Only Just The Beginning, Only Just The Start
He was just a little premature. Wednesday, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Greg Walden took a look at President Obama's proposed reduction of Social Security benefits and salivated "Well, once again, you're trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors and I just think it's not the right way to go. I don't see this budget as either on time, adding up, balancing, and, further, I think it really does go right at seniors in a way they're going to be shocked, coming out of the administration.”
The following day, House Speaker Boehner was asked "Are Republicans going to run against Democrats next year for trying to slow the growth of entitlement spending?" He responded "I've made it clear that I disagree with what Chairman Walden said and he and I have had a conversation about it. And I expect that, uh. This is the least that we must do to solve the problems in Social Security."
Not exactly being taken to the woodshed- especially when Boehner then was asked "Would you call on Republicans next year to not attack Democrats?" and replied " I've talked to Chairman Walden. Chairman Walden and I have had a conversation and we'll leave it at that."
One can almost imagine the House Speaker talking to Walden, reminding him that the GOP would join the effort to undermine the social safety net while admonishing him for letting the cat out of the bag. As Firedoglake blogger Eric Laursen recognizes, "the chained CPI would never come to the floor all by itself, only as part of a Grand Bargain strategically stuffed with goodies that progressives would have a hard time voting against." Once Democrats begin lining up behind their President, Repubs can accuse them of doing what they themselves have been lusting to do.
Adopting the language of conservatives and neo-liberals for cutting earned benefits, presidential hopeful Ted Cruz of Texas remarked “I’m encouraged by any steps that President Obama is taking to save and preserve Social Security. I think it should be a bipartisan priority to strengthen Social Security and Medicare to preserve the benefits for existing seniors.” The Club for Greed, calling for a primary challenge to Walden, argued "Greg Walden doesn’t seriously oppose even the most modest of reforms to social security, right? If anything, President Obama nibbles around the edges of entitlement reform and doesn't do anything to put entitlements on a permanently sustainable path."
The Club for Greed gives the President insufficient credit. Social Security has its own dedicated stream of funding, is solvent, and has nothing to do with the deficit or debt. But by calling in his budget for a change in the calculation of cost-of-living adjustment, the President is doing his best to link the program to the deficit, undermining public support for the program. Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who has called for ending the payroll tax, has written approvingly
All of the components of a sensible Social Security reform — means-testing for wealthier beneficiaries, changing the way benefits adjust for inflation, a slow increase in the retirement age — become easier if the program is treated as normal safety-net spending rather than an untouchable entitlement with a dedicated funding stream.
Once they have gained the maximum number of concessions from Obama, and the maximum amount of pain for the elderly (and the disabled), the GOP's "no" may turn to "yes." While the Rube Goldberg contraption known as health care reform is insufficient, Barack Obama may then stand proudly as a transformative President, the first Democratic President to propose, let alone achieve, cuts in Social Security. Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America's Future states
We’re concerned that the president is fracturing the Democratic Party by putting this proposal into his budget. Its unprecedented for an American president to put forward cuts to Social Security benefits. ... We would like to see Democrats get back to being defenders of Social Security, and politically we think that that’s the best way for Democrats to win the next election.
It is the best way, as the President probably realizes. If his effort gains momentum, the issue will be used against Democrats in the fall of 2014, as Walden implies. And with fewer Democrats in Congress, President Obama will be free to enact the dramatic "reform" to earned benefits Republicans have been dreaming about for decades.