The Corner

The Entitlement Debate

I don’t like being on the other side of a debate from (my sometime co-author!) Yuval Levin, either. But let’s head straight to the disagreements.

Yuval writes that “a strategy of taking no action and blaming Obama for inaction would be a little peculiar.” What’s peculiar about Republicans’ saying that they hope Obama moves on entitlements and stand willing to work with him if he does–and to work with his successor if he doesn’t? Yuval writes that he does not think that “Republicans should abandon entitlement reform.” I don’t either. I just don’t think that holding a House vote on a bill that won’t become law is the way to pursue it.

Yuval notes that 137 of the House Republicans voted for entitlement reforms in spring 2009, as part of their FY2010 budget. It should hardly need saying that the political situation is now completely different. Nobody was paying attention to Republicans’ policies then (including, I’d be willing to bet, a lot of the Republicans who voted for them). Republicans didn’t have the House majority. They didn’t have a lot of members from districts Obama carried. (Yuval says that I propose that Republicans “now backtrack.” A large fraction of the Republican conference has nothing to backtrack from, having never voted for entitlement reform or campaigned on it.) And there are good reasons for thinking that the electorate next time will be less favorable than the electorate of 2010.

Yuval again: “I don’t think it’s simply the case, as Ramesh suggests, that Republicans should only take risks for legislation they expect will be signed into law. That would argue for a do-nothing House.” I made no such suggestion. There are risks to opposing Obamacare (though they are much smaller than the risks of not opposing it), and repeal won’t become law–but as Yuval well knows, I favor moving on repeal. But I think taking on Medicare and Social Security would be a larger risk than Yuval allows. Take a look at this survey–of grassroots conservatives!–if you doubt me.

As for this business about the House setting a bar for the presidential candidate: Is there an example of House Republicans trying and failing to enact unpopular legislation and thereby getting a president elected who supported it? I can’t think of any.

Finally, Yuval notes that time’s-a-wasting. True! But since neither of us believes it is likely that we get reform enacted in the next two years, I don’t see how the point is relevant to our friendly dispute.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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