Republicans Are Best Hope for Entitlement Reform

Though it may be wrong about some economic issues, the GOP is still the party that can take care for entitlement reform.

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To David Frum's thoughtful reply to my question about his partisan status, I'd like to add the following:

I'm not voting for Obama, either.

Looking back at the past three years, I think much of my frustration has stemmed from the fact that our two biggest problems—long-term unemployment and massive public debt—blew up at the same time.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

The debt problem was exacerbated by the collapse of the economy, to be sure, but in no other respect are the two problems related. The crash in the financial markets was driven by a combination of insane lending, irresponsible borrowing, and derivatives-market chicanery. The entitlement/healthcare-spending crunch was a slow-brewing storm that was going to happen, in one form or another, even if the crash of 2008 never happened.

But since both problems came to a head at the same time, they became a catch-all political indictment. Call it the Conflation of the Messes: We got into a hole because we spent too much and borrowed too much—and the only way out of it is to spend less and borrow less.

In the short term, this simply isn't true.

At the risk of crude analogizing, we've been like an alcoholic who lives in a house with a termite infestation. We need both a twelve-step program—some combination of stimulus and, even more so, de-leveraging of household debt—and we need an exterminator, i.e. an entitlement overhaul. The Republican solution has been to try to cure the termites with Alcoholics Anonymous.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Yet I don't kid myself: If it weren't for sheer political desperation, I don't believe for a second that Barack Obama would have entertained serious entitlement reform. He was brought to that table because Republicans, to their credit, dragged him there.

Did they walk away from that table?

Perhaps.

But remember, when the "grand bargain" talks failed, congressional Democrats were on the outside looking in. My guess is, resistance to pruning Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security would have faced stiff resistance among rank-and-file Democrats.

If and when we get to the other side of this stalled economy, I think Republicans are the only party that's philosophically equipped to handle the termite problem.

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