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Gradual victories are what the nation needs, anyway. Over the next few months, Republicans should work on fixing Medicaid. Congress should change the program over time so that Washington sends a fixed amount of money to states every year, adjusted for population and inflation, rather than match wasteful state spending, often dollar for dollar.

Then, too, Congress should consider the best way to approach boondoggles such as farm subsidies, “clean” energy and the home-mortgage interest deduction. Most important, Republicans should start work on entitlements, including expensive drug benefits for wealthier seniors. That way, we’ll be able to afford the public investments that the president wants without raising taxes.

If Republicans can’t instantly wring $100 billion out of the budget, they shouldn’t consider it a failure. The money will be there next year - when, hopefully, a healthier economy will numb the pain of root-canal economics and early Republican progress on infrastructure will give voters confidence that they can do other stuff right, too.

Nicole Gelinas is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and her most recent book is “After the Fall: Saving Capitalism From Wall Street - and Washington” (Encounter, 2009). This article is adapted from the winter issue of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.