Obama will punt on Social Security reform

Breaking news: Barack Obama chooses not to lead … again. TPM DC’s Brian Beutler reports that the White House strategy on Social Security will be to wait until everyone else has decided to act before discussing its own approach to reforming what is perhaps the most straightforward of entitlement reforms. This will surprise, well … no one:

The White House will not prominently inject itself into congressional negotiations on Social Security reform until after key legislators in both the House and Senate unveil their plans to reduce projected long-term deficits, according to administration officials.

That won’t please Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, who have attacked Obama for remaining silent in this debate. And these 64 Senate Republicans and Democrats won’t be too happy either. But it’s part of a broader political and policy strategy the administration is employing to keep Obama’s powder dry while Republicans struggle to reduce deficits without increasing revenues in any meaningful way.

The White House’s reticence has been characterized by some as a symptom of a rift between Obama’s economic and political advisers. Some, like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, do in fact believe that a bipartisan deal on Social Security would result in real economic benefits, while others argue that Obama shouldn’t embrace any plan that substantially cuts benefits at all.

Can you feel the leadership coming from the White House? Obama has chosen not to lead on the FY2011 budget, not to lead on the FY2012 budget, and not to lead on the coalition imposing the no-fly zone in Libya. In fact, one doesn’t need to look to the White House but to Brazil, where the President has played soccer and done a samba chair-dance instead of taking an active role in communicating the need for American military intervention in North Africa.

Let’s go right to some direct criticism about the necessity of presidential leadership on entitlement reform, specifically on Social Security. This comes from October 2007, but it’s directly on point:

Conventional thinking in Washington says that Social Security is the third rail of American politics. It says you should hedge, dodge, and spin, but at all costs don’t answer. I reject that notion. I think that on issues as fundamental as how to protect Social Security a candidate for president owes it to the American people to tell us where they stand. Because you’re not ready to lead if you can’t tell us where you’re going.

Well, to be fair, I think that Barack Obama has shown us very clearly in the last two years — and especially over the last few weeks — that he’s not ready to lead, either as a candidate or as President.

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