Take a stand on Medicare

President Obama has a clear path to reelection. If he chooses it, he can win a second term and become the historic president he yearns to be — not our first African-American president, but one who changes the country’s direction. By pulling the nation back from the brink of the coming debt crisis, Obama can help all Americans, and free himself from the shackles of unions and other liberal interest groups he must now court to hold office. President Obama should join with Republicans to reform Medicare. Now.

Such courageous leadership will invite fierce attacks from Obama’s own party. Majorities of voters fear changes to Medicare and wrongly believe our crushing federal debt can be addressed without touching the beloved healthcare program. Democrats, marooned in the minority, are now giddy over a new Medicare fight Republicans have invited by daring to propose ambitious reforms. Victory last week in a special election in New York’s 26th district, a GOP stronghold, has given Democrats a 2012 campaign blueprint. Rep. Steve 
Israel (N.Y.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said on MSNBC’s “Hardball” last week, “Yes, we can win back the House on this 
issue,” adding later in an interview, “Medicare has become such a galvanizing issue. It cuts across party lines and it is inuring to the benefit of Democrats.”

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President Obama should resist the temptation to use Medicare as an electoral dirty bomb and instead become the leader willing to fix it.

This is not a long or confusing process, and won’t take much time. Options for changing Medicare have been debated for years — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it best — they “have already been studied to death. We don’t need any more hearings. The only question remaining is what we will pick up and agree to on a bipartisan basis.”

Obama even has an out — he must do this to preserve the full faith and credit of the United States. As the debate over raising the debt ceiling unfolds over the next eight weeks, Republicans will maintain that our fiscal crisis can be addressed by cuts alone, without new taxes, while Democrats suggest Medicare needs only nominal tinkering. Neither is true. The Democrats will claim the GOP is holding the nation’s credit hostage in the debt-ceiling fight, and that is true. But the Republicans have no choice, because both parties know that without this moment, no substantive steps to curb mandatory spending would ever occur.

Before his election, Obama promised to be post-partisan, to stop “kicking the can down the road” on our toughest problems, like entitlement spending, and to tell Americans not what they wanted to hear but what they needed to hear. After his election he said it was time to put away childish things. Now is that time. Economic growth is slowing, and Obama’s hope of clinging to the presidency by an incremental improvement to the employment 
forecast next year is not a strategy for winning. But he can cut spending deeply and take Medicare off the table by fixing it. No Republican presidential candidate can run against Medicare reforms House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama negotiate together, and they can’t attack him for reducing the deficit either.

Without the guts to tackle Medicare, Obama will be defending a still troubled, perhaps worsening, economy as well as his unpopular stimulus and healthcare reform programs while Republicans blame him for pushing the country deeper into debt. Taxpayers can look forward to more Medicare demagoguery as the program faces bankruptcy just 13 years from now.

And then Obama will be remembered for that.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.