Both sides are aching to do tax reform, for instance. Both sides want an intelligent set of spending cuts. And both sides are seeking changes to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
But agreeing on goals isn’t the same as agreeing on the policies needed to achieve those goals. Sure, both sides want tax reform, but they disagree on whether it should raise new revenue. And both sides want to replace the supercommittee’s automatic spending cuts, but Republicans want to substitute deeper reductions to domestic programs, and Democrats don’t. If these issues could be successfully navigated, however, that could build the necessary trust to take a run at entitlement reform.
It’s easier to see Democrats and Republicans coming together on a deal around Social Security than on Medicare and Medicaid. Bipartisan changes to the two health-care programs are complicated by the Affordable Care Act and GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, which have committed the parties to opposing visions for the health-care system.
But the two parties have largely left Social Security out of their arguments. Ryan’s budget leaves it alone. Obama’s plans do, too. The two sides haven’t polarized around irreconcilable ideas. It’s possible to imagine them going into a room and coming out with a deal. It could even be coupled with tax reform, since much of what needs to be done for Social Security relates to changing what and how it taxes.