The United States is facing three overlapping crises — the short-term challenge of a jobless recovery, the long-term crisis of entitlement spending and, in the medium term, an economy that wasn’t delivering for the middle class even before the financial crisis struck. The Democratic Party may have the wrong answers to these problems. But the Republican Party as an institution often seems to have no answers whatsoever.
Some individual Republicans make a better showing. Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, has a proposal for payroll tax relief that might help jump-start economic growth. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, has his famous “roadmap” to a sustainable entitlement system. Judd Gregg, the outgoing Republican senator from New Hampshire, was collaborating with Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat, on tax reform that could attract bipartisan support. And during the health care and financial reform debates, the pages of conservative magazines bristled with plausible alternatives to the Democratic bills.
Yet the party hasn’t united around any of these ideas. And what consensus does exist is insufficient to the nation’s challenges. The country needs fundamental tax reform rather than the permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts. It needs a health care overhaul that doesn’t merely return the system to the pre-Obamacare status quo. It needs a plan to slow the growth of Social Security and Medicare, not just a discretionary spending freeze.