Can Obama be Clinton?

President Barack Obama is still basking in the euphoria of his November election victory and the fact that he got most of what he wanted in the fiscal-cliff agreement.

But he doesn’t have unlimited support in Congress. Republicans still have enough votes to thwart his plans.

However, he could take a page from Bill Clinton’s playbook and outflank Republicans by taking one of their favored positions and making it his own. That would provide him with more political capital to push other parts of his agenda.

Clinton did it with welfare reform. Obama should do it by embracing a major financial package that includes tax and entitlement reform and makes a serious effort to cut debt.

Something like Simpson-Bowles comes to mind.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is a rising star in the Democratic Party. He was recently named chairman of the important Senate Campaign Committee.

But Bennet is also an outspoken advocate for reducing our debt and adopting a measure such as Simpson-Bowles. He was one of the few senators to vote against the fiscal cliff agreement because it increases debt instead of reducing it.

Bennet urged Obama to push for a grand bargain.

“He’s the president. He’s got to be involved,” Bennet told The Daily Sentinel editorial board.

“I believe he wants to resolve this. He knows that he will make some people in the party mad and he’s willing to accept that,” Bennet added. “I think there’s a shot he will do it. I don’t know how he avoids it if he wants to get other parts of his agenda through.”

The need for some sort of policy change similar to Simpson-Bowles is abundantly clear. As an official with the IRS reported last week, the nation’s tax code is so complex that it is a drag on the economy. Tax reform is needed now.

Reform of Social Security and Medicare is also critical, as Bennet has been saying since he arrived in Washington.

An article in Foreign Affairs magazine last week showed how entitlements, mainly Social Security and Medicare, are “set to crowd out all other government spending.”

In 1960, the article said, entitlements amounted to less than a third of the federal budget. Today, they account for more than two-thirds and are growing. Soon, we may be paying for little more than entitlements and defense.

In 1960, there were 5.1 workers in the Social Security system for every beneficiary. Today, there are barely half that amount, based on federal statistics, and the number is declining.

Furthermore, we cannot continue to borrow our way out of these problems. The ratio of U.S. debt to our gross domestic product is already one of the highest in developed countries. If that continues, there will be few public or private entities willing to purchase U.S. Treasury bonds.

It will take a broad, bipartisan effort to begin to turn this around. We hope Obama will lead the way.


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