Next up on Obama's plateis a February 23 "fiscal responsibility summit," which will be led by Jim Cooper, Judd Gregg, Kent Conrad and other "entitlement reform" fetishists. On February 24, he's due to give a "state of the union" style speech before Congress, and according to James Capretta today, he'll deliver a budget two days later. The focus is on cost control:
Speaking Friday to business leaders at the White House, the president defended the surge of spending in the stimulus plan, but he made sure to add: "It's important for us to think in the midterm and long term. And over that midterm and long term, we're going to have to have fiscal discipline. We are not going to be able to perpetually finance the levels of debt that the federal government is currently carrying."
Capretta says that given the tight time constraints, Peter Orszag -- Director of the Office of Management and Budget -- is in the driver's seat:
There has been no time to run an elaborate consensus-building process, with full engagement from every office of government. With such tight deadlines, the only way to get the job done is to give OMB the authority to pull together the data and options for a decision-making process tightly controlled by a few key White House aides.
It also doesn’t hurt OMB’s relative power position that the new Director, Peter Orszag, is seen as a health policy expert in his own right. During his two-year tenure at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), he devoted much of his time to researching and commenting on the reasons for rapidly rising health-care costs.
As we reported the other day, Orszag is co-author of the Diamond-Orszag plan for reforming Social Security, which calls for raising the retirement age and cutting benefits -- which the White House has been presenting as the foundation of their plan.
Excuse me, but what time constraints? ( I'm not trying to be hostile to the administration, but really, wtf?) They don't have to ram this one through immediately to save the economy. If they absolutely have to do it, it certainbly can be thoughtfully planned and fully vetted before presented. Why in the world are we looking at this thing next week?
They reportedly gave Cooper and the blue boys this "summit" in exchange for their cooperation on the stimulus. (And then they didn't vote for the stimulus). And now we're hearing they have approved some "up or down vote" plan for an "entitlement reform" package that has been put together in haste inside the white house without any input from the rest of the government because they ostensibly have to move fast. Why? (Again, if they think this is some sneaky way to get to universal health care, I think they are vastly, vastly over estimating their political skills.)
Obama has been vague on social security since the campaign. I never got his decision to put it on the menu back in Iowa except as some sort of strange appeal to older voters that didn't make any sense. His use of universal health care sabaoteur Jim Cooper as a health care spokesman sounded many alarms. But he has also made many assurances that he has no intention of breaking the compact on social security and medicare, so I've never known quite where he was.
If there's some kabuki in all this, it's really hard to see the point. They must be thinking that they can either buy cooperation from wingnuts (a losing proposition) or that they need to appease certain moneyed interests, which is just frightening. (I honestly don't want to think that this some sort of shock doctrine quick hit while people are confused, but you have to consider it. )I almost think they are just still in campaign mode and haven't thought this through. This social security nonsense is a relic of villager conventional wisdom of yeteryear, ca 2007:
RUSSERT (11/5/07): If you’re going to make tough decisions as a president, you have to answer tough questions. What are you going to do? Show us how you’re going the lead us. Everyone knows Social Security, as it’s constructed, is not going to be in the same place it’s going to be for the next generation [sic]. Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives.
MATTHEWS: It’s a bad Ponzi scheme, at this point.
I have written before that he may have calculated that that this is a brave Nixon goes to China moment, but he's got to know that at this point liberals (and a lot of others) aren't going to sit still for this, no matter what the Politico says. This will crack up his coalition. The only way he can pass this is NAFTA style, with mostly Republicans and Blue Dogs. Doing that on this issue during a serious economic downturn could be politically catastrophic.
If they think anything short of serious degradation of the safety net is going to appease the fiscal scolds, they are dreaming. But if they want to panic millions of people and delay an economic recovery they'll give the impression that they have to pay for all this stimulus spending by cutting social security and medicare. It's a mistake.