Thursday, July 07, 2011

We now have a sitting Democratic President that opposes Social Security and Medicare

Major Garrett reports for the National Journal on Debt Ceiling: Social Security Changes on the Table in Debt Talks 07/07/2011:

While the political jousting continues, President Obama and congressional Republicans are moving closer to a multi-tiered deal that would include changes in Social Security benefits, tax reform, increases in various user fees, and large-scale cuts in annual spending, according to numerous sources close to the negotiations.
In the current neoliberal lingo, "tax reform" means temporarily removing some corporate tax loopholes while permanently lowering corporate tax rates.

How did things come to such a sorry pass? The invaluable Gene Lyons relates and important part of the story in The GOP turns its back on Reagan Salon 07/06/2011. Despite the Republicans' obvious intransigence and crackpot radicalism, Obama seems to be desperately holding on to his belief that he compromise his way to some kind of constructive consensus with them. Gene's piece also brings out an important point. Obama's self-image seems to be particularly strong on the idea that he can compromise with conservatives. That helps explains why he's willing to take such self-destructive actions to compromise with Republicans but is more than happy to take a hard line against "the left" in his own Party. And, as of this week, "the left" in American politics now means you support Social Security and Medicare.

Major Garrett continues:

No agreement exists and both sides continue to shadow box even as they move cautiously around the underlying policy and unpredictable political reaction any one or all of these potential shifts might incite. On Social Security, it's unclear if Obama is willing to raise the retirement age or merely [!!!] accept changes in inflation-adjustment calculations that would reduce benefits but not alter the program's basic architecture. Administration officials have said a proposal from Obama's Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission to raise the Social Security income cap are among the ideas being considered if there is a comprehensive deal in the making.

In the nitty-gritty of negotiations, Republicans have made clear to Obama if he wants to spare domestic "investments" funded through discretionary spending he need only embrace structural changes to Social Security or Medicare. Republicans contend altering current benefit schedules would extend solvency for Social Security and put bigger deficit-reduction numbers on the board, giving Obama more room for annual discretionary spending. And both sides are still fighting over how much to cut future defense spending within the context of annual discretionary spending. Democrats want deeper cuts than the GOP and the GOP wants to guard against any legislative bias in favor of defense cuts over non-defense discretionary savings. Like every other issue, much has been discussed and dissected -- but nothing has been agreed to. [my emphasis]
No one should be fooled by the terminological fog. "Chained CPI" is the current hot proposal for Social Security phaseout. It means adjusting the cost-of-living increases so that the older you get, the less money you get. Think of it as Let Grandma Eat Catfood Lite. And since women tend to live longer after 65 than men, it will hit female recipients harder than men. It will seriously hurt both, and will kick down the political dam blocking the Republicans from gutting the program.

Well, at least we know that old ladies in the 80s and 90s will be doing their share of suffering to spare rich Americans the hideous pain of paying taxes to support their country.

Democrats' worst fears about Obama have essentially come true. He refused to prosecute torture crimes and other felonies from the Cheney-Bush Administration, he escalated the war in Afghanistan, started a new war in Libya and makes the most far-ranging claims for Executive power ever. And now he's offering the Republicans his own political head and those of other Democratic candidates on a platter, by offering to cut Social Security and Medicare in ways that begin the actual phaseout of those programs. He didn't see how private-insurance based healthcare reform as a necessary compromise because he couldn't get something like Medicare-for-everyone passed. He saw it as a substitute for Medicare.

Normally, I would insert here an affirmation of the obvious, that, yes, the Republicans would be worse than Obama on these issues. But if the Democratic Party under Obama is in the process of completely undoing itself, that becomes almost irrelevant. Obama's path for the Democrats leads to something like late-nineteenth century Germany up to the First World War, in which an authoritarian conservative Party dominated policies and the toothless Parliament mainly provided and outlet for critical grousing about the system. Or maybe like the Habsburg Empire for that same period, in which Parliament was even more of a powerless body.

