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December 13, 2013 12:57 PM Entitlement Reform: The Dog That Didn’t Bark

By Ed Kilgore

In the context of a column labeling the Murray-Ryan budget deal as an unambiguous win for Democrats (I’d be inclined to agree if it weren’t for the expiration of UI benefits for a million Americans, which is a pretty big concession-by-omission for the Donkey Party), Slate’s Dave Weigel notes the absence of any “entitlement reform” elements in the deal, even though Paul Ryan tried some make-believe claims:

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan has made a chipper (and seemingly successful) pitch to conservatives about how the deal tackles “automatic spending,” but that’s rhetorical taekwondo, an attempt to put $12 billion of pension savings on the level of trillion-dollar entitlements.
On Wednesday, as Ryan sold the plan to Republicans, the old “debt crisis” rhetoric that defined 2011 and 2012 had vanished completely. Republicans had spent most of 2013 calling sequestration a win for the party, something that cut the deficit and gave them “leverage” for the next rounds of talks. That was the point of sequestration, that its general offensiveness would force both parties back to long-term spending negotiations, and that the entitlement state would take a hit.
And then the budget negotiated by Ryan actually blew through the $967 billion sequestration spending cap for the next fiscal year. Oh, well.

A lot of people seem to think that the Democratic united front against including in the current agreement the kind of adjustments to entitlement spending that Obama included in his “grand bargain” offers was some sort repudiation of the president, or a “shift to the left” by the White House itself. But that take involves forgetting that Obama never proposed “entitlement reform” without it being matched with tax increases Republicans never seriously considered. You can conclude Republican obstinacy kept Obama from “selling out” entitlements, or that Obama made a strategic offer he knew could not be accepted, but either way, the “grand bargain” was never really happening. And so, with the threat over, perhaps Democrats of all stripes can return to a calm discussion of the future of Social Security and Medicare in which “reform” isn’t identified with benefit cuts.

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.

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