Here is David Brooks’ advice about how the President can bargain with both parties to make progress towards fixing some of our long-term problems:

Most important, the president will probably have to take advantage of the following paradox: bigger is easier. If he just tinkers around the edges with modest proposals, then everybody will be on familiar ground. But if he can expand the current debate, then, suddenly, everybody is on new ground.

The general approach should be to offer the left something it really craves. Then offer the right something it really craves. Then, once you get them watering at the mouth, tell them they’re going to have to bend on the things they don’t care about in order to get the things they do.

Now I don’t agree with the things Brooks’ calls for giving the Democrats, but I can think of one thing Obama should give the Republicans and the Democrats should happily give up: get rid of the minimum wage. Wait, wait, don’t roll your eyes and close this window! Stay with me!

Economists from both sides of this debate agree that the minimum wage is less important than most people think and politicians act. Futhermore, there is widespread agreement it is a highly imperfect way to make poor people better off.  The Earned Income Tax Credit is better targeted at low-income families instead of middle class teenagers, and it doesn’t have the downsides of potentially causing disemployment. So Democrats should be glad to trade this policy in for a smarter, more effective, and more efficient one, and in doing so cash in on Republican’s emotional attachment to this issue.

Yes, it would be a huge symbolic loss for Democrats. But like Brooks said, getting reform done is going to require giving and taking, so a good strategy for both sides to maximize actual real benefits is to give when the policy is symbolic, and take when the policy is most efficient and beneficial.

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