I know President Barack Obama was joking at the White House Correspondents Dinner when he suggested it would be a burden for him to have a drink with Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell. But it doesn't have to be a joke. I'm not naive enough to believe they would solve big problems, but there are some areas where a meeting of the minds of the president of the United States and the Senate minority leader could do some good.
Here are my top three items for cocktail hour:
First, the confirmation process for senior government officials has become too slow and cumbersome. It's a disincentive for good people to offer themselves for government service.
The process needs to be accelerated, which means the minority party - currently the Republican Party in the Senate - should agree to adhere to a tight schedule to vote on the president's nominees, regardless of which party holds the White House. And the Senate needs to abolish the blatantly unconstitutional process of the anonymous hold on nominations. The president should streamline the process for vetting appointees. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Second, the president should agree to start now on his 2015 budget. Obama can make amends for his neglect and noncompliance with existing budget procedure by agreeing that next year, he will submit a budget on time - or even early - after a reasonably collaborative process.
I don't mean a pre-packaged budget that Republicans and the White House have agreed to but one that is a product of enough professional, mutual communication so that the proposal isn't dead on arrival or clearly crafted solely to score political points. The president can take the lead by submitting a budget that has a chance of impacting public spending and policy, and McConnell can agree to bring Republicans to the table.
Third, Obama and McConnell can insist that the appropriations committees do their work and rationally pass funding bills. With the bully pulpit of the White House and any president's ability to guide work done by his party in Congress, Obama could have a great deal of influence on ending Washington's practice of bouncing along from continuing resolution to continuing resolution. Because officials often don't know until the 11th hour to what extent, or even whether, various programs will be funded, it is hard to undertake reforms or plan thoughtfully.
Appropriators used to be among the most influential members of Congress. Now, nobody pays attention to most appropriations bills because everybody knows they are not going to pass. A true appropriations process could help Congress and the administration address spending priorities, duplicative or unnecessary programs, or even comprehensive cost-cutting.
These are small-bore initiatives, but the walk of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Or, in this case, a single cocktail.
Ed Rogers is a co-host of The Insiders blog, offering commentary from a Republican perspective. He is also chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with Haley Barbour in 1991.