Who cares if Obama "won"? Can he lead?

It is tempting to assume that Obama has abandoned any hope of governing and is obsessed instead on Democrats seizing control of the House next year, an unlikely occurrence given the GOP’s structural advantages. “We can’t govern,” a senior White House aide told me, “without the House.” Obama’s immigration message is modeled suspiciously on his fiscal-crisis talking points. Blaming House Speaker John Boehner for preventing immigration from coming up for a vote in the past, Obama said Tuesday, “The only thing right now that’s holding it back is, again, Speaker Boehner not willing to call the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives.”

It looks like Obama plans to walk Republicans into another box canyon, this one of his making.

A wiser course would be to humbly accept the GOP’s terms of surrender and immediately leverage his advantage to end the budget fight that has polarized Washington. While Republicans are licking their wounds, Obama could announce an intense schedule of high-level budget meetings – daily, ideally. Rather than lecture lawmakers publicly, he could privately put his offer of modest entitlement cuts back on the table and declare his openness to do more. He could listen to Republicans – not for hours, but for days, if necessary.

If he listens closely, he might hear what GOP House leaders told me last spring. They were open to exchanging entitlement reform for new taxes – $250 billion to $300 billion, or approximately the amount that Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania proposed raising over 10 years under the guise of “tax reform.” That is a small price to pay for a Democratic president to enact entitlement cuts, shielding the GOP from a potent wedge issue. Of course, this would require Obama to actually sign entitlement cuts into law rather than just propose them, a step it’s not clear he’s willing to take.

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