House Republicans are all-in on entitlements, as Bob Costa and Andrew Stiles detailed in their piece yesterday. This is principled and brave (just like the intellectual godfather of this effort, Paul Ryan). We’ll have to see how it plays politically.
The public opposes cuts in Social Security and Medicare, and most Republicans did nothing to signal on the campaign trail that they’d do anything to touch them — in fact, most of them ran against Obama’s Medicare cuts. Changing popular programs without an explicit mandate to do so is a perilous business. It may be that the public is in a Chris Christie “give it to us straight” mood, and House Republican work on the entitlement front will dovetail with the bipartisan effort developing in the Senate, forcing President Obama to make good on his oft-expressed interest in reform and making real progress possible. It also may be that the House Republicans will repeat the experience of their forebears in 1995–96, who didn’t run on Medicare cuts, made them a centerpiece of their budget-balancing anyway, and got killed, setting back the limited-government cause for more than a decade.
The Boehner House still has important decisions to make about what exactly to do. The best course would probably be to put off Social Security for now (doesn’t get you much over the next ten years, and is absolutely radioactive unless Republicans get bipartisan cover); get a start on Medicare reforms (by repealing Obama’s cuts and then getting no more than the same dollar amount in more market-oriented ways — defusing the charge that they are “gutting” Medicare); and to be bold on Medicaid (a big contributor to the fiscal mess in the states and an issue where they can get support from governors). If they were to pass these reforms, and live to tell the tale, it’d herald the very welcome beginning of a new fiscal politics in America.