Opinion: Debt ceiling: Forget a new roof, let’s build a whole new economic house


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This is more like it.

Remember when President Obama was just candidate Obama, and he was about ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’? His presidency was going to be all big-picture stuff.

With the exception of healthcare reform, though, it hasn’t been.


But as The Times reported Friday, that may be about to change:

White House and congressional negotiators have dived into a three-day marathon of talks to determine whether Democrats and Republicans can strike a grand bargain on taxes and benefit programs to avert a default on the federal debt and curb the nation’s huge deficit…. At issue are hundreds of billions of dollars a year in taxes and government spending. If the largest deal under discussion is agreed to, it could reshape the government’s fiscal picture for years to come, with large political implications for both parties.

OK, so it’s big. How big? Here are a few details:

Among the proposals being discussed are a change in the way cost-of-living increases are calculated for Social Security; an increase in the payments that upper-income seniors make for Medicare; an overhaul of the corporate tax system; elimination of a variety of tax breaks that primarily benefit upper-income taxpayers; and significant cuts in the military budget, farm programs and other domestic spending.

Not surprisingly, that’s too big for some:

Any one of those possibilities would face formidable political opposition, but White House aides and some congressional staff believe the ideas might fare better as a package than any would individually. Already, however, as word of some of the options spread around Washington, Obama was coming under fire from congressional Democrats and interest groups who feared he was likely to agree to too many cuts and from Republicans insisting they could not support any new tax revenues.

Except that this is just what the country wants; it’s just what the country needs; it’s why Obama was elected.

OK, sure, the devil’s in the details, and yes, lots of people won’t like lots of the proposals.

But Americans are big-picture people. We like the grand gesture: the Louisiana Purchase, the California Gold Rush, FDR’s New Deal, JFK’s mission to the moon, LBJ’s Great Society, Reagan’s “tear down this wall.”

Americans from both parties, and of no party, are sick and tired of partisan gridlock and baby steps.

So go ahead, Mr. President: Let’s overhaul Social Security and Medicare. Let’s fix the tax system. Let’s quit spending insane billions on defense. Let’s stop farm subsidies that enrich people for growing the wrong crops, or no crops at all.

We need jobs. We need to close the gap between rich and poor. We need to make sure that people who get sick can get medical care. We need immigration reform. We need the government to quit spending like a drunken sailor.

Most of all, we need a president who will lead -– and we need people in Congress who will lead with him.

So c'mon, Mr. President, and Mr. Speaker, and all you special-interest types and you ‘tea party’ types and you liberal types: Put up or shut up.

Let’s be this century’s Greatest Generation.


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-- Paul Whitefield