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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Obama's Chained CPI Offer is Genuine

'Save Social Security' protest sign
It's a rare thing these days when right and left agree in Washington, so take a moment to appreciate the bigfoot sighting. Although they both have arrived at this point of agreement for wildly different reasons, the fact remains that they are there, sharing the same space, breathing the same air. This isn't exactly a moment of blissful brother- and sisterhood, but they are joined together in common purpose -- kill the President's proposed budget.

The right doesn't like it simply because it's from Obama. They'd reject renaming Washington "The Ronald Reagan Memorial Gun Refuge" if Obama proposed it. Their opposition is a given. These are not serious or honest people, they're spoiled children holding their breath until they get exactly what they want. And what they want is a nuclear strike on our recovering economy; no new revenues, only deep, deep cuts to spending -- which means hacking off demand at the knees. They'd practically guarantee a second recession. Luckily for us, if they can't do this then they don't want to do anything -- including pass the president's budget.

Which is where right meets left. The President's chained CPI proposal is a smoke-and-mirrors cut to Social Security benefits. And Obama proposes cuts to other entitlements as well. Lefty dems say there are quite enough gaps in the social safety net already, thank you very much. We don't need to take a scissors to it and start cutting more. Centrist and moderate Democrats, seeing that right and left hate Obama's budget, are keeping their opinions to themselves -- probably wisely.

The question is why would Barack Obama, a Democratic president, attack Social Security -- one of his party's greatest and most lasting achievements -- in a budget proposal. What gives?


Some of what I'm seeing is an argument that Obama's playing poker. He offers what should be a compromise they can live with to the Republicans, only to have them slap his hand away and reject the offer. This, the theory goes, proves that Republicans aren't serious and will simply oppose anything Obama proposes for the simple fact that Obama proposed it. It's supposed to be the final act in an episode of Scooby Doo, where Pres. Barack Fred tears the mask off the Phantom Prospector and shows it was just old man Boehner all along. With Republicans revealed as obstructionists, President Obama can turn to the American people and say, "Give me someone else to work with here."

The problem with this theory is that it relies on an overly complicated plan and some inside baseball. This is the sort of explanation a beltway insider would come up with, because they don't seem to realize that the average person doesn't pay much attention to Washington at all. They're not going to follow this whole roundabout good faith/bad faith stuff, they've got better things to do with their lives than stay glued to CNN to watch this whole drama unfold.

No, if you wanted to demonstrate GOP obstructionism, you'd do some polling, find the very most popular things in America, bundle them all up into a "free ice cream" budget, and let Republicans oppose that. Nobody knows what the hell chained CPI is, but they know what increased funding for schools, police, and firefighters is. They're familiar with a raise in the minimum wage. They'd understand job creation programs. If you wanted to get Republicans on record as opposing something, you'd get them on the record as opposing things like these -- not some arcane bit of bookkeeping mumbo-jumbo designed to hide cuts to entitlement benefits.

Barack Obama chose to make chained CPI the opening bid in budget negotiations because he's cool with it, not because he wants to embarrass Republicans with it. Obama's budget is exactly what it seems to be: a betrayal of the core Democratic principles of protecting the most vulnerable in America and providing at least some modest guarantee that seniors won't go hungry when they can no longer work.

When the President formally unveiled his budget proposal, he told reporters, "There's not a lot of smoke and mirrors in here." That's BS. Chained CPI is the very definition of smoke and mirrors. You don't try to hide a cut when the plan is to bring it out in the open to show up Republicans as obstructionist. This is the President once again beginning negotiations by undercutting his own position -- i.e., negotiating with himself and negotiating away protecting entitlements. He's ready to do this, for real.

Thank goodness this budget is pretty much DOA. It hasn't exposed Republicans as unserious, but it has exposed Barack Obama as untrustworthy. I'm afraid any other take is wishful thinking. That's a shame, but that's a reality. It's up to congressional Democrats to protect Social Security, because the White House has completely dropped the ball.


[photo by faul]

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