Who keeps bringing up "entitlements"?
One of the more interesting aspects of the coming sequestration talks is the absence of the Peterson contingent pushing to get "entitlement" cuts in the mix. I would have thought they'd be trying to replace the defense cuts with the Chained-CPI and a hike in the Medicare age. That's usually the formula. But it's largely absent from the conversation so far.
Well, not entirely absent. There is one person who keeps bringing it up over and over again:
Hi, everybody. Over the last few years, Democrats and Republicans have come together and cut our deficit by more than $2.5 trillion through a balanced mix of spending cuts and higher tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. That’s more than halfway towards the $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists and elected officials from both parties say we need to stabilize our debt.
I believe we can finish the job the same way we’ve started it – with a balanced mix of more spending cuts and more tax reform. And the overwhelming majority of the American people agree – both Democrats and Republicans.
That's right. The president is the only one at the moment keeping cuts to "entitlements" in the mix. (Oh, excuse me, "sensible changes" which, in the context of deficit reduction means cuts.) He's been explicit that his proposals in the fiscal cliff negotiations are still on the table, which means "sensibly" changing the Medicare age 67 and and "sensibly" changing to the Chained-CPI.
Now, my preference – and the preference of many Members of Congress – is to do that in a balanced, comprehensive way, by making sensible changes to entitlement programs and reforming our tax code. As we speak, both the House and Senate are working towards budget proposals that I hope will lay out this kind of balanced path going forward.
What the president seems to be suggesting in his speech today is to replace the sequester with short term deficit reduction of some sort, probably along the lines of what the Senate Dems are talking about --- with the promise of "entitlement" cuts and tax reform down the line. I happen to think that "tax reform" in this environment is probably going to be nothing more than kabuki --- it's very hard to see how the Republicans agree to anything that hikes taxes. (Andeven if they do, they'll be the first things to be repealed when the GOP gets he chance.) The "entitlement" cuts will, however, be very real.
What does all this add up to if he gets his way? Well, he told us back in 2009:
President-elect Barack Obama will convene a "fiscal responsibility summit" in February designed to bring together a variety of voices on solving the long term problems with the economy and with a special focus on entitlements, he said during an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors this afternoon.
Sound familiar? That's right, The "you know what":
"We need to send a signal that we are serious," said Obama of the summit.
Those invited to attend will include Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.), ranking minority member Judd Gregg (N.H.), the conservative Democratic Blue Dog coalition and a host of outside groups with ideas on the matter, said the president-elect.
Obama's comments came in a wide-ranging, hour-long interview that came just five days before he will be inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States and become the first African American to hold that title.
Obama said that he has made clear to his advisers that some of the difficult choices--particularly in regards to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare - should be made on his watch. "We've kicked this can down the road and now we are at the end of the road," he said.
I asked the president-elect, "At the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your campaign some kind of grand bargain? That you have tax reform, healthcare reform, entitlement reform including Social Security and Medicare, where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?"
"Yes," Obama said.
"And when will that get done?" I asked.
"Well, right now, I’m focused on a pretty heavy lift, which is making sure we get that reinvestment and recovery package in place. But what you described is exactly what we’re going to have to do. What we have to do is to take a look at our structural deficit, how are we paying for government? What are we getting for it? And how do we make the system more efficient?"
"And eventually sacrifice from everyone?" I asked.
"Everybody’s going to have give. Everybody’s going to have to have some skin the game," Obama said.
They re-branded "Grand Bargain" to "Balanced Approach" but it's exactly the same thing. I don't know why he has this Ahab-like obsession with doing those four things, but it's clear that he still does. So far, we've only gotten health care reform. Thank God. But it's not for lack of trying on the president's part that we haven't "reformed entitlements" and the tax code (generally assumed to be "revenue neutral" by the way.) No matter what, he's still out there pushing the Big Deal he announced at the beginning of his first term.
Why? Well, I think he believes his own hype that he can solve these nettlesome funding problems for all time and leave office having transformed the way government works by doing it. Or maybe he just hasn't bothered to reassess his assumptions over the past four years and is working on auto-pilot. Either way his desire to "reform entitlements" has never wavered although interestingly, he never explicitly campaigned on it in either campaign. (He used "balanced approach" in the last one which is very vague.)
But it should be clear by now that this is his agenda. Pretending otherwise is foolish at this point.
And in case anyone needs to understand why he is so completely wrong about Social Security, please read this.