Quotes of the day

Congressional Democrats are starting to draw a much tougher line on entitlements in the increasingly messy fiscal cliff talks, warning Republicans to keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare benefits…

For many Democrats, these entitlement programs are part of their core identity — aggressively protecting the social safety net programs created by the New Deal and the Great Society is as much a part of the progressive worldview as tax cuts and smaller government are for conservatives. And if President Barack Obama reaches a bipartisan deal with GOP leaders that cuts entitlements, he can expect a rebellion from his allies on the Hill — that is, unless he wins what they consider major concessions from Republicans on taxes.

“Let them put revenue on the table first,” veteran Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) told POLITICO. “I don’t want to hear, ‘Oh well, we’ll close loopholes.’ What the hell does that mean? That’s nothing.”


Durbin frequently deviated from his script but the message was clear: Democrats should engage in debate over how to revamp Medicare and Medicaid, but not right now.

His effort to siphon off changes to entitlement programs from the fiscal cliff debate that must be resolved by Dec. 31 outraged Republicans, who feel like they’ve gone out on a limb by embracing changes to the Tax Code that would net more revenue.

“By ruling out any meaningful changes to our entitlement programs, Sen. Durbin and like-minded Democrats are threatening a nose dive off the fiscal cliff that our economy cannot afford,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio…

“If they are backing off entitlements, this is going to be a very difficult 30 days,” Chambliss said.


Two staunch liberals, Senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said in a letter to Mr. Obama that he should “reject changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that would cut benefits, shift costs to states, alter the structure of these critical programs, or force vulnerable populations to bear the burden of deficit reduction.”

More than 40 House members, led by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, declare in a resolution that any deal on taxes and spending “should not cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits.”

Republicans say the revenue to be gained from Mr. Obama’s tax proposals would be dwarfed by the growing costs of the benefit programs.


Elections do have consequences, and Mr. Obama ran on a clear platform of increasing taxes on the wealthy. But he was clear on something else, too: Deficit reduction must be “balanced,” including spending cuts as well as tax increases. Since 60 percent of the federal budget goes to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, there’s no way to achieve balance without slowing the rate of increase of those programs.

This could be accomplished in a progressive manner, shielding the poorest beneficiaries from cuts. But that seems less likely to be achieved if progressives boycott serious negotiations by pretending that Social Security and Medicare are sustainable with no reform at all.

Mr. Obama has understood this since at least 2009, when he told The Post’s editorial board that he would tackle entitlement reform…

Four years later, has the moment arrived? Since his reelection, Mr. Obama has fueled a campaign-style effort to pressure Republicans to give ground on taxes. That’s fine, but it won’t be enough. At some point, he has to prepare the American people — and his own supporters most of all — for the “hard decisions” required to put the country on a sound financial footing. That means spending cuts, it means entitlement reform, it means compromise, it means a balanced solution that will please neither House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Only one person is in a position to make it happen.


Obama senior adviser David Plouffe predicted that the fiscal cliff negotiations are “going to get hairy” in the coming weeks, saying President Barack Obama is committed to achieving the elusive “big deal” on taxes and spending he and Speaker of the House John Boehner have tried to strike for more than 18 months…

“The only way that gets done is for Republicans again to step back and get mercilessly criticized by Grover Norquist and the Right, and it means that Democrats are going to have to do some tough things on spending and entitlements that means that they’ll criticized on by their left,” Plouffe said at his alma mater in conversation with former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt…

Plouffe added that while the White House wants to engage in comprehensive tax reform, they know they must also “carefully” address the “chief drivers of our deficit”: Medicare and Medicaid.


Cavuto reassured McCain that Norquist is aware of such an anti-earmarks record, but noted that “what concerns him is that Republicans seem to be running around with the tail between their leg after the election and acquiescing on revenues and letting the Democrats stream roll them and he says they’re going to pay for that two years from now.” He asked the senator: “Do you feel threatened?”

McCain’s response:

Republicans have to be for some things and we need to be for things and we need to be for spending cuts. We need to be for entitlement reform. That has to be done if we are ever going to be serious about this debt issue. I don’t think we should disrespect Grover Norquist any more than I believe we should disrespect the Heritage Foundation or, AEI, or any others. I respect them. We just don’t always agree.


[T]hree powerful unions — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, and the National Education Association — are sending 200 local labor leaders to the Senate on Wednesday to lobby Democrats on “creating good jobs, protecting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Education, and not cutting vital services that millions of Americans rely on” during the lame-duck session.

Nonetheless, several key aides to Republican leaders told RCP in separate conversations that “the only Democrat who matters is President Obama.” They reason that enough Democratic legislators will fall in line after the White House announces its stance on any potential deal. One Republican source privy to some of the talks between Obama and congressional Republicans told RCP that the president has shown “some willingness to talk Medicare as long as it doesn’t affect his health-care bill.”

RCP asked a handful of those leadership aides whether Senate Republicans would consider raising tax rates on the top 2 percent of earners — as Democrats are pushing — if the White House and Democratic leaders promised to move forward with entitlement reform next year. Responses were muddled: The consensus was that they might begrudgingly go along, but that it would be extremely difficult for such a concession to pass muster with House Republicans, even if Speaker John Boehner tried hard to sell it.


1. If there is no bill, the U.S. economy will probably dip into recession for much/most/all of 2013, and it’s impossible to predict whether such a recession would be short-lived.

2. A 2013 recession would be terrible for the country and terrible for the Obama Presidency. It would limit the President’s options across his entire policy agenda, economic and non-economic. And it could define and dominate his entire second term.

3. President Obama believes #1 and #2, and therefore avoiding the risk of triggering a recession with his veto is an even higher policy priority than his fiscal policy goal.

4. The President wants to get things done. He cares more about his own chances for policy success (across the entire breadth of his agenda, whenever he figures out what it is) than he cares about relative political blame. A scenario in which Republicans get most of the blame for a veto-triggered recession is still a loser for him if it means he can’t accomplish his second term goals.

If my assumptions are correct, then the President cannot afford to veto a bill and have no compromise enacted.


Matthews sure got former Wyoming Sen. Simpson excited over the GOP’s recent war on Grover’s decades-old pledge to not raise taxes. “So how do you deal with guys who came to stop government, or Grover wandering the earth in his white robe saying he wants to drown government in the bathtub?,” Simpson asked to no one in particular. “I hope he slips in there with it. We’ll put some soap in the tub.”

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David Strom 9:21 PM on March 24, 2023