For the Democrats, the policy imperative now is the consolidation and defense of the liberal welfare state, and especially its defense from the consequences of its own fiscal collapse. With Obamacare enacted, they are basically done building. They might dream of expanding the reach of one program or another, expanding the tentacles a bit or consolidating some, but their social-democratic edifice has all its major parts. The trouble is that we can’t afford to keep them all, or at least in the form and structure that the left insists those parts must have. The foundation is falling out from beneath the building just as they have finished construction. That means that liberal political power must now be used to raise money to buy the liberal welfare state more time, and it must be used to hold off efforts to change the structure of the entitlement programs. Liberals understand that if they can’t raise taxes now, with the most liberal president they are likely to get holding a position as strong as he’s likely to have, then they aren’t likely to be able to do it at all, and therefore to save the welfare state from itself. They must get as much as they possibly can in this round, and they must resist significant entitlement reforms, which would make the whole exercise largely pointless.
For the Republicans, the policy imperative is to reform our governing institutions through ideas that use the market economy (rather than fighting it) and therefore allow for major savings and for enabling free and responsible choices while protecting the vulnerable. This would enable us to avert both an explosion of the government’s size and role in American life and an explosion of debt that puts prosperity out of reach in the coming years — and indeed to roll both back. They seek to offer a vision of effective but limited government beyond the welfare state.