Obama must pay to play…

It’s sunrise at 30,000 feet as I wing my way from Boise to Minneapolis en route to my East Coast hearth and home. It was good to get out of DC post-election; it was even better to spend time with the Idaho Dairymen, but that’s a blog for another time.

Being on an airplane at 5:30 a.m. gives you time to think about a lot of what if’s. In my post-election mood, the list of what if’s is just too darn long, so I’m going to focus on how the boys and girls in Washington can overcome their collective image as less-than-smart and less-than-in tune with their constituents. This is includes our newly reelected president.

I was surprised at how short the media memory this week when House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH) told a DC press conference the parameters under which he’s more than willing to work with the President and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) to find a solution to the looming “fiscal cliff.” Go back to Boehner’s public statements and offers of cooperation during the debate leading up to the enactment of the Budget Act of 2011. Everything he said this week, he’s said before.

There was nothing “conciliatory” or particularly surprising in Boehner’s statements. His party has always said now, during a less-than-robust economic “recovery”, is not the time to raise anyone’s taxes, and if Dems will agree to getting a handle on entitlement programs is on the table — including Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and food stamps — then he’s willing to talk about closing special interest tax loopholes and other revenue measures. This is the same offer made by the GOP in 2010 and 2011.

I’ve quietly believed Reid, given he’s bred as the same political animal as Boehner, knows that what Boehner is offering is how the ultimate dilemma of the fiscal cliff, tax reform, immigration and a host of other issues will be resolved. I don’t think President Obama gets it.

Obama has to realize he and his politicos took themselves out of the budget/deficit reduction game in 2010 as the zeal increased in pursuing what eventually led to the Budget Control Act. The President sidelined himself again when he forced Boehner to walk away from the so-called “grand bargain” on deficit reduction in 2011 by trying to up the ante at the 11th hour. I’m not sure the White House regretted these decisions as it allowed them to keep their hands clean and gave them splendid pre-election deniability.

However the fiscal cliff challenge is solved, however immigration and energy policy are addressed, the President must disabuse himself of the notion that he will set the debate and he will decide the outcome. In the grand scheme of things, he’s just another player in the game, just like Boehner and Reid, and his record doesn’t even approach those of the two congressional leaders. It’s clear if he offers nothing progressive, substantial or productive, then he will likely spend a lot of time waiting for the end game.

The White House spent the last four years saying all the right things. Now’s the time to demonstrate once and for all it can do the right thing as well.

The lesson learned this week was simple: The American voter gave no one a mandate; what Obama, Boehner and Reid got from the public was a second chance.

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