So it was a good meeting. House Republicans welcomed the chance for a frank exchange of ideas with President Barack Obama on Wednesday. Outreach is always positive, and more Republicans in this town need the opportunity to have an open dialogue with our president. I hope these discussions continue.
Yet, while this may have been the first time some of my colleagues have heard the president’s arguments so personally and directly, I’ve heard them all many times before. If we’re going to find bipartisan solutions, the president will have to move beyond the same proposals and Democratic dogma. For all of Washington’s focus on the president’s outreach to Republicans, it’s his engagement with members of his own party that will determine whether we succeed in dealing with the challenges facing our economy.
Take the budget. At a time when our economy continues to limp along and every American’s share of our national debt exceeds $52,000, Washington owes the people a responsible, balanced budget. The plan Republicans introduced this week balances the budget in 10 years. Instead of spending money we don’t have to expand government, our budget focuses on growing the economy and improving the lives of American families. Our balanced budget means more economic security for workers and parents, a more secure retirement for the elderly and more opportunities for younger workers.
Recognizing the reality of divided government, Republicans launched an effort in January to try to bring Senate Democrats to the table. Republicans’ “No Budget, No Pay” law requires Senate Democrats to pass a budget for the first time in four years or lose their salary. This has worked, and if both chambers pass their budgets next week, we’ll have another opportunity to reconcile two very different visions for the future.
I don’t underestimate the difficulty of this task, especially given that Senate Democrats have no interest in balancing the budget. The president also doesn’t share the goal of a balanced budget, despite frequent talk of a “balanced approach.” But we need to try, because doing so is vital to ensuring that our children and grandchildren have a chance to live the American dream.
The problem, in large part, is that Democrats refuse to make the tough choices necessary to solve our long-term debt crisis. Despite enacting $650 billion worth of tax hikes in January, they would rather raise taxes again and tinker around the edges on entitlements — if at all — while spending on these and many other federal programs continues on autopilot.
This is not how we’ll fix Washington’s spending problem. The president knows that. During our debt discussions in 2011, he supported such reforms as raising the Medicare eligibility age and achieving savings in Medicaid. He has since taken these reforms off the table. Instead of continuing to backpedal, the president could put these ideas back in the mix — and make it so that this budget process isn’t just a political exercise that goes nowhere.
To be sure, there are other parts of our budget the president can embrace, including approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department released a report this month that makes clear there is no reason to further delay this project, which enjoys broad public support and will create tens of thousands of American jobs. Unfortunately, lawmakers and interests in the president’s party are standing in the way. This is another chance for the president to forge common ground and stand up for middle-class jobs.
All of these bipartisan discussions are encouraging, and Republicans hope they will lead to real solutions that help American families. But presidential leadership is really what’s needed. By shifting the focus from charm to courage, and eventually action, we can guarantee our children a future where everyone has the opportunity to find work and pursue their piece of the American dream. That would be the grandest bargain of all.
John Boehner, Republican representative from Ohio, is Speaker of the House.