Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 16, 2011

THE NEED FOR PARTISAN COVER.... For all the talk about "entitlements" as the budget fight(s) begins in earnest, it's worth noting that congressional Republicans aren't exactly on the same page. I don't just mean that GOP lawmakers disagree on the scope of proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare, I mean Republicans aren't even sure how they want to pursue the issue with the White House.

Reader G.S. emails this piece, and asks an interesting question.

One day after President Obama submitted his budget request for fiscal 2012 to Capitol Hill, congressional Republicans assailed the document as too weak on spending. But they also signaled an openness to working with Democrats to solve the nation's financial problems.

The mixed message reflects uncertainty among resurgent Republicans about how best to address the concerns of voters -- and satisfy the demands of restless freshman members of their own party.

Some Republicans, particularly those in the House, want to force an immediate showdown with Democrats: GOP leaders have included sharp cuts to federal agencies in a must-pass spending measure that would keep the government open through September. Other Republicans, including many longtime senators, want to seize the moment to join Democrats in overhauling politically sensitive programs such as Social Security and Medicare, the biggest drivers of future spending.

These differences matter, of course. How and whether the GOP decides on a strategy will be critical in, say, avoiding a government shutdown.

But G.S. asks, "I don't get the Republican strategy. They can spend '11 and '12 in skirmishes with Obama. Then they use it against him next year and elect President Romney. In '13, GOPers run Washington and cut entitlements all they want. Why look for a dea with Obamal? It's not like they like bipartisanship."

It's a fair point. The answer, I suspect, is that they need bipartisan cover on entitlements. If a Republican Congress and a Republican White House tried to tackle this sort of undertaking on their own -- as they did in 2005 on Social Security privatization -- they'd face an aggressive, organized, well-coordinated opposition. What's more, they'd very likely lose and pay a steep price.

It's one of the reasons why the subject is coming up at all -- Republicans want to tackle the policy, but need a Democratic White House to make it work politically.

The president alluded to this yesterday at a press conference: "[T]his is not a matter of 'you go first' or 'I go first.' This is a matter of everybody having a serious conversation about where we want to go, and then ultimately getting in that boat at the same time so it doesn't tip over."

It creates a series of incentives -- Republicans get the policy they're looking for with the partisan cover they need; Obama's re-election prospects get a boost by striking a deal on an issue that seems to matter.

Steve Benen 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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Comments

Obama's re-election prospects will go down if he "leads" on slashing Soc Sec and Medicare. It would be a win-win for the GOP, which is why they are mobilizing the punditry to push Obama that way.

Keep in mind, the vast majority of Americans want none of this. That includes Tea Partiers, 60% of whom support raising the payroll cap to avoid ANY cuts in Social Security -- as do 80% of ALL Americans. All this "entitement" stuff is inside the Beltway for: how can we avoid having rich people like us pay any higher taxes?

Posted by: Theda Skocpol on February 16, 2011 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

That seems to have it exactly backwards, Steve. The Republicans have an incentive to use a Democratic President to gut social security and medicare *so that they can run against him* in 2012 and again in 2016. *Therefore* Obama ought to have no incentive to really work with them to do so--he should throw it right back in their faces every chance he gets. Today Carney should have been very agressive with the Reporters who demanded to know why the President hadn't "convened" a big bipartisan group. He should have said:

"The President reached out to Speaker Boehner a number of times asking him to present realistic ideas for the deficit issue. We are waiting for Speaker Boehner and his caucus to figure out what they want to do. There's no point in holding a room open for a meeting when the other side hasn't yet figured out what their principles and goals are."

This whole thing is a case of piddle or get off the pot. The Republicans simply won't offer a resposible plan because its not in their interests to do so. The moment Obama offers to go first and starts cutting entitlements and gutting social security or the safety net he and the dems will lose voters. No voters vote on the deficit. They will all vote their pocketbook.

aimai

Posted by: aimai on February 16, 2011 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

President Obama did point out that medicare and medicaid are super expensive because medical costs are super expensive, but it should be drilled into the public's heads. If you fix the health care system, and get per person costs into the neighborhood of other wealthy countries, the budget picture looks much rosier.

Posted by: Holmes on February 16, 2011 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, Professor Skocpol! Social Studies represents on this thread! We are in total agreement. Must be the good education I received from you.

aimai

Posted by: aimai on February 16, 2011 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

" Republicans get the policy they're looking for with the partisan cover they need; Obama's re-election prospects get a boost by striking a deal on an issue that seems to matter."

Count on Obama doing what is said before the semicolon... the assessment after the semicolon says it all. There is little reason for BHO to run as a Dem. Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford had more progressive policies. BHO enables the far right while doing little to educate the public on the real budget problems. Electing any current Republican in 2012 is a horrifying porspect; re-electing BHO is an applalling prospect.

