It’s time for members on both sides to show some leadership

Now that the election is history and President Obama has won reelection and the Senate has remained Democratic, it’s time to take a serious look at the next two months and the next two years.

What we need is a big dose of bipartisan adult leadership.

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This means two things: (1) President Obama must turn the other cheek and tell Republicans in Congress that he is ready for a serious, ongoing conversation about the major problems facing the country, notwithstanding the fact that they beat the hell out of him during the election, and (2) Republicans like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner must tell the more extreme elements of their own party to sit down and shut up and that they are ready to deal.

This does not mean that anyone is going to give away the store, but it does mean “everything is on the table.”

So where do they go from here?

For openers, both sides should take a serious look at Republican legislation that passed the House in August establishing fast-track procedures for considering tax reform next year. This bill would discharge the House Ways and Means Committee by late April if it failed to report out tax reform legislation and pave the way for prompt consideration on the floor. It also would provide for prompt consideration in the Senate, assuming the House passes a bill, and would eliminate two of the current three opportunities for a filibuster by eliminating the 60-vote requirement for every stage except final passage.

However, for this to really help deal with the deficit, any new tax legislation would need to be revenue-positive — that is, raise more revenue than the current system no matter what tax rates it establishes. Republicans have argued that tax reform should be revenue-neutral — or raise only as much as the current system does — even though the Simpson-Bowles commission called for revenue-positive tax reform.

Any such fast-track procedural bill probably would have to be part of a lame-duck congressional deal that delays sequestration and continues current tax rates while Congress deals with tax reform and the budget next year.

Republicans will hate the concept of revenue-positive tax reform and Democrats will hate any continuation of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy for any period of time, but no one gets everything they want when you have divided government.

The alternative is the looming fiscal cliff. Try to sell that at the Rotary Club or in the union hall, particularly at Machinists and United Auto Workers halls where the members work in defense plants.

Assuming some type of arrangement is made during the lame-duck session to punt all these issues for six months, there still needs to be some very heavy bipartisan lifting on a variety of issues next year.

Entitlements can be on the table as long as what Congress does is simply to alter some eligibility dates and implement a form of further means-testing. Any thought of radically changing Social Security and Medicare by moving to privatization or vouchers will not fly.

Tax deductions can be on the table as long as Congress recognizes that not all tax provisions are equal — some of them actually promote legitimate national policy objectives like energy independence.

I am basically an optimist and believe real progress can be made in the months ahead. Let’s hope that the public is so sick of political ads on television that they turn the channel when some super-PAC starts buying advertising to attack a legitimate bipartisan agreement on budget and taxes. 

Better still, maybe Congress should pass a ban on political issue ads during the 12 months following an election. That’s a case I would love to see argued before the Supreme Court. 

It’s time for some adult behavior. Let’s hope the adults show up.

Frost served in the House from 1979 to 2005, and was Democratic Caucus chairman and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  He is now a shareholder in the Washington, DC, office of the Polsinelli, Shughart law firm.


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