Newly ascendant Republicans say they want to trim federal spending and contain the budget deficit.
Liberals are wary such efforts will damage Social Security and other government programs.
President Obama’s own deficit commission reportedly is bogged down trying to find solutions that can find sufficient support.
Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats will have to find a way to work together, and that’s what most voters expect.
How, then, to forge a genuine solution that all sides could support?
Try asking Sen. Russ Feingold. The three-term Democrat from Wisconsin may have lost his bid for re-election this month, but he also may be just the person who can forge a solution.
There is no doubt Feingold holds great respect among liberals and progressives. Democracy For America, the left-leaning political action committee affiliated with Howard Dean, not only fought hard for Feingold’s failed re-election bid, but after his defeat it went so far as to circulate an online petition to supporters thanking him for his dedicated service.
The true Senate maverick, Feingold has been just as steadfast in his pursuit of deficit reduction, never missing an opportunity to tout his Control Spending Now Act, a bill which would eliminate waste, actually deal with earmark reform, and, yes, cut the deficit by about a half trillion dollars over 10 years.
The easiest course to bring Feingold into the debate would be for President Obama to nominate him as the new White House budget director. Obama’s present nominee for the post, Jacob Lew, already is in some trouble, anyway. Sen. Mary Landrieu has gone as far as to put a hold on the Lew nomination.
At this stage, Obama could easily point to the new realities of the election, thank Lew for his willingness to serve, withdraw the Lew nomination, and name Feingold instead. Feingold having been a senator himself, other senators—Democrat and Republican—would not likely oppose Feingold’s nomination.
If Obama doesn’t want to put Feingold in at the Office of Management and Budget, the president could still find a way to employ him.
Obama clearly is not going to preempt or subvert his own task force, but the president could—and should—bring Feingold and his ideas into the mix.
This could involve Obama himself proposing the Control Spending Now Act to Congress, and daring the new House majority to defeat a bill so named, and just see how big a PR disaster that would be.
Obama also could bring Feingold to the White House in an explicit policymaking capacity. It wouldn’t be enough to put the soon-to-be-former senator in an advisory capacity. Rather, the president should empower Feingold with actual authority and decision-making—and then send Feingold to Capitol Hill to begin negotiations on what a deficit-reduction deal could look like.
Feingold would have to have the ear of the president, and be presumed to be speaking for him.
Deficit reduction is a tough issue, but by his unique position as both a progressive and a deficit hawk, Feingold should have instant credibility with the opposing constituencies.
More to the point, Feingold would force Republicans to prove how serious they are.
Is the GOP using the deficit merely as a political weapon against the president, or is it interested in real progress?
If Republicans truly are interested in the latter, then they would do well to embrace Feingold as a budget negotiator in a way they didn’t as a senator.