At Netroots Nation in Minneapolis, the questions came fast and furious for White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. Among them:
(On Afghanistan) "What will it take to get through to the White House that we want the war ended?"
Why didn't President Obama put on his walking shoes and go to Wisconsin to support the workers like he promised he would do in the 2008 campaign?"
What are the absolute lines you will not cross while negotiating with the GOP regarding Medicare and Social Security?"
To the latter, Pfeiffer responded
On Social Security, the president will do nothing that will slash benefits, privatize the program or change the nature of the program," Pfeiffer responded. "And on Medicaid, the same thing is true with Medicare..... He is absolutely 100-percent opposed to anything in 100-mile radius of what the Republicans and [Wisconsin Rep.] Paul Ryan have put forward.
Nothing new there. The Administration always has denied it intends to "slash" Social Security benefits. According to the online Free Dictionary, the first definition of "slash" is "To cut or form by cutting with forceful sweeping strokes: slash a path through the underbrush." No one would accuse President Obama of being forceful (well, perhaps Osama binLaden. but he's in no position to accuse anyone of anything anymore). Less snidely, most applicable is definition #7. "to reduce or curtail drastically." Obama is unlikely to reduce benefits dramatically (significantly, perhaps; dramatically, no).
The President has consistently criticized privatization sentiment and (arguably) nothing else would change the "nature" of the program. And no one could know what Pfeiffer meant when he referred figuratively to "anything in 100-mile radius of what the Republicans and [Wisconsin Rep.] Paul Ryan have put forward." (Sarcasm Alert) It is comforting, though, to be assured that Obama opposes eliminating the Medicare program, central to Ryan's budget proposal, or partially privatizing Social Security, a key to his "Roadmap for America's
But cutting the program appeared to become a little easier Friday upon publication in the Wall Street Journal of "Key Seniors Association Pivots on Benefits Cut" (subscription required; try entering article title into search engine). Reporter Laura Meckler noted that AARP has refused to join the umbrella group Strengthen Social Security, which is steadfastly opposed to benefit cuts, because, according to policy chief John Rother, "The coalition's role was to kind of anchor the left, and our role is going to be to actually get something done." Getting "something done," according to Meckler, is requiring any deal to be "bipartisan." Given that one party wants to privatize (at least partially) Social Security and the leader of the other party supports a decrease in benefits, a "bipartisan" deal would include cuts, supported by Rother, and (far less likely) a FICA tax increase, also supported by Rother.
Responding to an outcry from its members and some on the left, AARP issued a statement proposing "any changes (to be) be phased in slowly, over time, and would not affect any current or near term beneficiaries." AARP's statement came, perhaps significantly, on the heels of the announcement of a Social Security plan by outgoing Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, sticking her neck out on behalf of her party. The Republican recommended gradually raising the retirement age and cutting the cost-of-living allowance for anyone currently under age 58. Ryan had recommended nailing anyone currently under 55. With the Obama Administration earlier signaling, and now reiterating, its intent to sacrifice elderly people, the GOP's opening salvo has been changed to age 58. AARP appears on board with the concept.
As usual, we're left wondering with this President: is he this bad a negotiator- or does he know exactly what he's doing?