Substantively, the SOTU was a speech that a major part of the country liked, even if it made House Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans cringe. For the Republicans, that’s a problem, especially if the only thing Republicans have to offer the middle class is entitlement reform, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested in the run-up to the State of the Union.
In a pre-SOTU statement, McConnell beseeched the President to “allow us to save and strengthen Medicare,” and to “cooperate with both parties to save Social Security.” In other words, make sure both parties have their hands on the dagger and no one will get blamed.
McConnell’s prescription is a recipe for alienating the GOP’s electoral base, which is chock full of retirees and voters north of 50. Green eye shades and the worn eraser of an accountant’s pencil don’t win elections, and angry seniors can wreak havoc on presidential aspirations.
Rather than gunning for Medicare, the Republicans should pick up on some of threads in Obama’s speech, while taking a hard line against tax hikes. The GOP should bash the President for looking to undercut saving for college and 529 accounts, and also push for a reduction in payroll taxes. The fact is that most Americans pay more in Medicare and Social Security taxes than in income taxes. And if wonks and purists criticize simultaneously sparing benefits while cutting taxes, just point out that being pro-middle class and pro-worker is about rewarding their efforts and lessening their burdens.
Republicans should seize on the President’s invitation to fund precision medicine to combat cancer and diabetes, and expand that war to fight Alzheimer’s and autism. They should also embrace rebuilding our infrastructure. In addition to new jobs, infrastructure is a cornerstone of commerce. If building a rail system was good enough for Abraham Lincoln, and forging a national highway system was all right with Ike, then the GOP should treat infrastructure as part of its own patrimony.