David Brooks’ Grand Bargain

A congressional aide looks over the fiscal year 2014 budget proposal documents as Treasury Secretary Jack Lew testifies before the House Ways and Means Committee on the president’s budget proposal on April 11, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

I think it’s pretty clear that if you stare deep into the eyes of Obama administration officials, they would like to do more than they’ve proposed to shift spending out of programs for the elderly and into programs for children, infrastructure, and research. And David Brooks wants Republicans to call them on it:

In this framework, Democrats would get a lot of the good ideas that are in the Obama budget, but they’d be bigger and more aggressive. We’d take the pre-k initiative, the spending on scientific research and the infrastructure spending. But then we’d throw on top other programs. Make more men marriageable (by helping them earn a reliable wage). Rebind the social fabric in atomized communities (social entrepreneurship funds). Maybe expand a national service program to give more young adults discipline, orientation and connections.

Republicans would get structural entitlement reform. Here, too, we could build on the ideas in the Obama budget, like chained Consumer Price Index for Social Security and the expansion of means-testing for Medicare. Then we could throw on other modest structural reforms: Combine Medicare Parts A and B and further limiting Medigap plans in order to induce seniors to make more cost-conscious decisions. Repair federal pensions and the disability system. Means test Social Security and raise the Medicare eligibility age for affluent workers.

I’m quite curious as to how Obama administration officials would respond to something like this. Their official position is that anything with no tax hike element is a nonstarter with them. That position plus utter Republican intransigence on taxes has helped hold the Democratic coalition very solidly together. In a way, the rigidity of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell has been an enormous favor to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. I think a more flexible and more tactically savvy GOP that was willing to make a Brooks-like offer would provoke some serious splits.