Things have certainly changed in the last three weeks. In late March, Senator Dick Durbin dismissed the idea of Social Security reform, arguing that the entitlement program “does not add a penny” to the deficit, and called efforts to include it in entitlement reform a “deal killer.” Suddenly, Durbin has awakened to the danger of allowing Social Security to proceed unchanged, according to ABC:
And while other top Democrats say Social Security should be untouched, Durbin says Social Security changes should be made now. …
Durbin criticized a resolution put forward by Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont, that says Social Security should not be cut under a deficit reduction plan. Durbin said he would not vote for such a resolution.
“I think Bernie is going too far with his language,” Durbin said.
“In 2037, as we know it, Social Security falls off a cliff,” he said. “There’s a 22 percent reduction rate in payments, which is really not something we can tolerate. If we deal with it today, it’s an easier solution than waiting. I think we ought to deal with it. Many of my colleagues disagree, put it off to another day. But from my point of view, leaving it out makes it easier politically, including it, I think, meets an obligation, which we have to senior citizens.”
That’s a far cry from what he told Morning Joe’s audience in March:
It’s very hard, very difficult, when you get into the entitlements, but you can’t have a serious conversation about the future of our economy and our deficit without putting everything on the table. Social Security is a little different. It does not add a penny to the deficit.
What changed? Paul Ryan moved the national conversation to the actual source of the massive deficits, entitlement spending, and opened up a debate on his terms for reform. The White House hastily arranged a Presidential speech to counter Ryan, one that was so demagogic and dishonest that it might have forced Democrats on the Hill to rush to repair the damage. Before, Durbin could afford to sing Harry Reid’s tune of “Wake Me When It’s Over,” but Ryan has forced the hand of Democrats, even if Obama doesn’t quite comprehend it.
Durbin’s putting his money on the Gang of Six, a bipartisan group in the Senate looking at budget reform, but he notes that time is running out. Their relevance will rapidly dissipate if they cannot bring a competing proposal to the Senate floor before the Senate takes up the Ryan plan. After the warning from Standard & Poor’s, the urgency to change the direction of runaway deficit spending has finally hit the Beltway. If Congress doesn’t act, a lot of political careers will fall off a cliff before Social Security does.