– Barack Obama, 2009.
Now that he has won a second term, President Obama’s words hold even more meaning. However, not in the way he originally intended, because there is no way that either party can claim a strong mandate after November 6th.
In fact, America seems caught in the same political quagmire that we were in on November 5th.
It’s true that the country narrowly re-elected President Obama, although the electoral vote wasn’t that close. But the Republicans maintained a strong majority in the House while the Senate remained under Democrat control.
So what did America vote for? In one word, compromise. Not on principles, but on policies.
If most Americans favored a liberal, progressive agenda, they would have handed the House of Representatives over to the Democrats. Likewise, if their desire was to move sharply to the right, we would have seen a power change in the Senate as well as the White House.
Essentially, we are stuck exactly where we have been for the past two years, divided down the middle. And that indicates to me that the majority of Americans want our government to move toward the center.
Believe me, that is not an easy admission for someone as fiscally and socially conservative as me. And it does not mean that I will stop trying to convince others of the merits of my conservative positions.
However, my opinion isn’t what matters. What matters is the will of the American people and they have issued a clarion call for the policymakers in Washington to get along and find some common meeting ground.
With that in mind, I offer the following suggestions that should garner some bipartisan support…
1. President Obama wants to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for individuals making $250,000 or more. The Republicans favor extending the same cuts for everyone earning under $1 million. So let’s meet somewhere in the middle, gentlemen. Pick a number as low as $500,000 or as high as $750,000. But pick a number and get on with it.
2. While we’re at it, let’s throw the President a bone by agreeing to raise the payroll tax threshold from the current level of $110,100 to $125,000 or even $150,000. I proposed this common sense adjustment when I first ran for Congress in 2008 and it still seems logical to me now.
3. OK, Mr. President. Now it’s your turn to give a little. Every citizen should have a stake in the game, so let’s make sure that everyone pays some amount of federal income taxes. Set a minimum of $500 or $1,000 and build up from there, but no more free rides, period.
4. While we’re at it, let’s raise the age at which seniors qualify for full Social Security benefits more quickly. No, not for current recipients and no, not for people 55 or older. But younger workers shouldn’t receive full benefits until they reach age 68 (up from 67 now) and as soon as is feasible, that ceiling should be raised to age 70.
After all, when FDR signed the Social Security Act in 1935, the average life expectancy for American men was 58 and for women it was only 62. Today, people are living an average of 20 years longer, so you do the math. We can no longer sustain the current level of benefits, especially with Baby Boomers retiring in record numbers.
One more thing. Stop demonizing those who want to phase in an optional privatization of a very small portion of their Social Security benefits. Again, we shouldn’t allow current recipients to do so or even those who are 55 or older. But for younger workers who want to invest a small percentage – maybe 5-10% – of their future benefits in a pre-qualified publicly traded company, let them do it.
Despite the current downturn, stocks historically return 8% annually compared to Social Security annual returns of 2%. And when a person dies, a privatized account belongs to his or her heirs unlike the rest of one’s Social Security benefits, which revert to good old Uncle Sam.
5. You still owe the Republicans a bone of their own, Mr. President, so try this one on for size. Eliminate the estate tax, permanently. I mean, drive a stake through it so it can never rear its ugly head again. If there is anything more immoral than taxing a person’s wealth while they are alive and then taxing it again when they are dead, I’m not sure what it is.
The same argument can be made concerning capital gains taxes, which basically tax investment earnings that were made from already taxed income. However, I don’t see either side offering much wiggle room here, so let’s just table this one for now.
Sure, there are plenty of other issues to be tackled on Capitol Hill such as our immigration policy and the reforming of the Medicare and Medicaid systems that are unsustainable in the long run. But if we can just reach agreement on some of these other matters, perhaps enough mutual trust can be built up to break those logjams too.
A good rule of thumb is that when neither side is smiling, real compromise has been achieved. And that should make all Americans happy because that’s what they voted for this November.