July 2, 2010

It's a cynical political strategy almost beyond belief, but it's becoming obvious that President Obama and the Democratic leaders plan to let the Republicans do what they've tried to do since the days of FDR: Cut Social Security.

Members of President Obama's deficit commission huddled behind closed doors Wednesday despite pleas from the left and right that they hold all their meetings in public.

The move only heightens suspicion that rather than forging a national consensus on future spending priorities, the commission's work will consist of backroom dealings in which members of the Washington aristocracy find high-minded excuses for cutting the social safety net.

[...] Reed said the "actual deliberations are going to be in public, at the full commission meetings."

Uh huh. Right. And I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.

When I wrote about this last week, some readers insisted it would "never" happen, and questioned whether there was any logical reason Obama would support benefit cuts. So I talked to a couple of D.C. Social Security activists this week and posed that very question. I was told that Obama's reelection strategy was based on allowing Social Security cuts to win over independent voters. (Apparently it polls well with the Tea Party crowd.)

Now, in case you haven't been following this, the Catfood Commission bypasses Congressional line-item input (this alone should be enough to make you worry) and will get an up or down vote in December -- after the elections. So a lame-duck Congress (where some members may be looking for lucrative new jobs) will have to vote on it.

Now, seriously. How can any intelligent person convince themselves that the Obama administration isn't backing this? The commission is stacked with deficit hawks; the national deficit is on track to be more fiscally sound if they let the Bush tax cuts expire; and Social Security, which is a tax-transfer program, doesn't have a damned thing to do with the deficit.

But deficit hawks aren't grounded in reality. They just like inflicting pain on the people who didn't cause our economic crisis.

Ted Marmor, a professor emeritus of public policy and management at Yale writes:

It is crucial to understand how devious such arguments are. They are ideological stances searching for plausible occasions to celebrate what they presume. This ploy is obvious in the case of Social Security pensions, which are not suffering worrisome fiscal imbalances now or later.

The deficit hawks say they are worried about future years - 2037 or 2042 - when there might be some shortfall in Social Security revenues against claims, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But why are they focusing on future decades when the near-term federal deficit is the problem?

Duh! Because the "think about the grandchildren!" line makes it easier to sell!

Now, I suspect Obama also wants to use the Social Security cuts to force Republicans to accept some kind of tax increases -- because it's just so typical of how he operates. "I'll give away economic security for our base if you'll agree to upset your base by accepting new taxes."

This is absolutely the wrong approach. This is the proverbial downward slope. Void the Social Security contract, and it's the beginning of the end for what tattered pieces of the safety net ordinary working people still have.

You want to cut the deficit, Mr. President? It's the war, stupid.

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