Political Animal


April 05, 2013 11:03 AM Will Republicans Run Against Social Security Cuts?

By Ed Kilgore

In a downbeat post about today’s leading news (the March jobs report and Obama’s FY 2014 budget), TPM’s Brian Beutler mentions a possibility that hadn’t quite occurred to me:

The risk Obama’s taking is that Republicans on the Hill can now characterize Chained CPI as a consensus policy that should be enacted alone, on the merits, without also increasing taxes, while Republican candidates can run against Obama’s plan to cut Social Security, and thus drive a wedge between Democratic incumbents and the President.

The first part of Beutler’s “risk assessment” is obvious, but could Republican congressional candidates in 2014 actually run against “Obama’s Social Security Cuts,” after decades of lusting for “entitlement reform” and several consecutive years of demanding that Obama give Social Security benefits a haircut or worse?

The main data point we have on that possibility is the relentless GOP campaign against “Obama’s Medicare Cuts” in 2010 and 2012. If Paul Ryan—Paul Ryan—can pose as the savior of Medicare, standing bravely between his mother and mean old Barack Obama, then anything’s possible.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • pontormo on April 05, 2013 11:11 AM:

    You didn't see this possibility?
    You write a political blog and were oblivious to what opening that door could mean politically- to say nothing of Obama joining the ranks of the well fed, well sheltered telling people who struggle that they could do with a little less.

  • red rabbit on April 05, 2013 11:24 AM:

    I'm disgusted. Obama betrayed his supporters and is needlessly hurting those who can least afford it. All for his precious "grand bargain" and the approval of all the "very serious people" in DC who have no idea what it's like to struggle from day to day and don't care about those who do.
    FU Obama, I'll be removing myself from any of your stupid mailing lists and won't be supporting you with regard to any of your pet projects, you phony.

  • gocart mozart on April 05, 2013 11:28 AM:

    Republicans talking out of both sides of their mouths? Unpossible!

  • YeahNo on April 05, 2013 11:29 AM:

    Have to agree -- how could you NOT see the possibility of this? They ran on "Obama cut Medicare" in 2010, after years of trying to do so themselves.

  • c u n d gulag on April 05, 2013 11:34 AM:

    This shouldn't be that hard to predict.

    Of course, even though their fondest wish is to either eliminate or privatize SS (probably, the latter), if Obama actually proposes even a penny of SS cuts, the R's do a 180 and scream about how Obama's trying to starve Grandma, and how, like in 2010, with Medicare, THEY, and THEY ALONE, are the great protectors of the ENTITLEMENT programs they love!!!

    And you can take that to the bank!
    At least you can take THAT to the bank, since there may be precious little else you'll have to take to the bank.

    My suggestion is, let's just wait and see.

    It's not like this isn't something the President hasn't been talking about for years, and the R's still haven't bitten at the lure.
    I wrote about that earlier today, so I'll spare everyone another of my massive word-turds.

  • Zorro on April 05, 2013 11:43 AM:

    Remember: the American political memory is 2 years, tops. If the last time GOP politicians came out strongly in favour of cutting Social Security benefits was 2 years back, then the GOP can safely assume that Americans literally won't remember that relevant fact when they accuse President Obama of doing the same thing.

    That, and they'll be just subtle enough to say "well, we want to 'safe' Social Security, while mean old Obama wants to cut it." The fact that cuts will be their preferred method of saving Social Security will not be mentioned.


  • Napoleon on April 05, 2013 11:46 AM:

    Of course they are going to do that. Obama is completely incompetent as a negotiator.

  • Rayl on April 05, 2013 11:48 AM:

    The advertisements write themselves:

    The Obama wants to raise your taxes and cut your social security payments.
    Don't let him do either.

  • foosion on April 05, 2013 11:51 AM:

    Remember 2010, when Republicans ran against safety net cuts? Remember death panels?

  • boatboy_srq on April 05, 2013 11:53 AM:

    Republicans ran against global interventionism (Eisenhower). They ran against isolationism (Bush II 2004). They ran against peace (Nixon) and against war (Bush II 2000). They've run against stuff they liked and against stuff they didn't.

    The only thing that makes todays' GOP take a side on an issue (outside the core God'n'guns stuff) is reaction opposite to the side the Democrats take.

    SocSec and Medicare were fair game for reduction/elimination when Dems stood their ground. SocSec and Medicare will be convenient targets now that Dems have agreed to some "entitlement 'reform'".

