The Morning Plum: Over 100 House Dems tell Obama — no cuts to entitlement benefits

Yesterday, Senate Democrats released their plan to avert the sequester for the rest of the year — it contains $110 billion in deficit reduction, evenly divided between spending cuts and new revenues. The new revenues are derived from a 30 percent minimum tax on income over $1 million; the spending savings are a mix of defense and farm subsidy cuts. There are no cuts to entitlement benefits: No rise in the Medicare eligibility age; no “Chained CPI” for Social Security.

However, many liberals and Democrats remain worried that in the end, the White House and Dem leaders will ultimately give ground on entitlement benefits to reach a deal. So today, over 100 House Democrats will release a letter calling on Obama to hold firm and not agree to any cuts to Medicare or Social Security benefits. From the letter, which was spearheaded by Rep. Jan Schakowsky:

We write to affirm our vigorous opposition to cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits in any final bill to replace sequestration. Earned Social Security and Medicare benefits provide the financial and health protections necessary to keep individuals and families out of poverty. Medicaid is not only a lifeline for low-income children, pregnant women, people with disabilities and families, it is the primary source of long-term care services and supports for 3.6 million individuals. We cannot overstate their importance for our constituents and our country.

That is why we remain deeply opposed to proposals to reduce Social Security benefits through use of the chained CPI to calculate cost-of-living adjustments. We remain committed to making the changes that will extend solvency for 75 years, but Social Security has not contributed to our current fiscal problems and it should not be on the bargaining table.

Similarly, we oppose proposals to increase Medicare cost-sharing requirements or to raise the age of eligibility. [...] A commitment to keeping the middle-class strong and reducing poverty requires a commitment to keeping Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid strong. We urge you to reject any proposals to cut benefits, and we look forward to working with you to enact approaches that instead rely on economic growth and more fair revenue-raising policies to solve our fiscal problems.

The White House has already taken the Medicare eligiblity age hike off the table, but Chained CPI, a fancy way of describing what is in fact a real cut in benefits, does appear to be in the mix. And so, in addition to these House Democrats, other progressive groups, such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and CREDO Action, are mobilizing against any such cut.

Obviously Republicans will point to this letter as evidence that Democrats are not serious about cutting spending. But what needs to be stated clearly is that the position laid out in this letter by these progressive Democrats is less ideologically marginal than the position held by the entire GOP leadership. Democrats are open to spending cuts — indeed, the plan they laid out to avert the sequester is made up of 50 percent cuts. What’s more, even these House Democrats are open to entitlement cuts, as long as they’re on the provider side.

By contrast, the position of the House GOP leadership is that any deal to avert the sequester must contain no new revenues whatsoever, and must only be derived from spending cuts, i.e., only from what they want. By definition, this is a more extreme position than the one held by these Democrats. The position in this debate held by the left flank of the Democratic Party is a more compromising position than the one held by the entire GOP leadership. And the position held by the White House and Dem leaders — a 50-50 mix of revenues and cuts, very possibly including Chained CPI — is significantly more compromising than the GOP leadership’s position continues to be.

* Get ready for the sequester: It really looks inevitable that it will kick in, judging by the latest developments in the debate. To reiterate: The Dem proposal to avert the sequester with a 50-50 mix of revenues and cuts constitutes a mix of concessions by both sides. Republicans, by contrast, have proposed to avert it only with concessions by Dems, and no concessions of any kind from their side. Worse, they’re claiming the sequester must be replaced with a plan that wipes away the deficit in 10 years with no new revenues.

There is nothing that will get the press corps to focus on this basic imbalance. Which helps explain why Republicans believe they’ll be able to get away with an approach to the sequester that is deeply unserious on every level.

* Minimum wage is a winner for Democrats: Former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett aptly explains why the minimum wage hike is a political winner for Democrats on every level. The key is that the Republican argument — that raising it will cost jobs — has no political impact, because no one knows who would be impacted by any job loss (presuming it even happens), while folks who make minimum wage do know that they’d benefit.

I’d only add that no one will believe Republicans are opposing a minimum wage hike out of a desire to protect the interests of low wage workers.

* Revisit filibuster reform, Harry Reid: Yesterday, Harry Reid said this about the GOP filibuster of Chuck Hagel: “Just when you thought things couldnt’ get worse, it gets worse.” Senator Tom Udall, a leading reformer, tells Roll Call that he interprets Reid’s comments this way: “if this is going to continue, he’s going to look at other ways to make the institution more productive and less bogged down.”

I’m less optimistic, but I would like to believe that. If this episode isn’t enough to get Dems to revive the threat of filibuster reform, than nothing would be enough.

* Gay marriage debate poses risks for Republicans: The Associated Press has a really interesting overview of all the GOP legislators across the country who have paid a political price, sometimes losing seats, because they bucked the party line and supported gay marriage. It’s another indication of just how out of step the GOP electorate is with the cultural sea change that’s underway on gay rights.

* Obama’s preschool plan is a no-brainer: Joan Walsh has a deep dive into Obama’s universal preschool proposal that explains how important and ambitious a policy idea it is, and how historically hard such reforms can be to achieve. Walsh has personal experience implementing such policies, so this is worth a read.

* Obama winning the argument over government: Eugene Robinson has an important column this morning arguing that Obama is winning the argument over the role government should play in dealing with the country’s most fundamental problems, specifically, rising inequality and declining mobility. As Robinson notes, Marco Rubio’s reflexive government-is-bad rebuttal speech clearly demonstrates that Republicans are in deep denial about this basic political reality.

* GOP in the grip of zombie economic worldview: Paul Krugman really does a number on Marco Rubio’s rebuttal, noting that Rubio floated two major canards about the economic crisis and the recovery that have been proven entirely wrong. Specifically, the Fannie and Freddie theory of the crisis, and the confidence fairy:

For here we are, more than five years into the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, and one of our two great political parties has seen its economic doctrine crash and burn twice: first in the run-up to crisis, then again in the aftermath. Yet that party has learned nothing; it apparently believes that all will be well if it just keeps repeating the old slogans, but louder. It’s a disturbing picture, and one that bodes ill for our nation’s future.

The failure to reckon with the true causes of the financial crisis, or the real relationship between government spending and recovery, are a major reason the GOP is ideologically incapable of any real “makeover.”

 What else?

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