Sunday, November 3, 2013

If Obama repeatedly says he wants to cut Social Security, and nobody hears him, did he still say it?

If Obama repeatedly says he wants to cut Social Security, and nobody hears him, did he still say it?

This is the penultimate graf of Jonathan Chait's new piece about the bipartisan consensus that is suddenly forming on the broad outline of a budget deal:
If you want to judge whether any agreement makes sense, the best guide is not whether Democrats win revenue, but whether they win permanent changes in policy. The domestic appropriations budget gets written year by year. Trading away permanent changes to Social Security or Medicare in return for temporary increases in the discretionary budget is a bad deal — it would boost the recovery, but at the cost of handing conservatives a one-sided victory over the scope of government. If Obama gives Republicans permanent changes in return for temporary concessions, it will be clear Republicans out-negotiated him on sequestration. If Obama can get other permanent policy victories — different (and more regressive) forms of taxation, or funding for early childhood education — that is the sort of victory that could be traded for long-term entitlement cuts.
This analysis is very strange. I don't know what Barack Obama has to do to convince the world that he personally wants to cut Social Security and Medicare. He has said it clearly and repeatedly for years. He said it in 2009 a few weeks before taking the oath of office:
I asked the president-elect, "At the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your presidency some kind of grand bargain? That you have tax reform, healthcare reform, entitlement reform including Social Security and Medicare, where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?" "Yes," Obama said.
Then, in case anyone didn't hear him the first time, he said it again:
OBAMA: The real problem with our long-term deficit actually has to do with our entitlement obligations and the fact that, historically, if our revenues ranged from between 18 and 20 percent of GDP, they’re now at 16, it’s just not sustainable. So, we’re going to have to craft a—what George Stephanopolous called a “grand bargain,” and I try not to use the word grand in anything that I say, but we’re going to have to shape a bargain. This, by the way, is where there are going to be some very difficult choices and issues of sacrifice and responsibility and duty are going to come in, because what we have done is kick this can down the road. We’re now at the end of the road, and we’re not in a position to kick it any further.
And he continues to say it in 2013:
Now, my preference – and the preference of many Members of Congress – is to do that in a balanced, comprehensive way, by making sensible changes to entitlement programs and reforming our tax code.
Obama is not all talk on this, either. He has unilaterally proposed cutting these programs in his formal budget and in actual policy negotiations.

Given that the president has consistently and unequivocally expressed his desire to cut "entitlements" - not as a concession to Republicans but because he personally believes it's the right thing to do - why would we believe that Obama will have been "out-negotiated" if the final deal includes these cuts and does not include what Chait calls "permanent policy victories" for Democrats? Obama will be getting something he has explicitly said he wants! If he can get Social Security cuts, which he wants, as well as other things he wants, well, then, good for him. But let's not pretend Obama is forcefully opposed to these cuts and will be getting steamrolled if he agrees to them without getting a littany of progressive policy priorities in return, when the historical record shows that he agrees with Republicans that they are necessary.

{Originally published at Crimethink}

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