After months of hectoring us about fiscal sanity and intransigent Republicans, the NY Times discovers inflexible Democrats:
Efforts to Curb Social Spending Face Resistance
By Robert Pear
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s re-election and Democratic gains in Congress were supposed to make it easier for the party to strike a deal with Republicans to resolve the year-end fiscal crisis by providing new leverage. But they could also make it harder as empowered Democrats, including some elected on liberal platforms, resist significant changes in entitlement programs like Social Securityand Medicare.
This should hardly be a surprise - Nancy Pelosi spent a year thinking she could reclaim the House by demonize entitlement cuts and defending Medicare.
So away we go. One reason Republicans have taken a hard line on trading tax hikes for spending cuts is their belief that Reagan was duped by the Democratic House in 1982 into accepting future spending cuts that never materialized. Current Republican thinkers and leaders remain confident that Washington is much more competent and diligent about raising taxes and collecting the revenue than it is about cutting spending. (The Doc Fix in Medicare is a classic example of legislated savings that, year by year, never actually materialize.)
And might such a trade of tax hikes today for spending cuts later (or never) happen in the run-up to the fiscal cliff? Sen. Richard Durbin gives us a hint as to where the rest of Obama's party is:
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) served on the Bowles-Simpson commission, and stunned Washington last year by becoming the only liberal to vote for its recommendations, including significant entitlement cuts.
Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, appeared to back away from that position in remarks set for delivery Tuesday morning at the Center for American Progress.
“Social Security doesn’t add a penny to the debt and should not be part of any deficit reduction talks. We can and must do what we can to ensure its solvency for another 75 years, but that is another topic for another time, “ Durbin will say, according to prepared remarks circulated by his office.
“Progressives should be willing to talk about ways to ensure the long-term viability of Medicare and Medicaid, but those conversations should not be part of a plan to avert the fiscal cliff.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney has already taken up the Social Security line, per the Times:
While a potential change in calculating Social Security increases was part of the talks with Speaker John A. Boehner last year, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, made clear on Monday that the administration was not considering changes to the retirement program as part of the deficit talks.
“We should address the drivers of the deficit, and Social Security is not currently a driver of the deficit,” Mr. Carney said.
We are poised for a glorious final act. If the reporting follows the pattern set last summer during the debt talks and the collapsed Grand Bargain then the focus will be on Republican hardliners even though the Times recently admitted that Obama backpedaled from his own deal with Boehner after the Gang of Six chimed in with a more liberal deal.
That said, Matt Bai still blames Boehner for last summer and thinks the Congressional Democrats will line up behind lame duck Obama. I guess we will see soon enough.