MY VIEW: Maya MacGuineas April 26 2013

Putting debt on a sustainable path has been a key issue in Washington ever since the Fiscal Commission showed that a bold compromise would be needed to secure the nation's future prosperity. And while the previous 112th Congress made some progress by enacting $2.7 trillion in savings, much of it was low hanging fruit in the budget and did not get us all the way towards a sustainable fiscal future. The truly tough choices will need to be made by this Congress.

Today, CRFB President Maya MacGuineas writes in The Hill that the legacy of President Obama's second term might be defined on how he handles the budget debate. In the first year of his second term, the President has already made some progress in showing that Washington is serious about the issue, but it is only a start. Argues MacGuineas:

So how is he doing in the first 100 days on this front? He is off to a good start, and it is certainly a lot better than he did in his last four years.

The budget President Obama offered was more serious than many of his other recent proposals. By including the chained CPI — a technical improvement to how we measure inflation that would help to extend the life of Social Security and increase revenue for the federal government — he sent a real signal that he is willing to discuss the kinds of more serious entitlement reforms that will have to be part of any deal.

And his so-called “charm offensive” seems to be going well. It is nothing short of absurd how little the president has interacted with members of Congress — including those from his own party — on these issues in the past. And the dinner series he initiated seems to be helping to start a real discussion. It’s hard to solve problems when no one is even talking.

But the real question is where this goes in the next 100 days. There isn’t much time; we need to get a deal hammered out before the country hits the debt ceiling late this summer or early fall.

But history will remember actions, not just intent. We are going to need to enact additional savings, likely close to the $2.4 trillion that would be required to put debt on a downward path, in order to get our fiscal house in order. That will be much more difficult. Writes MacGuineas:

Next up: the tough stuff.

All told, we have achieved about half of the savings we need to reach a minimum target. Now in the next tranche, we have to tackle the much harder parts: entitlement and tax reform. The good news is that the tax committees are making impressive progress on moving forward with tax reform, which would broaden the base; lower rates; simplify the system; make it far more equitable and competitive; and raise revenue for the federal government in a much better way.

Where the president is going to have to really use his leadership is to help make the case for entitlement reform and why we have to make the needed changes to control healthcare costs and adjust the nation’s retirement system for growing life expectancies. He should make the case to Democrats on why they should prefer Social Security and Medicare reform under his presidency, and he needs to make the case to the nation as a whole about why putting a fiscal deal in place is so important and how the economic recovery will not take off without one.

President Obama made a small down payment on his legacy in his first 100 days. Now he must invest a lot more political capital to make sure it pays off.

Click here to read the full op-ed.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.