    It doesn't matter what the Republicans campaign on. They've proven themselves disinterested in responsible governing, and committed to destroying anything resembling federal systems. Dems need to go after them on their record - not their positions.

  • beejeez on April 05, 2013 11:56 AM:

    Democrats lose on both ends if Obama gives in. He loses low-info voters looking for any reason to lap up GOP talking points and he loses Democrats infuriated by the cuts. There's just no good reason not to drive a hard bargain on increasing revenues.

  • Anonymous on April 05, 2013 12:02 PM:


    One crucial game of politics is to take credit for good things and try to use every trick in the book to make your opponent be stupid enough to take credit for bad things. Now the GOP has succeeded - without proposing a single specific cut themselves to get a Democratic president to officially endorse stupid cuts to critical and immensely popular programs.

    The Grand Bargain has become the Moby Dick - the goal that makes no sense that will destoy the pursuer.

    This step will be Obama's Katrina - the one fatal move which will make him a lame duck President.

  • Zorro on April 05, 2013 12:08 PM:

    Napoleon- agreed, 100%. If the debate leading up to health care reform taught us anything, it's that President Obama, whatever his merits, is an *awful* negotiator. Put simply, you don't start negotiations with what you hope will be the final outcome, because doing so *guarantees* that you won't get your desired final outcome. First, you shoot for the moon, the other side does the same, and then you meet somewhere in the middle.

    In the case of HCR, the opening bid should have been Medicare for All. This would have had the dual benefits of both starting with the best possible model (single payer) and creating enthusiasm among the Democratic base. It also would have resulted in a final plan being considerably to the left of national Romneycare.

    Note, also, that no matter what President Obama's initial bid was, it was going to be tarred as socialist/communist/etc. So, why not shoot for the moon.

    Instead, he started w/Romneycare + a public option as his opening bid- which guaranteed that the public option would not be part of the final compromise, and that Romneycare- a plan practically designed by the Heritage Foundation- was going to be labeled as a left-wing plot that Stalin would have loved.

    As Napoleon said: President Obama's an awful negotiator. Makes me wonder if he ever bought a house. But I know I'd love to get him in a poker game.


  • max on April 05, 2013 12:13 PM:

    "but could Republican congressional candidates in 2014 actually run against “Obama’s Social Security Cuts,” after decades of lusting for “entitlement reform” and several consecutive years of demanding that Obama give Social Security benefits a haircut or worse?"

    Yes. And they will. Q: What makes old people unhappy? A: Benefit cuts. Q: What will bring old people to the polls to vote R? A: Benefit cuts. Q: How can someone be in favor of destroying social security and medicare while running against cuts? A: By saying they're in favor of 'entitlement cuts' and 'getting rid of welfare'.

    The only advantage offered here is that D incumbents will have to campaign against such cuts which, if they do not occur beforehand, will result in eliminating the chance of them occurring in advance.

    But what Greg Sargeant wrote (I presume this is straight from the WH) is what gets me: "They believe a Grand Bargain is good for Democrats in general, because it essentially would lock in a medium-term agreement over core disputes"

    BAHAHAHAHAHA. This is a total failure of understanding. There is never any agreement that the R's will accept that will lock in spending at current levels and eliminate the core dispute. The core dispute is all the Republicans can offer as policy.

    The White House simply does not understand its opponents. They're not trying to help America (they hate the current incarnation of America - a balck guy in the White House????!??! ZOMG!!!), they're trying to destroy Democrats by any means, using any methods, full stop.

    ['Anyways, if Obama wanted to lock in an agreement, he should have gone over the fiscal cliff.']

  • Mimikatz on April 05, 2013 12:28 PM:

    Greg Sargent theorizes the White House wants to get a grand bargain to get deficit issues out of the spotlight and work on other problems. Obama seems not to understand that the GOP doesn't want to solve this problem, because it is their only issue with mainstream appeal. They don't want to talk about immigration or any other real problem because on those issues the majority is against them. Only on the vague notion of "balancing the budget" do they have public support.

    So of course they won't give him a deal. And of course they will run against him for proposing Social Security cuts. They are masters of deciption and their followers are quite comfortable with cognitive dissonance as long as it involves opposing Obama. Once again Obama is playing Charlie Brown. I realize it is hard for him to accept, but they aren't going to give him a deal ever.

  • Domage on April 05, 2013 12:34 PM:

    So, not for the first time, Obama is calling for cuts to SSI. The first five times he did this, I heard all kinds of "well, he's just saying that because he knows the Republicans will never agree to the rest of the package, and so it makes Obama look like he's really reaching out."