Ari Melman explains how politically toxic Obama's opposition to Social Security and Medicare are in Democrats to Obama: Don't Cut Social Security and Medicare The Nation:

"I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it," President Bush said after the 2004 election. He used that capital to push for the privatization of Social Security. By the time the fight was over, after both Democrats and Republicans rebelled against his radical scheme, Bush had almost no political capital left. What should have been the high point of the Bush Presidency instead signaled the beginning of the end.

President Obama could soon be facing a similar moment if he decides to put significant cuts to Social Security and Medicare on the table as part of a deal with Republicans to raise the debt ceiling, as the Washington Post and New York Times are reporting. The president and Congressional leaders will meet again at 11 am today to discuss the issue.

Leaders of both parties have agreed that the debt ceiling must be raised to avoid a potential economic catastrophe. Yet the GOP has had the upper hand in this discussion from day one, insisting that any agreement—which everyone assumes is inevitable—includes massive spending cuts. Republicans know they made a huge mistake by voting for Paul Ryan's radical budget plan, which led them to lose a special election in New York’s 26th Congressional district and could lead to many more GOP losses in November 2010. They’ve been begging the White House to give them a lifeline on Medicare. It seems they may get one and then some, with a Democratic president offering to cut two of the signature achievements of his party—not to mention two of the most popular government-run programs in the country — in the midst of a prolonged recession.
I don't know how bad the repercussions of Obama's opposition to Social Security and Medicare will be. No one does for sure. I'm confident that they will be large. And, for the Democratic Party, likely very destructive.

Also from Salon, David Sirota takes a shot at the speculation in If Obama cuts Social Security ... 07/07/2011:

In making this announcement (which formally embraces the concept of Social Security cuts first proposed by Obama's debt commission), the White House has lost all credibility in arguing that its 2012 political problems are the result of unfair expectations, particularly on the left.
Sirota has been predicting such an outcome pretty much since Day One of Obama's Presidency. His commentary, including this one, has carried a definite element of smug cynicism. I still find that element annoying. But a sitting Democratic President coming out in opposition to Social Security and Medicare is a major event in American politics, even though it may look like sensible "adult" behavior to our Pod Pundits in the Beltway Village bubble. It's hard to begrudge Sirota his I-told-you-so-moment right now. Even if his Fargo imagery is unappetizing.

To cite a third Salon piece, Glenn Greenwald, who has been holding fond if mostly fanciful hopes of some sort of left-right realignment around civil-liberties and peace, also comments on Obama's anti-Social Security and anti-Medicare turn in Reports: Obama pushing for cuts to Social Security, Medicare 07/07/2011. Sadly, he's right about this:

It's been bleedingly obvious for some time that the bipartisan D.C. political class and the economic factions that own it have been intent on massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare ... but the combination of deficit hysteria (repeatedly bolstered by Obama) and the manufactured debt ceiling deadline has, by design, created the perfect pretext to enable this now. As one "Democratic official" told the Post: "These moments come along at most once a decade. And it would be a real mistake if we let it pass us by." Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine is not a GOP-exclusive dynamic.
(Funny, that unusual phrase "bleedingly obvious" sounds entirely normal in the way Glenn uses it.) And he asks the obvious question:

What's particularly revealing in the Social Security/Medicare assault is the political calculation. The President obviously believes that being able to run by having made his own party angry -- I cut entitlement programs long cherished by liberals -- will increase his appeal to independents and restore his image of trans-partisan conciliator that he so covets. But how could it possibly be politically advantageous for a Democratic President to lead the way in slashing programs that have long been the crown jewels of his party, defense of which is the central litmus test for whether someone is even a Democrat? [my emphasis in bold]
Glenn is probably at least a day or two out of date. Defense of Social Security and Medicare is now a distinctive feature of "the left," not of the Obama's Democratic Party.

The ugly reality of US politics today is: we now have a sitting Democratic President that opposes Social Security and Medicare.

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