With Social Security already running in the red a full nine years before Peter Orszag insisted the deficits would begin, even Harry Reid has to acknowledge that Congress needs to act on fixing the entitlement program. That will force both parties to take political risks in crafting solutions for the crisis. Time’s Mark Halperin notes that Barack Obama, the man who made “change” into a campaign slogan, has instead decided to lead a Democratic charge to frighten the elderly rather that work for a solution to the problem, and he’s not happy about it:
In a move as predictable as Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, Democrats are using Social Security scare tactics to gain ground before the November election. President Barack Obama is not only tolerating this classic old politics maneuver by his party — he is leading the charge. …
It is clear why Democrats are raising the specter of Republican efforts to alter Social Security. This tactic has worked in the past, as older voters — who typically turn out at the polls in higher percentages, especially in midterm years — tend to trust Democrats more than Republicans to protect the cherished retirement program. And given the weak economy, Obama’s mushy poll numbers and the lack of traction on the White House’s legislative achievements, it is no surprise that Democratic leaders would turn to the tried-and-true tactic. Also, with some prominent Republicans still calling for a fundamental change to the system by adding private accounts, the GOP has opened itself up to political attack.
But Obama is living in a parallel Vulcan universe if he thinks he and his strategists can spend the next two months using campaign appearances, advertising, robocalls and other voter communication to demonize Republicans on Social Security, and then turn around in January and try to make a deal on that same issue.
Tried and true? Perhaps in previous cycles, but possibly not in 2010. Status-quo arguments don’t work in a meltdown, which is what people are experiencing now. Unemployment continues to rise, economic indicators are all heading south, and the budget deficits have skyrocketed in the past three-plus years under Democratic control of Congress. With Social Security slipping into the red along with all of these issues (and in some cases because of them), seniors aren’t going to buy an argument that Democratic status-quo maintenance will solve the problem.
Of course, some of this is just plain dishonesty. Halperin assumes that Democrats will have to do something about Social Security, even just because it’s going to fail soon and on their watch. With Obama on the stump demonizing the same Republicans with whom he’ll have to work, he won’t be in any position to lead the effort. That may be moot anyway. If Republicans take control of Congress, they may choose not to do any Social Security reforms anyway, focusing instead on driving down federal spending in other areas and dismantling Obama’s brand-new entitlement, ObamaCare. They can gamble that a Republican President in 2013 will work better with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress in creating an effective reform of SSA and make Obama irrelevant to the discussion.