    I now call "BULLSHIT!" Obama keeps offering this deal because HE REALLY WANTS TO CUT SOCIAL SECURITY. I don't see any other viable explanation for placing the 70-year-old centerpiece of Democratic policy on the chopping block. Obama wants to go down in history as the man to began dismantling one of our only effective social safety nets.

    Why he wants this, I do not know. But his consistent pushing to get this done says he's really a centrist Republican, and not a Democrat.

  • sjw on April 05, 2013 12:57 PM:

    Obama as poker player: You're in the middle of a hand with him, and he shows you that he has nothing. Then he bets.

  • Eric k on April 05, 2013 1:14 PM:

    Here is another way to look at it, what is the surest way to ensure something doesn't happen? Have Obama propose it and then House Republicans will do just the opposite.

    This may have just made chained CPI DOA.

  • Cranky Observer on April 05, 2013 2:08 PM:

    Neoliberals are /so close/ to getting what they want & being able to re-register as republicans they can taste it...


  • Josef K on April 05, 2013 2:39 PM:

    I will echo both sides here:

    First, we can and should express our disapproval for even the mention of cuts - never mind "reforms" - to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and everything else. Waiting until after such cuts have been made part of the discussion cedes too much rhetorical and negotiating ground to be regained.

    Second, we should have no illusions about President Obama. He is a politician, and does not operate in a vacuum. Nor has he been shy about seeking a Grand Bargain (although the roots of this ambition, never mind the necessity of it, escape me). For whatever reason, he's made Social Security part of this, but there's no indication he's made it the only part.

    Finally, the President's negotiating style has been irritating and at times apprently counter-productive. It could be he's honestly mis-reading his opponents, or that he's viewing this as sjw suggested at 12:57pm (ie. a game of poker). I personally think its more the latter, but if it is he's mis-reading both the stakes and the situation in a very dangerous way.

    This isn't a game. Its people's lives, their health, and for far too many its their very livelihood being bargained with. And the other side either doesn't care or is equally mis-reading all this. Worse, both sides are well insulated from either seeing or feeling the negative results of their bad bargains.

    Where this goes and what it results in cannot be projected with 100% accuracy. To insist on it is folly. Remember, there was absolute certainty that Congress would come to terms to avoid the sequester, and now look where we are.

    My point is that we can and should speak up with as much force and as many avenues as humanly possible, but I caution against automatically presuming the President is predisposed to sell out what's left of our social safety net. We need to make it clear as possible this wouldn't be a welcome or worthwhile move on his part; how well he'll listen can't be known ahead of time.

  • Th on April 05, 2013 3:29 PM:

    The interesting aspect for me isn't whether Republicans run against Obama's SS cuts (really?) but how the 2016 Prez candidates handle this. Do they support Obama or trash his budget? Does Clinton see this as a way to remove Biden as a potential rival? Does Pelosi see her ticket back to the speakership as supporting or opposing SS cuts? How about the Congressional Black Caucus?

    This move ranks right up there with Bush trying to privatize SS after his reelection and ushering in a Democratic congress.

  • CDW on April 05, 2013 4:11 PM:

    Just so you know - I only realized it recently - using the c-cpi does more than cut benefits, it also raises taxes. So it's a 2-fer for seniors sacrifice.

  • jeri on April 05, 2013 7:05 PM:

    I think I see the rationale behind the chained CPI.

    If the price of apples doubles I might compensate by only buying half as many. So with my buying strategy, there would be zero inflation in my year-over-year apple purchase. Got it.

    Whereas my banker, who is not monetarily constrained, doesn't have to cut back on apples. Plus, he can now buy the extra ones I didn't buy. So his apple inflation is a staggering 200% and he needs a big raise just to keep up.

    I'm starting to see how this works.

  • janinsanfran on April 05, 2013 7:23 PM:

    Obama is unwilling to admit that he is confronted by a Republican party that has decided to go for a rule or ruin strategy. They don't give a damn what their policies do to the country -- in fact they don't have any policies. Their only interest is somehow, up against a growing majority that finds their racism, sexism, and whoring for the 1% percent repulsive, is to break the democratic system itself. Hence attacks on women's reproductive choice (back to the nursery with you!), attacks on education, and efforts to prevent voting access for people who differ from them. And if the people we elect, like Obama, refuse to fight, they may get away with all this, sometime just about when the planet fries.

  • Arronstanford on April 27, 2013 11:47 AM:

    Republicans are as insensitive , unrelative , Greedy and , selfish as anyMurderer or any Criminal deserving punishment !