Obama to Sidestep Social Security in State of the Union

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President Obama will call for the U.S. to reduce its record budget deficits during tonight's State of the Union, The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery reports, but he won't endorse his deficit commission's recommendation to raise the retirement age and reduce Social Security benefits to combat the rising national debt.

Montgomery explains that Democratic lawmakers support Obama's reticence because of Social Security's popularity and because they don't want the President to propose "painful" and politically risky policies until it's clear that Democrats can work with Republicans on raising taxes and cutting spending. Republican Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan--who's proposed substantial cuts to, and partial privatization of, Social Security and Medicare to help balance the federal budget--will deliver the GOP response to Obama's speech tonight, but it's unclear whether he'll address the hot-button issue of entitlements.

How are others responding?

  • Obama's Putting Politics Over Good Policy, says Allahpundit at Hot Air: "Remember, this is the guy who once famously said that he'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-termer. Putting the country back on a fiscal footing that's even remotely sustainable would abundantly qualify as 'really good,' but hey--his approval rating is trending upwards and there's a campaign right around the corner and, darn it, why should he be expected to lead on this issue when it's the Republicans who want to cut cut cut?"
  • President Should Lead, states A.B. Stoddard at The Hill. "Nonpartisan budget analysts who believe the president must lead on deficit reduction are growing doubtful that a grand bargain is possible, she says. Instead of reacting to House Republicans, Obama "should signal tonight that he has his own tough and detailed plan."
  • We Shouldn't Attack Social Security, argues Bob Herbert at The New York Times. Social Security has substantially reduced poverty among the elderly, Herbert says, but "in a period of deficit hysteria ... this crucial retirement program is being dishonestly lumped together with Medicare as an entitlement program that is driving federal deficits." The real deficit drivers, he adds, are "the obscene Bush tax cuts for the rich, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have never been paid for and the Great Recession." We need to reform Social Security's long-term financing, Herbert concedes, but "mugging the nation’s grandparents by depriving them of some of their modest, hard-earned Social Security retirement benefits is hardly an answer to the nation's ills."
  • Obama Should Defend It, agrees Nancy Altman at The Huffington Post: "The very ideals that President Obama expressed so eloquently during the campaign are the values that underlie Social Security--that we each have individual but also shared responsibility, that we are all subject to life's vicissitudes, that we are all part of one national community. He should once again proudly say so Tuesday night."
  • How Will the Government Operate by 2020? asks CNN's Jeanne Sahadi. The U.S., she explains, currently spend about 76 cents of every federal tax dollar on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on its $14 trillion debt, leaving 24 cents of revenue to fund the rest of the federal government's activities. But the Government Accountability Office estimates that if the country doesn't get serious about tackling its mounting debt, the government, by 2020, could be spending 92 cents of every tax dollar on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest, with a mere 8 cents left over for everything else. Sahadi includes a helpful graphic to support her analysis.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.