The Washington Post

Did David Plouffe undermine progressive case on Medicare?

Last week, when Rep. Paul Ryan revealed his budget plan full of magic numbers, tax cuts for top earners and plans for abolishing Medicare and Medicaid, for once, Democrats seemed united. As Brian Beutler wrote, Democrats of all stripes issued statements slamming Ryan’s plan:

Democrats weren’t wrongfooted by the GOP budget and tricked into endorsing the basic concept. Rather, they dismissed the concept of a radical transformation and weakening of the program out of hand.

That was true until yesterday, when White House adviser David Plouffe went on Meet The Press and came really close to endorsing the basic concept underlying Ryan’s plan:

Well, in terms of specifics, let me say this, he has said--he said this in the State of the Union, even though his healthcare reform plan which, by the way, many Congressional Republicans want to repeal, so they’ll have to explain how they’re going to make up the trillion dollars in deficit reduction. So we’ve had a lot of savings in health care, we have to do more. So you’re going to have to look at Medicare and Medicaid and see what kind of savings you can get. First, squeezing them out of the system before you squeeze seniors. Secondly, on Social Security, what he said is that is not a driver right now of significant costs, but in the process of sitting down and talking about our spending and our programs, if there can be a discussion about how to strengthen Social Security in the future, he’s eager to have that discussion.

Plouffe, to his credit, pushed back on David Gregory’s mindless repetition of the false Beltway trope that Social Security is a big contributor to the deficits and reminded him that repealing the ACA would increase the deficit. But his remarks nevertheless disturbed what was an otherwise unified Democratic front, by lending legitimacy to the idea underlying Ryan’s plan — that cutting entitlements is crucial to reining in the deficit.

It’s possible that the president will outline a much more progressive vision for deficit reduction in his forthcoming speech. But the President has displayed a maddening ideological tendency to locate himself between two perceived extremes, regardless of the merits of one position or the other. So because Republicans want to destroy the social safety net so they can cut taxes on top earners, and Democrats have vowed to stop them, the White House has, rather predictably, placed itself in the middle.

I don’t know that the president and his advisers could have gotten a better budget deal than the one they ended up with, but unfortunately, they followed up on that deal by endorsing Republicans’ underlying beliefs about economics. Now, the White House seems to be similarly handicapping itself on the debate over Medicare and the deficit.

Compromise is a virtue only in pursuit of a defensible moral end. I’d like to think there’s a reason, beyond the potential political advantage of highlighting the Ryan plan last week, that Democrats were so united in opposition to his budget: Namely that moderate, conservative, or liberal, being a Democrat means you believe that it’s immoral to take a massive deficits caused by a punishing recession, profligate tax cutting, and an unnecessary war and then turn around and destroy health care for the poor and elderly so you can further cut taxes for the rich. I understand the limits of the bully pulpit, but if the White House can’t draw a line and say No to this, what does it stand for?


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