Congratulations to the GOP House leadership for stepping up to bat on entitlement reform and stating that its budget will tackle the growth of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. It might pay dearly for it, but it is the right thing to do.

President Obama started this rollercoaster of a budget debate off Monday by dropping the ball with a cautious document meant only to paint a contrast with Republicans, but not to actually address our crushing debt. It was, as Republicans charged, a punt. Obama made things worse Tuesday as he came to the cameras to rescue the message. There, though he tried to insist his budget-ducking wasn't part of a political game, he pretty much admitted it was.

"I was glad to see yesterday Republican leaders say, 'How come you didn't talk about entitlements?' I think that's progress, because what we had been hearing made it sound as if we just slashed deeper on education or other provisions in domestic spending that somehow that alone was going to solve the problem," Obama said when responding to repeated questions from the press about why he would ignore the recommendations of his own debt commission.
There is consensus now that cutting discretionary spending, even deeply, won't bring about real deficit reduction. Only reining in the coming explosion in the growth of Medicare in particular can truly put us on a path to reducing our debt burden.
It might be true that the Tea Party-backed freshmen in the House could push the leadership off a cliff in the current budget battle, producing a government shutdown and a public backlash instead of meaningful, rational spending cuts that Senate Democrats join Republicans in voting for and which Obama would then have to sign. The controversial cuts being debated now are still only reductions in spending for fiscal 2011, five months of which are gone.

Alexander Bolton reported in our paper this week about how much closer we are now to the possibility of a government shutdown. Linda Bilmes, a Harvard University professor teaching at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, said after holding a seminar for nearly 40 House freshmen before they were sworn in to Congress that she concluded many of them are seeking a shutdown.

"It was clear there was a group of new members who in my mind were more concerned with making statements than working with their own leadership to solve the nation's problems," said Bilmes. "Nothing I've seen in the last week changes my mind."

But by promising a budget that addresses entitlement reforms, House GOP leaders are looking past the battle over this year's spending and trying to solve the worst problem. Also, don't look now, but there is serious potential for movement on the deficit over on the Senate side (yes, the Senate), where an earnest, bipartisan effort is being made by a group of well-respected senators, including Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnPension insolvency crisis only grows as Congress sits on its hands Paul Ryan should realize that federal earmarks are the currency of cronyism Republicans in Congress shouldn't try to bring back earmarks MORE (R-Okla.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerRand's reversal advances Pompeo Pompeo headed for confirmation after surprise panel vote Overnight Finance: Treasury mulls sanctions relief for Russian aluminum firm | Trump floats tying NAFTA talks to border security | 14 states hit record-low unemployment MORE (D-Va.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ga.) and others who have met regularly to push several recommendations from the commission Coburn served on and the plan he supported.
If the White House wants to find a way to take credit later for any legitimate attempts to address the deficit, it needs to get in early on the bipartisan effort in the Senate. Anything would be better than Obama's opening bid this week.
Coburn was right when he said of Obama this week, "The president can either lead with a big, bold agenda and call Republicans' bluff or he can play it safe and nobody gets anything done. He has the opportunity to be one of the greatest presidents that we've had if he'll get out and lead on this."

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