Just before President Barack Obama signed his historic health care bill in 2010, Vice President Joe Biden famously shook the president’s hand, leaned toward him and whispered “this is a Big (blanking) deal.”
Unfortunately, a nearby microphone picked up the VP’s congratulations along with the expletive in the middle.
The question two and a half years later, as the country faces an even more serious long-range fiscal problem, is why the president isn’t proposing a similarly ambitious plan.
He has won his second term and will never have to run for office again. He was popularly elected by the nation at large, which should give him some temporary political advantage.
What is he waiting for?
While the media focuses on House Speaker John Boehner’s failure to muster a critical vote from his Republican majority, little is said or written about Obama’s failure to conclude a meaningful deal.
The president did extract a tax increase for singles making more than $400,000 a year and couples earning more than $450,000.
But the $6 billion that will raise over 10 years is essentially a rounding error compared to the trillions of dollars we need to raise or cut to meet our national obligations.
As Peggy Noonan recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, it was an “emotional, symbolic and ideological victory, not a substantive one.”
Obama’s haggling session with Boehner came to no conclusion. Finally, unable to reach an agreement, he sent Biden to the Senate to work out a compromise that basically postponed the crisis for a couple of months.
Instead of a solution, our country and our economy are again held hostage awaiting the next crisis, the fight over extending the country’s debt limit in March.
This is not how a serious nation should operate, lurching from one embarrassing gun-to-the head crisis to another.
The goal of Republicans and Democrats continues to be giving up just enough ground to get by while expending maximum effort making sure the other side gets the blame.
Now would be an excellent time for Obama to show what presidential leadership is all about.
He has the material for a serious plan at hand, the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan that has been sitting on the shelf since 2010.
Some say the purpose of such blue ribbon commissions is to simply delay action on something obvious but unpleasant, like raising taxes and cutting long-term entitlements.
But Obama has been re-elected; now is the time to act.
He could show real leadership by proposing a strong, sensible plan. Such a plan will, by necessity, please no one.
But great leaders have the ability to convince their followers that there is a crisis ahead and call upon them to make shared sacrifice to confront the challenge.
With the movie “Lincoln” in theaters, Obama should note how the great man successfully confronted a problem — slavery — when others urged caution.
Obama could use his mandate to forge a compromise, obtain the support of the American people and induce Congress to accept it.
We cannot leave that job to John Boehner in the U.S. House or Harry Reid in the U.S. Senate.
This is a presidential moment, and the time has come for Obama to lead.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.