An article posted yesterday to CNNMoney.com by Nina Easton reports on some quiet policy discussions about Social Security reform between two unlikely but well placed collaborators:
WASHINGTON (Fortune) -- Picture this: A rotund, theatrical politician from Harlem and a wiry, introverted policy-wonk from Shreveport sitting elbow to elbow on the House floor, shuffling between each other's offices, passing paper between staffs. Two men from opposite ends of the political spectrum, they are joined in secrecy on a project that just about everyone else in Washington considers doomed to failure. Charlie Rangel and Jim McCrery are on a mission to rescue Social Security from bankruptcy.The article goes on to reference the demise of the immigration bill as a cautionary tale for this sort of left-right pairing of legislators on big issues. But because of their status on the Ways and Means Committee, this is the pair that would have to get the process started. Let's hope they get a good foundation for the bill, with the opportunity for the rest of the legislators to do their jobs as well.
Conventional Washington wisdom long ago wrote the death notice on Social Security reform. What Republican would want to touch a project that blew up in George Bush's face just two years ago? What Democrat would risk frightening senior citizens when party leaders are hoping they'll be passing out tickets for Inaugural Day, 2009?
But McCrery, a conservative, and Rangel, a liberal, are willing to take the heat because they actually believe in the old-fashioned notion that if lawmakers offer serious solutions to serious problems, Congress' miserably low standing in public opinion doesn't have to be permanent. "I think it's important for the institution to reform Social Security," McCrery tells Fortune. "The public's opinion of the federal government right now is as low as it's ever been in my lifetime. And that's dangerous, because we have big problems to solve. And if we don't have political capital with the public, we can't solve those problems. We need public support to solve Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, healthcare." "Social Security is the easiest one, so let's start there," he adds. "Let's build some capital and show we can work together, and get big things done."
The Rangel-McCrery conspiracy matters only because these two men are, respectively, the Democratic chairman and the ranking GOP member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, ground zero for matters ranging from tax and trade policy to entitlement reform. Quietly, and over the course of the past three months, the two men have been meeting alone and with staff to hammer out a compromise plan. "We're not there yet," says Rangel, even as he makes clear - as a self-described "old poker player from Harlem" - that he's betting on a breakthrough.