The Debt Deal That Should Be Made

Where do we go from here? President Obama is re-elected, but Republicans not only retained control in the House of Representatives, but added to their majority. While the GOP was a train wreck in the Senate and blew opportunities to close the gap or take control, they still have more than enough seats to filibuster controversial legislation (you only need 41), something they didn’t have in the first two years of Obama’s term. It adds up to a recipe for gridlock, as the national debt keeps growing.

President Obama’s allies have rushed to claim a “mandate”, as have all previous presidential winners before him. If by “mandate”, they mean that officeholders in the Congress—also democratically elected in their own right—have some obligation to roll over for whatever the president desires, than I disagree.

We might recall the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill refused to grant any vague “mandate” privilege to Ronald Reagan after the latter was re-elected in 1984—an election Reagan won with 59 percent of the vote and carrying 49 states. Even less does current GOP speaker John Boehner owe a mandate to a president re-elected by only two percentage points in the popular vote.

But Boehner’s claims of a mandate of his own are equally silly, and as the debt skyrockets,  with China buying it up and gaining increasing leverage on the United States, both the Speaker and the President are going to have to come to some kind of deal and then sell their parties on it.

President Obama & Speaker Boehner have no choice but learn to work with each other--and they better do it fast.

The reality is that a $16 trillion debt doesn’t get solved without unpopular solutions, including solutions all of us aren’t going to like. Solving the debt is more important than the pet agendas a lot of us would like to see enacted—for me it’s the up-front costs of transitioning Social Security and Medicare to private accounts and vouchers. For others it might be a sweeping tax cut or an expansive new federal program. Those are the goodies, but the prerequisite to doing anything is a real plan to contain the national debt, as politically unromantic as that might be.

Neither side has been honest with the American public. Obama has pretended raising taxes a few percentage points on a few extremely rich people will enable him to cut the deficit  and still invest more in education and job training. Republicans, still living in the world Ronald Reagan inherited in 1981 can’t get beyond tax-cutting. Both agendas are going to have to be shelved.

A starting point for negotiation might be this—give Obama what we wants regarding the modest tax hike on the upper brackets. The rates going from 35 to 39 percent are not the difference between capitalism and socialism. But Boehner, and his strengthened Republican majority have a right to significant concessions of their own.

It’s long past time the left wing of the Democratic Party recognize that the wealthiest of the elderly don’t need to keep collecting Social Security, or get Medicare benefits. Republicans tried to broach this topic in the early 1980s and again in 1986, were demonized for it, lost big in congressional elections and learned their lesson—that the Democrats couldn’t be trusted to deal honestly with them on Social Security and Medicare

But these two programs are where the money is at. So perhaps Boehner should take Obama up on his offer—start the debt reduction by asking their wealthiest to pay a little more—but insist that the president himself get out front of taking the richest off Social Security, make it clear to the Left that the time has come for this change and stop the charade of one party playing ‘gotcha’ with the other.

Boehner wouldn’t be popular in his own party if he sold a modest tax hike on the upper brackets as part of a debt deal. Obama would lose the “cool kid” status he covets so much with his own base if he pushed for this type of Social Security reform. But in the loss of popularity and coolness, both could gain a new title—leader. It’s time for both men to start acting like one.

Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of



  • WMD

    I take issue with the “just don’t give Social Security to the wealthy”. I am SO tired of being shafted for being a hard working, saving responsibly citizen! I don’t take big vacations, I buy used cars, I live in a modest house — I could afford all of those things, but I saved for retirement instead — now you are telling me I should let go of what Social Security is rightfully mine to so that those that also made as much as me but didn’t save any of their money for retirement can get theirs. We paid in, we were told we would receive back. Once again GOOD behavior is punished and bad behavior is rewarded.

  • Mary

    It was not merely an ideological stance not to raise taxes. Between the increases in healthcare, the tepid economy, and an increase in taxes, jobs will be lost. Anyone who has to juggle all of that in order to keep a business open understands that.
    But look, you won’t need to take my word on it, you will get to see for yourself. Of course you will want to blame it on other reasons, but, try to

    • leogirl87

      The key is to raise taxes ONLY on the wealthy, and NOT on the middle class. The middle class is barely making ends meet, many of them are small business owners who want to hire more hands but it is too expensive. The wealthy should have the highest taxes, middle class should have low to medium taxes (depending on whether they are lower or upper middle class), and those below the poverty line should not have to pay taxes at all (or give them a full refund at tax return time).

      • Joe M

        leogirl87. We’ve already done this. The wealthy already have such higher taxes in the US that they pay the majority of the burden. The US has among the most progressive tax systems in the world. It’s not a key to any of our current problems.

  • riotjock™

    WHAT? You want to raise the taxes on the rich to what they were under Clinton AND take away social security for those that are so wealthy that they are already socially secure?

    That sounds like logic and fairness. Are you sure you are posting on the right website?

    • Randall

      Henceforth, let it be known: Dan Flaherty is a RINO.

    • leogirl87

      I think you are forgetting something important: this is is a CATHOLIC website. Most Catholic Republicans used to be members of the Democratic Party, but left when the Democratic Party platform started moving radically against Church teaching. There is nothing wrong with social justice or helping the poor according to Church teaching; in fact, Republicans statistically give more to charity than Democrats!

      Raising taxes by just a little on the rich can help us a lot. Many of them are making hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars each year and will not miss their money.

      I also agree with the Social Security/Medicare solution. There is no need to give people money when they already have or make a lot of money from their retirement plans. Or to give them a health care plan that is worse than the one they can afford (and will probably buy because it has better coverage for problems facing the elderly).

      Even though many Catholic Democrats view Catholic Republicans as “the enemy” or “sold out” for leaving “the” Catholic party, perhaps they are the ones with the best solutions for compromise because they can truly see both sides of the issue, as they have been on both sides.

      • Joe M

        leogirl87. Raising taxes by just a little on the rich does not “help us a lot.” For example, the Obama “Buffet Rule” would raise (in ideal circumstances) enough revenue to cover half a day of Federal spending at current rates.

        That said, I can understand Dan’s sentiment here. My objection though, is that so much economic damage is being done by the Obama administration in areas that can’t be checked, I expect elected conservatives to enforce checks in areas where they can. Even if they only stop the reckless Obama demands that they can, we will still be a nation out of balance and headed toward fiscal ruin. People don’t seem to realize how badly the collapse in Europe (and soon to be China) is going to hit the US.

        There is nothing charitable or humane about leading a country into increased poverty when it was scientifically predictable and avoidable.



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