Monday, December 20, 2010


I'm a little late getting to this Robert Kuttner article, which a despairing John Cole flagged last night. I agree that this would be a horrible decision -- and I want to add that I think it's meant to fend off something that isn't really going to happen:

Obama to blink first on Social Security

The tax deal negotiated by President Barack Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is just the first part of a multistage drama that is likely to further divide and weaken Democrats.

The second part, now being teed up by the White House and key Senate Democrats, is a scheme for the president to embrace much of the Bowles-Simpson plan -- including cuts in Social Security. This is to be unveiled, according to well-placed sources, in the president’s State of the Union address.

The idea is to pre-empt an even more draconian set of budget cuts likely to be proposed by the incoming House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as a condition of extending the debt ceiling. This is expected to hit in April.

White House strategists believe this can also give Obama "credit" for getting serious about deficit reduction -- now more urgent with the nearly $900 billion increase in the deficit via the tax cut deal....

I don't think Obama would be blinking first on Social Security. I think he'd be blinking preemptively when Republicans aren't planning to do so at all.

I know that Paul Ryan is going be the chairman of the Budget Committee, and I know that, a while back, Ryan cooked up a budget that gutted Social Security and Medicare.

But please note that the "Pledge to America" unveiled by Republicans last fall conspicuously omitted Ryan's ideas on entitlements. (Ryan didn't even show up for the Pledge's unveiling.)

Yes, Republicans at that time were in campaign mode. But Republicans are always in campaign mode -- they're certainly looking ahead to 2012 already. If the president plays possum, I think they won't try to gut entitlements in their budgets -- not in this Congress. Frankly -- and I know this is minority opinion on the left -- I'm not sure if they'll ever seriously try to gut entitlements. They won't as long as older voters, very much including their own base, zealously defend their right to those entitlements.

Oh, sure, I think the GOP plans a nasty budget, and probably plans brinkmanship with the debt ceiling. But I think the nastiness of the budget will completely avoid the appearance of targeting sacred cows. It will be something along the lines of "roll all spending back to 2008 levels, then have an [X]% across-the-board cut." It might include Fox-worthy attacks on Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting, and a (probably porous) earmark ban. But I bet the great fiscal stewards of the GOP will avoid doing anything that will infuriate voters across the political spectrum -- unless Obama gives them cover by doing it first.

Paul Ryan? He'll be told to be a good boy and wait to implement his ideas -- and if Obama never pushes Ryan-esque ideas, the GOP will never push them at all. They'll be like the Human Life Amendment -- something the GOP claims to support and never actually fights to achieve.

Pardoxically, Ryan's right-wing radicalism is put on display by the GOP to impress Broderesque centrists in the Beltway; the right-wing radicals in the tea party don't actually want what he wants. But Obama may not understand the game, and we may be doomed as a result.

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