President Obama may be on a new collision course with those that put him in office. Today’s headline in the New York Times shows why. “Obama Budget to Include Cuts to Programs in Hopes of Deal,” flashed the world’s busiest news site. According to the Times, Obama is set to offer up close to a trillion dollars in new cuts to domestic programs ranging in areas from health to unemployment insurance.
This latest round of reductions would fall hardest on those hit by the recession and demand very little from the few who’ve never had it better. As such, the president would continue an unfortunate pattern on economics of yielding to the power plays of Republicans against the interests of the vast majority of Americans.
But beyond this, the proposal includes two curveballs which might aggravate his base even more.
The first is that the proposal includes a change to Social Security. What’s confusing about any mention of Social Security is that the program is solvent for another generation—20 years—without any changes. Obama’s reported social security move would reduce payments to seniors by changing the way that inflation is calculated. Basically it would mean that seniors would receive smaller and smaller checks over time. But Social Security doesn’t need these cuts. For the 10-year time horizon of Obama’s budget, the program is just fine.
So why include it? Shrinking social security is a longterm political—not budget—necessity for a hardcore of the Republican base. This diehard group believes that Social Security was the beginning of a “culture of dependency” that they want to end.
By yielding to Republican demands on Social Security, the president might be hoping that they give him the larger budget deal he craves.
The irony is that if Obama needed to strengthen Social Security’s bottom line—which he does not—there is another way to do it. He could lift the cap that the wealthiest Americans pay into the program. Right now, only income below $113,000 is taxed for Social Security but that’s not what the GOP wants.
Beyond Obama’s Social Security giveaway, it’s his volunteering to unilaterally diminish the programs he was elected to protect that is even more perplexing.
Currently, there are no formal negotiations between the White House and the Congress even happening. Moreover, Speaker Boehner has repeatedly said that it’s either his way or the highway when it comes to the budget. The cuts on sequester show that Boehner means what he says and actually sees the current pain that many Americans are feeling as a sign of victory. Therefore the president is negotiating with an invisible partner.
As the Washington Post reported this week, Medicare patients are being denied cancer treatments due to the automatic budget cuts that the president signed into law last week. Whatever Obama believes he’s doing, it’s hard to see how it’s working for average people.