If Barack Obama and the new all-red Congress actually do want to work together for the good of the country, opportunity beckons.
There’s a surprising number of issues the president and the Republican Senate majority — and even the Republican House majority — could politically agree on, at least in theory. A few:
National defense. Putin’s Russia is snacking on Ukraine and glancing hungrily at other former Soviet-bloc nations. The Islamic State is reminding us how barbaric some of our enemies really are. China is steadily expanding its armed forces as it presses for military domination of the Western Pacific. Yet federal budget sequestration threatens to cut deeply into American military readiness and equipment beginning in late 2015.
Obama presumably has come to understand how dangerous the world can be when would-be aggressors lose their fear of the United States and its allies. Erstwhile Republican isolationists — that would include you, Rand Paul — ought to be coming to the same conclusion. The president and Congress must ensure that America doesn’t start unilaterally disarming in the face of growing foreign threats.
Immigration. This may be wishful thinking, but Republican leaders ought to recognize that immigration reform is in their enlightened self-interest. Some measures — like expanded work visas — are already broadly supported by Republican constituents.
The party faces an existential threat from the growing ranks of Latino voters. This is its chance to enact humane immigration measures covered with Republican fingerprints. The deport-them-all hardliners — a minority in the GOP — have been permitted to poison the Republican brand on this issue for far too long.
Trade. President Obama and Republican leaders already agree on the benefits of expanding American exports and imports. Republicans largely agree on the need to give the president “fast track” authority to negotiate trade deals that won’t get nibbled to death or obstructed in Congress. Yet Democratic Senate leaders — under pressure from anti-trade interests — have helped prevent lawmakers from giving Obama this power, which George W. Bush and Bill Clinton enjoyed.
Renewing fast-track bargaining would expedite the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would give the United States more access to Asian markets. This would be of immense value to Washington state. Pacific Northwest farmers, for example, have often seen their crops shut out of Japan and other parts of Asia as a result of protectionist restrictions the partnership would loosen.
Nuclear waste. Sen. Harry Reid’s loss of power in the Senate removes what had been an impregnable barrier to the safe disposal of America’s nuclear reactor wastes. To keep his Nevada constituents happy, he has effectively blocked the licensing of the driest, safest waste burial site ever identified, Yucca Mountain.
Meanwhile, radioactive wastes have been piling up at 100 nuclear reactors around the country, many of them near major waterways. The greatest single concentration of nuclear waste is at Hanford in Eastern Washington, where reactors operated for decades producing plutonium for World War II and Cold War bombs.
Earlier this year, the Department of Energy released a long-delayed scientific report on Yucca Mountain’s safety. It concluded — no surprise — that the site would safely secure reactor wastes for eons.
With Reid finally out of the way, the licensing of Yucca Mountain should proceed.