderates go down to defeat in this year’s primaries, few Republicans in Congress will be likely to collaborate. And as the Republicans — including the party’s 2012 presidential candidates — genuflect before the Tea Party and other elements of the newly empowered right wing, President Obama can seize the center.
I’m betting the president and his advisers understand much of this. If so, assuming the economy recovers, President Obama can win re-election; Democrats can set the stage for historic achievements in a second term. The extremes of both parties will be disappointed. But the vast center yearning for progress will applaud, and the country will benefit.