The anger at President Obama is real. So is the determination to voice it. But the threat to Social Security that provoked the liberal fury on display this week just may prove to be decidedly less than real. The betting here is that no Democrat will face any clean up-or-down vote on the measure in the coming months.
Even one of the most outspoken critics conceded that point while standing in front of the White House as one of the leaders of the progressive protest against Obama's proposal to alter the inflation formula used to compute increases in Social Security benefits. Only moments earlier, Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., had begged the president to back off that part of his budget with an emotional, "Mr. President, please hear us all." But in an interview, he told National Journal that Obama doesn't expect much to come from this offer to the Republicans. "We had a meeting with the president a couple of weeks ago, and he said it's not going to happen unless the Republicans agree to substantial new revenues from the higher-income earners and corporations in the country," Nolan said. "He said that is not likely to happen. So the cuts in Social Security and Medicare are not likely to happen."
Nor was the White House pushing a different message. Aides were selling the budget, but with no enthusiasm for the Social Security plank. "It's not the president's preferred policy," insisted Jeff Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget. The president added the provision as a show of good faith to Republicans who have demanded it, Zients said, underscoring that Obama's support is there only if it is "part of a balanced, comprehensive package" in which Republicans give the White House the new revenues it wants — and the president gets the large-scale bargain he seeks.