Sunday, April 7, 2013

You Can't Call It a Concession if No One Asked For It

So, as we saw in Obama's weekly address yesterday, he's trying to deny ownership of his cuts to Social Security even though he's certainly expressed interest in doing so for quite some years now.  Painting himself as a "post-partisan" self-negotiator rather than a resolute neoliberal (Is either that laudable?), he spoke of his budget as a "compromise" position, again painting the chained CPI as though it were a "concession" he'd be willing to make as long as Republicans agreed to close tax loopholes.
The problem with such a frame is that you can only call it a concession if the other side asked for it.
If you read the House budget (i.e. the Paul Ryan budget), you'll notice the dance Ryan does around the topic of Social Security.  There is language hinting at means testing and raising the eligibility age combined with the usual Peterson-esque fear-mongering about debt and future bankruptcy of the program, but there is no direct recommendation.  As far as direct recommendations go, all that we get is this:
Social Security in brief
• Require the President to submit a plan to shore up the Social Security Trust Fund.
• Require Congress to submit a plan of its own.
Basically, the House Republicans simply punt, demanding that Obama be the one who owns the cuts to Social Security, and Obama seems perfectly willing to oblige. And what makes his willingness to cut Social Security even more galling is the fact that he used retirement insecurity as a reason to delay environmental/climate action earlier this week.  At his fundraiser in San Francisco, he spoke of the difficulties of pushing environmental legislation in the following way:
But — and I mentioned this to Tom and Kat and a few folks right before I came out here — the politics of this are tough. Because if you haven’t seen a raise in a decade; if your house is still $25,000, $30,000 underwater; if you’re just happy that you’ve still got that factor job that is powered by cheap energy; if every time you go to fill up your old car because you can’t afford to buy a new one, and you certainly can’t afford to buy a Prius, you’re spending 40 bucks that you don’t have, which means that you may not be able to save for retirement — you may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it’s probably not rising to your number-one concern. And if people think, well, that’s shortsighted, that’s what happens when you’re struggling to get by. You’re thinking about what’s right in front of you, which is how do I fill up my gas tank and how do I feed my family.
If he believed that retirement insecurity, housing insecurity, job insecurity were making people less able to view climate change as the major threat that it is, then he wouldn't be so willing to cut Social Security and would have a more robust housing policy amidst the foreclosure crisis.  

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