Mr. Obama must distinguish between the Republicans’ unreasonable positions and their reasonable ones. Refusing to consider tax increases and holding the debt ceiling hostage were examples of the former; both have now been significantly modified, if not abandoned.
Insisting on serious reforms to entitlement programs, however, was the GOP’s reasonable demand, one the Republicans have not abandoned. This presents Mr. Obama with a choice: He can continue driving a hard bargain, in both political and policy terms. That would presumably entail refusing to deal on entitlements until the Republicans capitulate with regard to the sequester and a partial government shutdown on March 27.
Or the president could act on his past promises to tackle entitlements and engage in good faith with Republicans now, so that they have no further reason to exploit the sequester or threaten a shutdown. In that regard, a reference Friday by the White House to purported GOP plans for “drastic cuts in Medicare” was not an encouraging development. There is still plenty of time for Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid to show that they are willing to treat the GOP’s change in position as an opportunity to address the country’s long-term fiscal needs, rather than their party’s short-term political ones.