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Entitlement reform: If not now, when?

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House Speaker Paul Ryan is ready to turn to entitlements. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

There is never a convenient time to tackle entitlement reform.

"I think it won't take him very long to realize that unless we do [entitlement reform], this country could be gone," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of President Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention. "But it's going to take him a year, a year and a half to figure it out ... But he's a smart guy, and he doesn't want to leave this country in worse shape than when he came in."

As we approach the one-year mark of Trump's presidency, a landmark that comes on the heels of a Republican victory on tax reform, House Speaker Paul Ryan is ready to turn to entitlements. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not (Like McConnell, the president himself seems focused on infrastructure).

A Politico article published Wednesday pitted the two Republican leaders against one another: "It’s Ryan vs. McConnell on entitlement reform," the headline blared.

"The sensitivity of entitlements is such that you almost have to have a bipartisan agreement in order to achieve a result," the Kentucky Republican argued at a press conference last week. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, rightfully pointed out, "Unless it’s bipartisan, then you’re talking about reconciliation."

Certainly there are plenty of sound arguments against dealing with entitlement reform in 2018. It's an election year, it's a non-starter with such a small Senate majority, it's less bipartisan and more of a political risk than infrastructure reform. But at the risk of sounding naive, there will always be good reasons for Republicans to delay the unenviable task of tackling entitlement reform.

If not now — with control of the House, the Senate, and the presidency — when? Whatever Republican leadership decides to do next year, they must at least produce a serious answer to that question, because the problem grows more serious with each passing year. Pushing any efforts to advance entitlement legislation off until Republicans have a bigger majority or Democrats are willing to come to the table in a meaningful way that facilitates responsible reform is just a bad bet.

All of the perfectly understandable arguments against taking up entitlement reform in 2018 acknowledged, the question still stands: If not now, when?