I would second Ken's praise of the sage Sage especially in this one respect: there is very little chance that the forthcoming super committee will produce a deal that will be the framework for a long-term left/right compromise in crafting a sustainable budget If the differences between the two parties were the differences between Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell on the Republican side and Erskine Bowles and Alice Rivlin on the Democratic side, then a long-term and fairly stable compromise would probably be in sight. The problem is that Rivlin and Bowles don't anchor the Democratic side of the debate at the national level. The Democratic side is best understood by looking at the policy implications of President Obama's speech in response to the Ryan budget. The implications of Obama's approach are broadly higher taxes (unarticulated, but implicit in his domestic discretionary spending and Social Security policy postures) and centralized bureaucratically administered Medicare cuts. I see no reason to believe that President Obama is, on these matters, to the left of his party's House or Senate leadership
This means that any deal that comes out of the super committee is going to be some kind of short-term tactical maneuvering or else be rejected by one or both sides. The Democrats will come around to a deal that conservatives can somewhat stomach under two scenarios. First, if the political environment is such that agreeing to some slightly watered down version of the Republican policy agenda is their best chance for political survival (which is to say that Republicans have won the argument on spending levels and the restructuring of entitlements.) There is no reason for the Democrats to believe that the Republicans have won the argument on those issues. Second, Obama and the Democrats get blamed for some national and/or international calamity that allows the Republicans to back into control of the presidency and working control of both houses of Congress thereby allowing them to unilaterally enact the Ryan agenda. This is a possible outcome, but one that is deeply irresponsible to bet on.
It also happens that there isn't a lot of time for the Good Luck Fairy to come to the rescue of the Republicans. Douglas Holtz-Eakin is explaining to anyone who will listen that we are headed for a fiscal crisis within the decade. If we wait until the crisis is upon us, then the choices are going to be brutal. It is easier to quickly raise taxes than to responsibly reduce entitlement programs aimed at the elderly. It is easier to quickly get bureaucrats to deny services than to introduce market-oriented innovation into Medicare. And we are running out of time. The closer we get to the crisis, the harder it will be to avoid Bernie Sanders(ish) policies of taxation and entitlement reform. A reelected President Obama, having no hope or fear of facing the voters again, would not be someone the congressional Republican leaders should want to deal with in case of a fiscal crisis in late 2013.
That means that the Sage is right on the most important thing. We have to beat'em. That means a different President. It is only prudent that Republicans assume that they will only win if they earn it. That being the case, it also means that the Republican candidate would ideally be one who can explain right-leaning reforms that would lead to a sustainable budget while reassuring the voters that they are competent and responsible enough to see those reforms through in a humane way.