In the New York Times, Ramesh Ponnuru presents the argument that the GOP should hold off on attempts to reform entitlements:
Reforming [Medicare and Social Security] is vital to our nation’s long-term fiscal health – which is why Republicans should resist this advice and leave the issue alone. Reform is impossible this year or next unless President Obama takes the lead on it. What’s more, Republicans have no mandate for reform, and a failed attempt will only set back the cause.
Would-be reformers should draw two lessons from this history. The first is that reform can’t be sprung on the electorate. Reagan hadn’t campaigned on cutting Social Security in 1980, nor did the Gingrich Republicans promise to reduce the growth of Medicare.
Today is no different: while some Republican candidates in the last election spoke forthrightly about the need to rein in these programs — notably Representative [Paul] Ryan himself, but also new Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky — most of them didn’t.
The second lesson is that presidential support for reform is a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition for success. As John Boehner, the new speaker of the House, said himself on election night, governing from Capitol Hill doesn’t work — the president has to set the agenda.
Two counterargruments come to mind. The first is that even futile attempts to introduce legislation advance the cause of entitlement reform, both because doing so highlights the issues the country is facing for the public and because whoever first proposes reform sets the baseline expectations for what can be done.
The second is that Republicans did campaign on repealing Obamacare, in fact it was one of the central themes of the midterms. They are committed to trying to pass a repeal measure in the House. One could argue that repeal alone constitutes a reform of health care entitlements, but either way it only makes sense to develop and promote a replacement plan — passing repeal without submitting a alternative proposal would look destructive. It seems like in the next two years Republicans are going to have to try to reform at least Medicare whether they want to or not.