Pulling Our Legs

by digby

Here's The Hill on Rahm's super strategy to get the stimulus bill passed, which apparently was to promise the Blue Dogs that he'd help them destroy social security and cripple all future spending with Pay-Go and then capitulating to presidents Collins and Nelson once the administration had so badly mangled the public strategy the plan started losing altitude in the polls. Heckuva job. And apparently, everybody in town loves him for it.

And according to Ben Smith at Politico "the left" is giving the administration the go-ahead to "reform entitlements." And perhaps we are. I know I certainly get plenty of flack for not "trusting Obama" or failing to understand that his masterful Machiavellian jiu-jitsu is always 27 moves ahead of what my meager mind can comprehend.

President Barack Obama plans a busy February. The new administration hopes to have a stimulus package passed by Congress, a new plan in place to shore up ailing banks and, by month’s end, to hold a “fiscal responsibility” summit.

If the stimulus and banking bailout weren’t controversial enough, the summit fills some entitlement reform critics with dread, as they fear it could speed calls for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Strikingly, however, Obama appears to be getting unusual room to maneuver on entitlements by most of his liberal allies. On the subject of entitlement reform, in fact, Obama’s honeymoon continues — at least in the unlikely precincts of the Democratic left, a counterintuitive development that has buoyed the spirits of reformers who would like to see drastic changes in the way Social Security works.

Opponents of significant changes to Social Security benefits were jarred in January, when the then-president-elect echoed George W. Bush’s claim of an entitlement “crisis,” warning of “red ink as far as the eye can see” in Social Security and Medicare. Obama promised that those programs would be a “central part” of his plan to reduce the federal deficit.

Social Security defenders were surprised again last week, when Obama named a leading voice for reining in entitlement spending, New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, to his Cabinet.

But despite some grumbling in the ranks, the powerful, organized movement that effectively defended the Social Security status quo from Bush’s ambitious reform effort in 2005 has been one of the key dogs that haven’t yet barked at Obama.

The relative silence of liberal activists who smashed Bush’s hopes of slowing entitlement spending is a mark of the deep trust Obama enjoys from the left of his party — and it’s also giving hope to those who would like to see major shifts in the way Social Security and other programs are funded and managed.

Obama is “in a honeymoon phase, and many liberals are afraid to express concerns,” said Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat and deficit hawk who sees the current eonomic crisis as an opportunity to reform entitlement spending.


When Obama said last month that “discussion around entitlements will be a part, a central part” of his economic agenda, liberal columnist David Sirota warned: “That’s coded politicalspeak for an effort to ‘reform’ Social Security and Medicare, which history has shown is often itself politicalspeak for cuts to those programs.”

The Gregg appointment caused another ripple of concern.

“I’m not pleased to see anything strengthen those voices within the administration,” said Lawrence Michel, president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. Michel added that he’s concerned that the summit planned for later this month also could reinforce calls for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. “Why undercut the strongest pillar of retirement security?” he asked.


For now, most liberals are confident enough in Obama’s rhetoric to stifle any concerns about his policy views.

“The question is, whose leg is he pulling?” said [Dean] Baker. “I’d like to think it’s theirs when he says [to deficit hawks], ‘I share your concerns.’ But I guess it’s conceivable that it’s mine.”

If it's true that most people on the left trust Obama to get together with the Blue Dogs and the Republicans and muck around in social security then they are failing to play their proper role. They should agitate to take it completely off the table, whetheror not Rahm promised the Blue Dogs the store or Obama thinks he can magically finesse it. It's political dynamite in the middle of a very serious crisis and I can't believe any liberal is playing these kinds of games right now.

If the point is to solve some problem that doesn't exist just because the villagers will have a simultaneous orgasm, well to hell with that. If the point is to keep the Blue Dogs on the team, the price is too high. If it's that they have a super-duper, multi level chess game planned, they probably should wait until the second term. After watching Rahm's crack legislative strategy on the stimulus, I think they might need a little bit more practice before they try to outmaneuver the Republicans on something this important.