President Obama and Mitt Romney had lunch together on Thursday, and let’s be honest: The whole thing was for show. That’s OK! Some shows are necessary, and in America, the post-election show of unity is a fairly honorable tradition—signaling both to the world and ourselves that democracy still works, that we’re not yet to the point of spilling blood in the streets because of our disagreements.
But the show usually ends at lunch. Oh sure, there was talk about maybe Mitt contributing to the Obama Administration in some fashion during the next four years, but that probably won’t happen: The two men are ready to be done with each other.
And that’s too bad, because President Obama owes the central accomplishment of his presidency—ObamaCare—to Romney. The Affordable Care Act, after all, looked an awful lot like the “RomneyCare” act passed in Massachusetts just a few years earlier. There’s nothing that Obama can do during the next four years that will match that achievement.
But Obama might be able to build on that legacy if he, er, borrows three more Mitt Romney ideas during his second term:
• PLACE A HARD CAP ON INCOME TAX DEDUCTIONS: This was Mitt’s secret plan for raising tax revenue from the rich without actually raising tax rates on them: Just limit the amount of tax deductions they can take to $35,000 per family. And this is apparently an idea that people across the spectrum can agree on, including Democrats, libertarian-ish policy wonks, and Republicans like Romney.
One analysis suggests the government could raise $1.3 trillion over 10 years by capping deductions—if charitable giving is exempted. That doesn’t solve the debt and deficit problem, but it’s a start.
• HELP POOR AND DISABLED KIDS MOVE TO BETTER SCHOOL DISTRICTS: Romney’s proposal was to let such students take the federal funding portion of their education dollars across district lines, to other public schools better-able to serve and educate them. Slate’s Dana Goldstein labeled this idea as a “far-left” proposal to break down the segregation between high- and low-performing schools.
This isn’t another “voucher” idea that sends public money to private schools: Instead, it sends that money to better public schools. Obama’s “Race to the Top” already encourages states to try innovative, and even competition-driven, approach. It would also send Philadelphia kids out into the suburbs, in all likelihood. Which is one reason it might never happen.
• GIVE AWAY THE PAYCHECK: In all honesty, it’s really hard to come up with three good Mitt Romney ideas. (I even checked in with a conservative friend, who came up empty.) After a little digging, though, I found out that Romney—when he served as Massachusetts governor—donated his paycheck to charity.
President Obama is rich. Not Mitt Romney rich. But rich enough, probably, that he can give up the presidential paycheck and still afford to eat. (There’s also the promise of $50,000-a-speech appearances when he leaves office four years from now; add in memoirs and other opportunities, and it’s fair to say his family’s financial future is pretty well set.) Giving away the check would send a signal that reinforces the president’s message of service and sacrifice—especially powerful when so many Americans are still suffering the effects of the last recession.
There’s no reason President Obama can’t embrace each of these proposals. What’s more, he’d probably get a ton of credit for them if he worked relentlessly to remind people that they originated with Romney. And Democrats wouldn’t just get credit from voters for acting more bipartisan—they’d actually be more bipartisan.
Who knows if Romney wants to be honored this way? But who cares? The post-election lunch is all about reminding America that we’re all in this together—and that good ideas and noble service aren’t limited to one party. By adopting these proposals, President Obama can leave a legacy of bipartisanship that lasts beyond dessert.