Monday, September 27, 2010

Obama, deficits and Social Security Phaseout

Digby gives a concise explanation on why it's politically useless for Democrats to try to posture around their deficit-reduction cred in It Will Always Be On The Table Hullabaloo 09/27/2010. (Policy-wise it's also very bad, and that is a related though not identical question.)

There's no doubt that he's correct. But I would caution that if he thinks he will be rewarded for being serious about balancing the budget he needs to think again. The Democrats thought they had banished the "big spender" label for all time when Clinton not only balanced the budget but created a surplus. The thinking was that nobody could ever say again that the Democrats were irresponsible stewards of the economy and they could finally "take that off the table."

I think it's fairly clear that didn't work out the way they planned it. The Republicans have a neat trick of running up huge debt and creating economic crises when they are in office and then vilifying the Democrats for what they have to do to clean up the mess.Once it's done they come back into power and pass out all the goodies to their rich friends. It's a clear pattern. There's no "taking it off the table."

As long as this pattern holds, Democrats will always be on the defensive, stuck with the dirty work and never being able to reap the electoral rewards for doing it. So they should probably just forget trying to earnestly prove to America that they really are the "responsible" party and concentrate on delivering peace and prosperity. I have a sneaking suspicion that's what people really care about. [my emphasis]
One of the reasons that Obama has been beating the deficit drum is that he stacked his Fiscal Catfood Commission to recommend cuts in Social Security. Those are entirely unnecessary, so to justify those, he will have to pretend that not only is the deficit a huge problem (which it isn't) and that Social Security is a major contributor to the deficit (which it isn't).

If Obama and the Congressional Democrats embrace the Catfood Commission recommendations - it's hard to imagine those won't include major cuts in Social Security - they won't call it Social Security Phaseout, of course. They will give it an Orwellian name like Social Security Salvation and Expansion Initiative. But a phase-out is what it will be.

In roughly 10 years, we've seen Social Security Phaseout go from being a subject both Republicans and Democrats tiptoed around carefully, to the point where the Republicans are eager to embrace it (with an Orwellian branding label) and a Democratic President has appointed a Catfood Commission stacked to recommend it.

In 2005, the Democrats actually managed to take an all-too-infrequent stand in straight-up defense of their own platform and their base in opposing Bush's Social Security Phaseout. And because no significant number of Dems in Congress would drink the Kool-Aid, the Republicans in Congress decided it was the better part of discretion to refrain from doing so themselves.

Once a Democratic President openly embraces Social Security Phaseout, the political firewall that has protected it from goofy ideologues and greedy Wall Street scamsters will be breached in a major way. And an actual phaseout of the program will be relatively quick to come.

And even some loyal Democratic voters may decide that Social Security would be safer under a Republican President because the Democrats in Congress would at least have to oppose phaseout like they did in 2005, out of sheer opportunism. If that is a legacy President Obama, leaves to the people and the Democratic Party, it will be a truly pitiful one.

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