Low-hanging Policy Fruit for 2013 (Daniel)

5 Jan

Patrick makes several good points in his 5 January posts. The first is that President Obama needs to keep making his case to the American people on the right path forward on economic policy. He has been doing this well, whether in campaign mode or at post-election events on el abismo fiscal, for nearly a year now. He should keep it up. For, as Patrick rightly points out, the influence of the American people, when channeled through a responsible leader, is unstoppable.

Second, Paddy argues that the President should not be afraid to take on his own party in order to advance a comprehensive plan to resolve our country’s long-term debt problem. This will involve, as Patrick says, sensible reform to entitlement spending, particularly Medicare. Such reform must protect the right of Americans to access quality, affordable health care. But it must make shrewd decisions that significantly cut costs. There’s no way we will strike an agreement that puts our country’s debt burden on a sustainable path without cutting Medicare spending. The important thing to note is that such cuts need not – indeed, must not – equate to lowering the quality of health care, or increasing the financial burden seniors face in accessing it.

Some people will say that’s wishful thinking. I’d call it the need for smart public policy. I realize there’s an incredible dearth of that in our country right now. Americans would be forgiven for having trouble imagining its reemergence. Nonetheless, we’ve done prudent policy before. We can do it again. And, hey, it’s 2013 – let’s make it happen!

Looking beyond these thorny fiscal issues, let’s take advantage of the New Year’s good will to knock off some low-hanging policy fruit early in 2013 that would really help our country. Let’s do the stuff that just makes sense. Immigration reform is at the top of that list. It’s clear that ideas like “self-deportation” and somehow “rounding-up” all U.S.-based undocumented immigrants and returning them to their countries of origin are patently absurd. The vast majority of Americans understand this. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not serious.

Fortunately, political conditions are ripe for comprehensive immigration reform. Democrats have long championed such reform and now also need to make good on the overwhelming support they received from Latino voters in the recent election, which proved essential to President Obama’s victory. Republicans, on the other hand, need to show themselves to be sensible – or, at a minimum, not farcically draconian – with respect to immigration policy, to avoid permanently demonizing themselves in the eyes of our country’s fastest-growing demographic. Republicans get this. You can expect them to play ball on the immigration issue in the months ahead.

Secondly, let’s do a free trade agreement (FTA) with Europe. Is this far from the front pages? Indeed, it is, and delightfully so. In our consumer-driven politics and 24/7 news cycle, scope for progress often proves easiest on obscure issues that happily exist far from the headlines. The U.S.-European FTA is just such an issue. In recent weeks, chatter on an FTA has emerged among economic pundits, and officials on both sides have moved quietly in the direction of a deal that has long made commercial sense but remained precluded by political factors. An FTA would serve both parties’ interests. Crucially, the politics finally seem ripe for a deal.
Factors that have hindered a deal to date have lost some of their potency. Europe needs to grow. Voters on the continent are increasingly willing to consider pro-growth measures they once opposed, as a means of stoking growth. European politicians would, therefore, have a freer hand to push this deal. The United States, for its part, is keen to regain its status as the world’s preeminent export machine. Opening up new markets in Europe – still the world’s largest consumer market – would help mightily in this regard. Plus, one of the usual leading arguments cast by FTA opponents in the United States – namely, that our would-be FTA partners, many of which are low-income countries, have rock-bottom wages and horrific labor standards that give these economies’ workers an undue advantage over their U.S. counterparts – would not hold in the European context. If anything, European workers enjoy better wages and protection than Americans do. Political auspiciousness has charted a path for policymakers to get this FTA done.

Finally, can we please just save the Supreme Court some time and pass legislation that repeals DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act)? There once was a debate in this country on gay marriage. The debate is over. Gay marriage won. That is not because marriage equality proponents convinced opponents of the merit of their argument. It’s because the vast majority of children and young adults in the United States know or go to school or work with gay people. And, guess what? They have seen that their homosexual peers, co-workers, and friends don’t differ much from them in any important respect. They want to work hard. They want to raise families. They want to contribute to society. The othering of American homosexuals was bound, at some point, to cave-in around the corruption of its flawed internal argument. In the event, it is far more quickly being trumped by demographic change. Congress should acknowledge the end of the road on the gay marriage debate and preemptively repeal DOMA, a piece of legislation that has unconstitutionally hindered marriage equality since the day it was signed.

So, those are some of the low-hanging policy fruit I wish Congress would quickly pick in the New Year. Americans deserve it. And this stuff just makes sense! Swift action on the three above issues might also restore some of the American public’s faith in its legislature to get things done. That in itself would be a better New Year’s gift than we’ve had for some time.

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