Obama, Boehner have nation’s fate in their hands

January 5, 2013 

This is a year that will start fast politically.

Mercifully, no major election is on tap. But seriously big issues await the nation.

That may sound like hyperbole. But our immediate future as Americans really is on the line. So is the next decade. Here is how we will know if our top leaders are serious about the next 12 months and beyond:

BARACK OBAMA

With a second term in hand, the president has been steely in pressing for the tax increases he has wanted as part of a budget deal with congressional Republicans.

Tax revenue absolutely needs to be part of a package that improves our fiscal condition. But we also will know whether the president is serious about the future if he digs in against his party’s congressional leaders and pushes for spending changes.

He has done little of that in his presidency. So will he now spend the next several months making the case for, say, revamping Medicare?

Obama has hinted at raising Medicare’s retirement age, a no-brainer, given longer life spans. The real tough issues deal with how Medicare delivers services and how much the entitlement program spends on them. Some Democrats, such as Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, have gotten serious about rethinking the way Medicare operates. What are the president’s ideas?

Another way to gauge the president’s seriousness is by whether he doubles down on gun control laws.

The National Rifle Association’s idea of putting an armed guard in every school deserves a good airing. But that should not stop the president from pressing the NRA and other opponents for practical gun laws. Sadly, we need to make it harder for family members to kill each other and for mass murderers to spray their hatred.

With the passion of a father, Obama spoke movingly after the Newtown, Conn., killings. Now, like LBJ, who didn’t back down on passing civil rights laws, Obama needs to risk his political capital and push for sensible gun laws.

JOHN BOEHNER

The House speaker showed serious leadership on the fiscal cliff, even risking re-election as speaker on his support for higher tax rates and revenue. But we also will tell if he is serious about the future by whether he leads the House forward on immigration reform.

Plenty of House Republicans will object to a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws. But other members of their party, such as George W. and Jeb Bush, have spoken out since the election for a humane immigration reform. And numerous Republicans realize that the GOP must do better with Hispanics.

Boehner should capitalize on this moment and risk even more of his standing for better immigration laws, including giving illegal immigrants the chance to legalize their status.

Federal spending. Gun laws. Immigration reform. School accountability. These are some of the big issues that await us right away. And we need to get them right.

William McKenzie, an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News, may be reached at mckenzie@dallasnews.com

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