Posted by: gdb on February 16, 2011 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Social Security pays for itself, but its coffers keep getting used as tricks to show a better balance on our national economic ledger.

Keep your hands off Social Security and Medicare and focus on a tax-system overhaul, where the top 2% begins to pay its fair share, and unearned income is taxed at the same rate as earned income, and a 1/8th cent tax be placed on each daily share-trade, on our national stock exchanges!

Such an overhaul will keep us floating for generations to come, with Social Security and Medicare as accepted citizen rights here in America, and where we learn day by day from this moment onward to speak more honestly to each other! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 16, 2011 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

gdb for the win! I'm afraid what we need is people in the streets calling for common sense. All, and I do mean all of these people are insane. If the Republicans are allowed to fuck up the economy again then there will be blood in the water. I personally cannot take much more bullshit (R, D or I), I'll admit to that much. Where are the adults in charge?! Something must be done to stop this retarded bickering and partisan hackmenship.

Posted by: Trollop on February 16, 2011 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

aime

Thanks for using the word piddle.
I feel cheered up.

Posted by: Maude on February 16, 2011 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK
It's one of the reasons why the subject is coming up at all -- Republicans want to tackle the policy, but need a Democratic White House to make it work politically.

That's exactly what makes Obama so potentially dangerous and why he needs to be watched like a hawk.

Posted by: Stephen LaBonne on February 16, 2011 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

And vice versa. There are a lot of Democrats who would really like to gut SS and Medicare, but would enrage their constituency if they came out and said so, and need the cover of GOP control in at least one branch of government in order to reach their goals. It's a game of "good cop, bad cop", with the American people as the losers.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on February 16, 2011 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Sooner or later, if you need government services and programs, you raise revenues to match their costs. If you want to disembowel government services and programs, you don't. The Republican President has made it clear that when stuck with the choice of improving his re-election odds or raising government revenues, his re-election is much more important to him. When giving the repugs their Bush era tax extensions, he got unemployment benefits extended, and liberals everywhere rejoiced and praised the Republican President for having gotten so much. Given the million or so more about to be unemployed by the "Ameeica is broke" bunkum crowd, I am really impressed they cared so much.

Posted by: gone_west on February 16, 2011 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

"[T]his is not a matter of 'you go first' or 'I go first.' This is a matter of everybody having a serious conversation about where we want to go, and then ultimately getting in that boat at the same time so it doesn't tip over."

It's good to see the President NOT play Charlie Brown to the GOP's Lucy.

Posted by: Bob on February 16, 2011 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

@Bob:

Cutting social security is not part of "a serious conversation".

Posted by: square1 on February 16, 2011 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

If the level of liberal resentment and anger at Obama on this thread is any indication, he might lose in 2012.

Peronally, I cut him more slack. Every president has to operate within the constraints of the times. Big business has been building political infrastructure for 3 or 4 decades, while progressive institutions like unions have withered. The media has been brainwashed into accepting repub talking points. If Obama did what some of you suggest he wouldn't accomplish a thing except to further empower the right.

Posted by: DK on February 16, 2011 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

"President Obama's relection prospects get a boost..."
They do? I don't see how.
I think people stay home just as they did in 2010. The Hope for Change is gone.

Posted by: Raoul Paste on February 16, 2011 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

When it comes to SS, the left is as shrill and paranoid as the right. AIN'T no Democratic president guttin' or cuttin' or slashin' SS. Its politically dumb and completely unnecessary. And I'd like to point out that the knee-jerk, scream first think never left said that Obama and Dems were going to slash and gut SS during the lame duck session. Didn't happen, but instead of re thinking your nonsense and lies, you all just move the dates and change the scenario. When it doesn't happen this year, the new story is that it will happen once Obama is re-elected.

Idiots.

Posted by: Alli on February 16, 2011 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

Alli makes a good point. God forbid after all these years and medical advances, that we raise the retirement age to 67 in conjuction with raising the cap. The reality is advances in medical technology not only allow us to live longer, but healthier and more active lives than we did four or five decades ago.

Stop crying and face reality.

Posted by: Concerned on February 17, 2011 at 6:39 AM | PERMALINK

The retirement age IS 67 for anyone born after 1960. If you want to lecture people on facing reality, it would be useful if you knew what reality was.

Posted by: Tom Allen on February 17, 2011 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

Tom, these Democratic concern trolls have simply adopted the right-wing habits of lying and projection, along with all the other right-wing notions they've swallowed.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on February 17, 2011 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Tommy Boy, how about those who were born before 1960? Don't they all have expanded life expectancies?

Posted by: Concerned on February 17, 2011 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

The real idiots are all you people who think the country is still being run from Washington, not Wall Street.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on February 17, 2011 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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