If the White House’s political goal in calling for Social Security cuts in its budget was to reveal the GOP as the intransigent, uncompromising party in Washington, it’s having the desired effect.
The statements from Republican leaders today in response to the budget are noteworthy, though not surprising: They say we should proceed with Obama’s proposed entitlement cuts but not raise any new revenues by closing any millionaire loopholes. Oh, they don’t put it in those terms. But here’s John Boehner:
While the president has backtracked on some of his entitlement reforms that were in conversations that we had a year and a half ago, he does deserve some credit for some incremental entitlement reforms that he has outlined in his budget. But I would hope that he would not hold hostage these modest reforms for his demand for bigger tax hikes. Listen, why don’t we do what we can agree to do? Why don’t we find the common ground that we do have and move on that?
And here’s Eric Cantor:
If the President believes, as we do, that programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are on the path to bankruptcy, and that we actually can do some things to put them back on the right course and save them to protect the beneficiaries of these programs, we ought to do so. And we ought to do so without holding them hostage for more tax hikes.
In other words, let’s only do the thing where there’s common ground (entitlement cuts) and not do the thing where there is disagreement (tax hikes).
Now in one sense, this can be seen to validate some of the left’s worst fears about what would happen if Obama offered entitlement cuts. Now that he’s formally proposed cutting Social Security benefits, Republicans can describe that proposal as the one area of agreement between the two parties. And it’s true Obama will probably take a political hit for the proposal.
At the same time, though, it’s worth noting that this doesn’t put Republicans in the greatest political position, either. The GOP position — revealed with fresh clarity today — is that we should only cut entitlements but not raise a penny in new revenues by getting rid of any loophole enjoyed by millionaires. GOP leaders try to compensate for this by robotically repeating the phrase “tax hikes” as a negative, but polls show that majorities already understand that Republican policies are skewed towards the rich. The use of the phrase “tax hikes” to obscure what Dems are really calling for — new revenues from the wealthy — didn’t fare too well in the 2012 elections.
And so, if the White House budget was partly intended as a trap, Republicans walked into it, revealing themselves as the only real obstacle to compromise. Indeed, as Steve Benen points out, Paul Ryan helped underscore the point when he struggled to name anything Republicans could support that their base wouldn’t like.
Now, maybe you don’t believe that there’s much political value in staking out the compromising high ground in this debate, because the Very Serious Deficit Scolds in Washington won’t ever award Obama any real credit for doing this. And maybe you believe that offering Chained CPI will do nothing more than make it easier for Republicans to attack Dems for cutting Social Security in 2014 and 2016.
All I can say to that is that the White House views things differently. Obama advisers believe Republicans could just as easily attack him this cycle for cutting Social Security based on his previous support for Chained CPI. They think the lesson of 2012 (remember the failed “he raided Medicare to pay for Obamacare” talking point?) is that Dems can fend off this attack with relative ease. And from what I have been told, they are looking beyond just getting the approval of the Very Serious People. They want to establish a Beltway narrative that GOP devotion to protecting the wealth of the rich is what’s preventing a deal to replace the sequester, in hopes that it will seep into local news coverage of the cuts around the country as the pain of those cuts sinks in, weakening Republicans further.
Chained CPI is awful policy, and I oppose it. On the raw politics of all this, however, only time will tell who is right.