Debt Limit Talks Breakthrough Hinges on Social Security Cuts

Democrats--not to mention voters--don't want to change the program

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House Speaker John Boehner told lawmakers Thursday there was a "50-50 chance" that a debt ceiling deal could be ready "within the next few days," NBC News' Luke Russert reports. But the breakthrough in negotiations hinges in part on something a large majority of Americans don't want--changes to Medicare and Social Security. The Wall Street Journal reports that President Obama and House Republicans have talked about making changes to the entitlement programs, including offering less Medicare coverage to wealthier beneficiaries and slowing the how much they grow with inflation.

This is the first time Obama has put Social Security on the table, The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery reports, with a Democratic official explaining that this was a once-in-a-decade opportunity "to do something of some significance" on entitlement reform. The White House is now aiming in cutting the budget deficit by $4 trillion, instead of $2 trillion.

But 60 percent of Americans would rather keep Medicare and Social Security "as they are," according to a new Pew poll, while less than a third say cutting the deficit is more important than maintaining current benefits. Who else might be mad about tinkering with the programs? Congressional Democrats. Tinkering with SS would put Obama in conflict with congressional Democrats, The Hill's Bob Cusack writes, calling the move "stunning." Just a couple weeks ago, for example, Rep. Rep. John Garamendi promised, "If anybody in this building wants to take on Social Security--privatize it, change the benefits by altering the consumer price index or by any other method--know this: You’ve got a fight on your hands."

  • Commentary's Jonathan S. Tobin says the deal would be "historic." He continues, "Simplifying the tax code has long been a Republican goal although not one energetically pursued. This would eliminate a great many loopholes and raise a considerable amount of revenue, but if it is accompanied as the GOP insists, by lower rates, it could be sold to their party's rank and file as a blow to big government rather than yet another measure that will only feed the monster."
  • The New Republic's Jonathan Chait writes that it's better to cut Medicare and Social Security than suffer "draconian cuts to programs for the poor and to the domestic discretionary budget." The most important thing, Chait argues, is for Obama to avoid promising to lock in the Bush tax cuts. Letting them eventually lapse on income over $250,000 "is the only politically plausible scenario by which the government will have adequate revenue over the next decade."
  • But Robert Stacy McCain is not so enthusiastic, writing,

"Obama has apparently decided that his main goal in this negotiation is to increase taxes by any means necessary, so that 'fresh tax revenue' is the one point he will not cede, even if it means abandoning the Democrats’ claim as the party of Social Security.

Oliver Willis is shocked and demands a filibuster to stop any deal on Social Security... If Obama's lost Oliver Willis . . .

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