Of course: Obama abandons plan to bring up Social Security reform in SOTU

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?

Wait ’til next year. Or the year after that. Or the year after that.

President Obama has decided not to endorse his deficit commission’s recommendation to raise the retirement age, and otherwise reduce Social Security benefits, in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, cheering liberals and drawing a stark line between the White House and key Republicans in Congress.

Over the weekend, the White House informed Democratic lawmakers and advocates for seniors that Obama will emphasize the need to reduce record deficits in the speech, but that he will not call for reducing spending on Social Security – the single largest federal program – as part of that effort…

“Most of us would like to see the Democrats remain the strong defenders of Social Security, which they have to be if they want to win the next election,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future…

“The commission said nothing surprising about Social Security. The options they recommended are perfectly reasonable and balanced. If the president wasn’t willing to embrace these sort of changes, he shouldn’t have appointed a commission to find solutions. What did he expect?” Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the nonprofit Concord Coalition, which advocates for balanced budgets, said in an e-mail.

Really good question. According to WaPo, the farthest Obama’s likely to go tomorrow is to float a rhetorical air biscuit encouraging Congress to “work together” to make the program solvent and leave it at that. Think progressives will be keen to “work together”? If so, go read the quotes from proud socialist Bernie Sanders at HuffPo saluting Obama for making sure the third rail remains untouched even as our budgetary locomotive steams ahead towards a cliff.

The tragic irony here, of course, is that Mr. Roadmap himself is set to deliver the rebuttal tomorrow night and yet even he might decide not to tackle Social Security squarely. He’ll talk about spending, of course, including “longer-term spending reforms,” but whether we’re in for a blunt message about the, shall we say, fierce urgency of now in dealing with entitlements is as yet uncertain. Given the GOP leadership’s allergies to talking up Ryan’s plan on the trail, I assume he’ll be closely circumscribed; it’s hard to feel angry at The One when even the “fiscally conservative” party doesn’t have much more nerve on this than he does. (Another sad irony: Ryan voted against the Bowles/Simpson plan on grounds that it wasn’t aggressive enough, so he’s not ideally positioned to challenge Obama on tomorrow night’s omerta.) If I were him, I’d lay it out as starkly as possible — i.e. we’re not really debating whether to reform Social Security, we’re debating when to reform it. Does the public want to do it soon, with a scalpel, or do they want to wait for a crisis and do it with a machete? That’d be a dramatic question. I’m afraid of the answer.