“The talk of any deal with congressional Republicans — and for now, it’s just that: talk — has liberals worried the White House will give in to changes to safety net programs including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Republicans say such changes are an essential part of any big deal. And Obama previously has been open to a number of reforms that irk the liberals, such as raising the retirement age of Medicare, means-testing and adopting an inflation calculation, known as chained CPI, for Social Security.
Inevitably, if there is an agreement on a big deal, Democrats will have to get on board for it to pass. But the 2012 election brought in new Democratic members of the House and Senate who are more liberal and more outspoken, strengthening the left wing of the caucus.
One hundred and seven of the 200 House Democrats signed a letter to Obama threatening to vote “against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”
At this point, of course, talk of a “grand bargain” on the budget is merely theoretical. House and Senate Republicans have made it clear that they have no intention of considering additional revenue increases, and as long as that’s the case, no basis exists for a bargain.
President Obama, on the other hand, continues to make clear that he is open to a deal that includes both revenue and changes to entitlement programs. “Those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms,” he said in his State of the Union speech. “Otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.”
That position was repeated earlier this month by White House economist Gene Sperling, in an interview on “Meet the Press” with David Gregory:
GENE SPERLING: David, as you know, these are tough things the president agreed to. Means testing, Medicare, that means higher premiums for well-off Medicare recipients. $400 billion over ten years in Medicare savings. And the hardest of all–
Just to point out–
–adjustment of the consumer price index.
You say the president’s for these things, I have no reason not to believe that’s true. That’s not what Senate Democrats put in their replacement legislation. So when it came to the legislative fight– because this is tough for Democrats.
However, it should not be a surprise that a number of congressional Democrats would oppose such cuts. (Raising the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security is a particularly bad idea, for reasons explored in this Washington Post piece.) From the beginning, any such deal has depended on attracting a combination of moderate Democrats and less doctrinaire Republicans. If and when the time came, I don’t doubt that Obama would be able to deliver a good number of votes from his fellow Democrats; the issue would be House Speaker John Boehner’s ability to deliver votes from the Republican side.
But again, the chances of seeing that prediction tested are very slim.
– Jay Bookman