Friday, March 15, 2019

A Peculiar Advantage


In "Beto 2020 Has No Reason To Exist," Slate's Josh Voorhees outlines the case against nominating Beto O'Rourke for President and even for his candidacy.   He does so, oddly, without referring to Barack Obama" as a tall, slender charismatic politician who carried his impressive charisma and limited experience and ideological grounding to the White House.

The comparison is hardly diminished when Voorhees knocks "O'Rourke's allergy to specifics (which) is worsened by his refusal to give voters any real clue of his guiding ideology." Nor is it when he explains

This is not some new verbal tic O’Rourke developed while thinking about the White House. It was on display before he was elected to the U.S. House, as Politico Magazine illustrated recently with the story of how he came to run a 2012 campaign commercial floating the possibility of raising the Social Security retirement age to 69—emphasis on possibility. During his Senate campaign, O’Rourke was similarly open to ideas without advocating for specific ones. He specifically avoided policy-specific language like “Medicare for all,” instead saying he was open to a variety of paths to universal health care coverage, “whether it be through a single payer system, a dual system, or otherwise.” (“Beto 2020: Or Otherwise!”)

Given Obama's continuing, impressive support among Democratic party voters, perhaps O'Rourke should be a little more specific and suggest that he merely wants to fulfill the 44th President's vision, such as in the matter of earned benefits. 

In June 2016, three Huffington Post writers reviewed Social Security politics in the Obama Administration. The Simpson-Bowles Commission was created by the President forge an agreement "to reduce the long-term debt, through a combination of Social Security and Medicare cuts" (video below, from 3/12). After its proposals stalled and the GOP took over the House of Representatives in 2011

Obama decided to put one of the commission’s proposals — the chained Consumer Price Index — on the table.

The chained CPI would change the formula used to adjust Social Security and other benefits for inflation. Although scholars debate whether it represents a more accurate price index than the one currently used, one way or another, it lowers the value of benefits over time relative to what they would be otherwise.

Obama appears to have come closest to striking a deal with the benefit cut during last-minute budget negotiations with Republicans at the end of 2012, in the lame-duck session of Congress after he won re-election. The country faced what was dubbed a “fiscal cliff” at the start of the new year as a slew of Bush-era income tax cuts were due to expire and automatic spending cuts were set to take effect.

Obama offered Republicans chained CPI in exchange for providing more tax increases. But under pressure from hardline anti-tax legislators, Republican leaders in Congress refused to compromise more.

At one point, the White House reportedly suggested putting chained CPI back on the table after Republicans had not presented a counteroffer on taxes with the budget deadline less than 36 hours away.

President Obama's effort to cut Social Security benefits initially was stalled when

Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was apparently so peeved at the idea that he threw a note with the proposal into a blazing fire in his office fireplace.

Reid ruled out reconsidering chained CPI because it seemed to him that Republicans weren’t serious about giving ground on the Bush tax cuts, according to Jim Manley, a longtime spokesman for Reid who by then had stopped working for the senator. And that was the last time Reid ever entertained the idea of messing with Social Security.

“Since then it’s been, ‘Hell no,’” Manley said.

Damaging an essential leg of the social safety net was further stymied by the right in that

“One of the ironies is that the tea party was more useful than Democratic leadership when it came to killing a grand bargain that would have cut Social Security benefits,” said Adam Green, co-chair of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, an online activism group at the forefront of the fight against cuts. “They were so crazy and unwilling to take ‘yes’ for an answer. That allowed us to live to fight another day.”

“Thank you, tea party!” Green added.

But the President wasn't done with trying to undermine the retirement benefits of current and future retirees (their health benefits through Medicare, also) and

In his second term, Obama even appeared to embrace chained CPI as his own, including it in his annual budget proposal in April 2013, which came after a fierce internal debate, according to one participant.

The budget encountered stiff resistance from congressional Democrats and progressive activists, spurring a petition delivery and protest outside the White House where Bernie Sanders spoke.

The following year, the provision disappeared from the president’s budget.

So perhaps unfortunately and for all the wrong reasons, Beto O'Rourke's effort to win the Democratic nod for President is not a lost cause. All he has to do is to convince a major block of primary voters and caucus attendees that he is not only the inspirational leader that Obama the Great was, but also the ideological heir. It wouldn't be good for either theParty or the nation but as Voorhees understands, that really isn't the objective, anyway.









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