To please GOP, again, Obama offers Social Security cuts

April 8, 2013

Is President Barack Obama playing the Republicans – or is he playing us?


Do you believe the budget he’s presenting this week – the first time in history a Democratic president tries to cut Social Security – is a shrewd political move to divide the GOP, or do you think the president wouldn’t mind tying Social Security benefits to a new formula, called “chained CPI,” that would effectively reduce benefits to everyone?

This is, after all, the president who came up with the sequester as an idea that was so abhorrent no one in their right mind would let it actually occur … and thus the Republicans would come around and cut a decent debt-limit deal and get budget talks going. Except, of course, it didn’t quite happen that way …

And this is the president who extended tax cuts for the rich as a way to bring Republicans around, and who got his ass handed to him after giving the GOP nearly everything they wanted on the last round of budget talks a couple of years ago.

So when I see Obama proposing what are, for all practical purposes, cuts in Social Security – that is, not a new math on Social Security but actually less money in the paycheck to recipients – as a bargaining strategy, I get a little nervous.

As far as I’m concerned, the president is playing with fire.

And let’s be clear: This scenario – in which the budget proposal is just a ploy – is the one in which Obama’s getting the benefit of the doubt, in which I’m willing to suspend lots and lots of disbelief and pretend his Inner Republican doesn’t actually think Social Security and other social safety net programs should be cut. (Aside: I’m over “entitlements,” the GOP’s irony rich name for these programs which are, much more accurately, social safety net programs.)

Why cut Social Security, which is mere single digits of the federal budget and the national debt? Social Security is probably the best funded government program, with enough of a surplus to lend the government a bushel of billions and still keep enough cash on hand to pay its bills for the next three years without taking in a single dime.  In fact, Forbes (!) says Social Security simply can’t go bankrupt – unless we change the rules to make it do just that.

But the Republicans have a boner for Social Security – their rich supporters, who don’t need Social Security in their old age, would like to keep those extra pennies they’re being forced to pay into Social Security.

And Obama has a boner for cutting a deal – any deal – with the GOP so he can say he did it, that he crossed that bipartisan bridge, that absolutely everyone likes him, at least a little. (He’s hosting another Republican Senate dinner this week as part of his charm offensive – a campaign, stealth before and overt now, that has netted him pretty paltry results in his four-plus years in power.)

Never mind that most Americans overwhelmingly support protecting Social Security and other social safety net programs. Or that Obama's proposal will do nothing to ease the debt.

Predictably, the left has exploded over Obama’s proposal. The head of the AFL-CIO – which poured millions of dollars and provided millions of volunteers for Obama’s re-election – has called the proposal “unconscionable.”

I say “predictably” because there’s a certain circular media narrative to all this that, in the end, seems to obscure some crucial facts, such as this: 75 percent of Americans nearing retirement age have less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. How exactly are they supposed to survive, especially if Social Security gets cut, even by a little?