August 15, 2010

In Obama's weekly address, he warns about Republican leaders who want to privatize Social Security, saying he'd thought that the Wall Street crash would have put that debate to rest.

This is classic sleight of hand, and might be one of the most cynical political moves I've seen. Because, as you already know from reading C&L, the imminent threat to Social Security right now is from the administration -- and its pet Catfood Commission.

It's not as if this is a big secret to anyone who works in the District. But everyone's agreed to act as if it's otherwise, because activists believe pretending the current attack on Social Security is coming from the Republican leadership will create such an uproar that the administration will back off from their plans -- and not incidentally, get the base motivated to turn out for the mid-term elections.

It might work. But it seems to me that such a deeply dishonest strategy is not only an insult to the voters, it encourages the kind of "bipartisan", split-the-difference policies of the president, and has the potential to backfire in a major way.

And it raises another question: Namely, if bloggers sacrifice transparency to the strategic goals of the Democratic leadership, why should anyone listen to us -- about anything? What is our role? Is it our job to use dishonesty to help Democrats get elected? I thought that was what made us different from the right wing: We don't abuse the readers' trust:

But GOP leaders are not pressing for privatization. The idea proved so unpopular when President George W. Bush proposed it in 2004 that Congress, then led by Republicans, never took it up. The concept lives on in a budget proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, but only a handful of GOP lawmakers have signed on to that measure. And, in the aftermath of the worst shock to the financial system since the Great Depression, many Republican lawmakers would just as soon see the idea forgotten.

Meanwhile, a coalition of 60 liberal groups and advocates for the elderly, including the AFL-CIO and, are predicting a different threat to Social Security: the possibility that a bipartisan deficit commission created by Obama will propose slashing benefits to help dig the nation out of debt.

Coalition members plan to buttonhole lawmakers as they campaign for reelection this fall, demanding that they sign a pledge to oppose any cuts to program entitlements, such as raising the retirement age.

"Over the coming weeks and months, we're making sure every politician is put on notice: If you're looking to raise the retirement age, you should be looking to retire in November," said Nita Chaudhary, campaign director at

Such an effort could make the work of the deficit commission far more difficult. Commission members from both parties view Social Security as a prime opportunity for compromise -- far easier to address than, for example, an overhaul of the tax system -- and say they want to stabilize the program's finances.

But forging a bipartisan compromise is likely to require cost-cutting as well as higher taxes. House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) have both suggested raising the retirement age, and leading economists and budget experts have strongly advocated it as a cost-cutting solution. The commission is also studying less dramatic options, such as changing the way inflation is measured for the purpose of adjusting benefits and slowing the rate of increase in benefit payments for better-off retirees.

As an aside, you'll notice the Post reporters (having already accepted the Village wisdom) don't even mention any dispute as to whether Social Security cuts are, you know, actually needed.

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