Fans of Aaron Sorkin’s late masterpiece “The West Wing” may, over the next week, find themselves recalling one of President Bartlett’s classic lines. When an issue had consumed enough discussion time, Bartlett would invariably shift gears with the impatient groan, “What’s next?” With health care reform legislation signed into law, a number of people are pondering precisely the same question.

I initially tried to resist this impulse. After all, the historic achievement of the past week deserves a pause to look back at the heroes of health care reform who shaped the legislation and refused to let the issue die.

Unfortunately, there is too little time for such reflection. Health care consumed almost a year of the national agenda, crowding out a number of important issues that must be addressed in the last few months of Congress’ truncated election-year schedule.

With so much on lawmakers’ plates, President Obama must abandon his deferential approach to Congress and provide clear direction for a post-health care agenda. Otherwise, interest group competition for priority consideration will lead to intraparty bickering, waste valuable time and prevent any more major accomplishments.

Many Democrats would likely claim that they have already begun to push an agenda focused upon jobs. Indeed, Congress has sent two jobs packages to the president for signature, and others will be on the way soon. But the strategy going forward needs to tie proposals on other issues, like energy, to unemployment and the economy. On that front, Democrats thus far have done a miserable job.

It took nearly a month for the House and Senate to agree on a puny $15 billion bill. In the Senate, the second jobs package is essentially just a grab bag of expiring tax provisions that the chamber would have had to address anyway. Plus, the attempt to tie health care reform or climate change legislation to jobs is a weak, defensive argument that downplays the significance of the landmark policies and, worse, gives the impression that Democrats believe the Republican charge that they should not be pursuing such policies during a recession.

A better alternative approach would be to craft a targeted agenda of policies that mix populist appeal with substantive progressive policy. This combination is difficult to pull off, but it would project a stronger message than standard-issue policies dressed in ill-fitting populist garb. Already, there are several bipartisan legislative proposals circulating in Congress that could form the basis of this agenda if given a strong push from the White House.

Allow me to present a 2010 agenda of relief and reform. The focus of the relief pitch will be cap-and-dividend, a proposal to cap greenhouse gas emissions by auctioning emission allowances and redistributing the revenue to households. Under the leading version of this plan, proposed by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the average family of four would receive $1,000 each year. The concept could use a catchier name, however – perhaps “cap-and-cash”?

The reform agenda will begin with a much-needed overhaul of the loophole-ridden tax code that has become an accountant’s heaven, but a headache for every other American.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) have introduced a plan that slashes the country’s excessive corporate tax rate and simplifies the tax code to such an extent that most individuals’ IRS forms would be just a single page in length.

Imagine how these plans would play politically. Polluters will not just pay. They will pay you. And forget accountants’ fees for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the United States will embrace environmental and fiscal responsibility.

But what of other important proposals that do not play well in the gloomy economic environment of this election year? Obama will have to make some tough choices for his party. For example, if senators do not forge a bipartisan compromise on comprehensive immigration reform soon, the White House should instruct Congress to pass only the narrower Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act this year. Otherwise, a protracted immigration fight will block progress on other issues with nothing to show for it.

The past year’s successful journey to health care reform ensures Obama will join the ranks of America’s most successful presidents. But the history books can wait. Now, the president must save his party from infighting and his country from inaction.

Sam Harbourt is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at [email protected] The Pragmatic Progressive appears every other Friday.

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Correction: Due to a posting error, this article was originally attributed to the Editorial Board. It was actually written by Sam Harbourt.”

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