Fundamental policy differences between Democrats and Republicans have caused this government shutdown and impasse over the debt ceiling. While Democrats are unabashedly playing politics with the shutdown, Republicans would be wise to assume the mantle of leadership abandoned by President Obama.
The GOP can reopen the government quickly and extend the debt ceiling, and they can do so by reining in government excess for the long term.
Here is the GOP’s best course of action:
Today’s low-hanging fruit is the Medical Device Tax, and Republicans should start with its repeal. As recently as March, thirty four Democrats voted to repeal this ill-advised tax on our nation’s life-saving R&D laboratories. Ultra-liberal Senator Al Franken has called it a “job-killing tax.” Only by the grace of Harry Reid and President Obama is it still alive at all.
It’s time for the tax to go. Democrats would be foolish to drag out the shutdown or cause America’s default in defense of a measure they publicly recognize is bad for American health care.
Democrats should likewise be amenable to suspending ObamaCare’s individual mandate. The President has already suspended ObamaCare’s business mandate, recognizing that American businesses are not yet ready for the law’s tangled regulations.
What makes him think American families are better prepared to handle ObamaCare’s burdens? By simply delaying the mandate by one year, the president could reduce the federal deficit by—according to the Congressional Budget Office—over $35 billion and garner some public favor in the process. Indeed, the individual mandate is so befuddling and, let’s face it, offensive that 72 percent of Americans in one 2012 poll believed it to be unconstitutional.
The Republicans have also taken the high road and proposed eliminating special healthcare subsidies for Congress.
So far Democrats have been unresponsive and unwilling to personally bear the costs they have imposed on everyone else.
It is absurd that Congress continues to subsidize its members’ health insurance with taxpayer dollars. Republicans should have no problem eliminating this subsidy as part of any deal. Maybe if Congress steps up and eats its own cooking, it will realize just how bitter ObamaCare tastes going down.
Republicans should also assume leadership by extending the debt ceiling in a manner that will restore its utility as a tool to limit government spending.
First of all, Congress should grant only a short term extension, and tie any further extension to cuts in spending and the start of negotiations over entitlement reform.
This is what the country wants. A recent study found that 61 percent of Americans want Congress to cut spending before the debt limit is raised at all.
It is also the prudent thing to do. Democrats would have to pass this short term extension or else shoulder the blame for America’s default.
Second, instead of giving Congress continued rein to surpass this not-so-constraining barrier time and again with their freewheeling appropriations, Republicans should limit the publically held debt to a percentage of America’s GDP.
Americans would undoubtedly support this idea too, especially if the law held Congressmen personally responsible for their spending.
Imagine the support for a law that docks Congress’ salary for overspending any time America’s debt surpasses the selected percentage of GDP.
Republicans can best effect these small but important changes with the cooperation of the Democrats and President Obama. Vulnerable Democrats up for reelection should be especially amenable to these proposal. Senator Mary Landrieu for example would do well to support targeted cuts to ObamaCare, with 56% of Louisianans opposed to the law.
Enlisting the cooperation of President Obama is more difficult, especially because the President seems more interested in negotiating with Iran these days than he does with the GOP. But Republicans do have something to offer that both advances fiscal responsibility and is compelling to the President.
Republicans should reinstate the executive’s budgetary impoundment powers. Until the Nixon administration, presidents did not have to spend every dime Congress appropriated to the federal agencies.
If Congress overestimated the costs of particular programs, for example, the president could decline to spend their wasteful dollars. After Nixon abused this prerogative, Congress eliminated the privilege with the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act.
Now is the time to bring it back, both to give the president that “concession” he clearly desires, and to add another safeguard against fiscal irresponsibility.
Grand bargains too often become grand battles with no winners. Instead of chasing unrealistic overhauls, Republicans should immediately pursue targeted cuts to ObamaCare, reinstatement of the president’s budgetary impoundment powers, and a responsible restructuring of the debt ceiling process. This is the path to reopening government, restoring America’s creditworthiness, and reversing the Democrats’ dangerous fiscal path.
Steve Forbes is Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media. His latest book, "Reviving America: How Repealing Obamacare, Replacing the Tax Code, and Reforming the Fed will Restore Hope and Prosperity" (McGraw-Hill Education, December 10, 2015).