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“Didn’t See That One Coming”: How Paul Ryan Helped Save Medicare And Social Security By Trying To Gut Them

President Obama’s new budget will not include a proposal to implement “chained CPI” to slow the growth of Social Security benefits, according to White House officials.

And there’s one man who deserves most of the credit for making sure there will be no cuts to benefits to seniors until at least 2017 — ironically the politician who has worked the hardest to reduce the promises made to America’s retirees — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

The president had included the reform measure in his 2013 budget as an attempt to provoke a so-called Grand Bargain with House Republican leaders. Such a deal would have required them to end some tax breaks for the rich. That was never going to happen and the White House’s acceptance of this fact helps focus the 2014 elections on votes most Republicans in Congress have taken in the past to cut both Social Security and Medicare, thanks to Paul Ryan.

The chairman of the House Budget Committee’s first budget plan in 2011 not only privatized Social Security — a proposal that President George W. Bush could not even get a vote on when the GOP controlled both houses of Congress — it remade Medicare into a voucher program that radically shifted the financial burden to seniors without doing much to reduce the overall cost of health care. The plan was so popular — at least with Republican donors — that it instantly made Ryan a national hero and possible presidential candidate.

The chances of enacting the plan with President Obama in office were zero, but Ryan, buoyed by his new stardom, helped guide House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) into a debt-limit crisis that shook global markets still dizzy from the financial crisis. House Republicans demanded a dollar in cuts for every dollar the debt ceiling was raised and President Obama obliged with a plan that not only included chained CPI, but also raised the Medicare eligibility age. To sell this plan to Democrats, the president demanded a small percentage of new revenues by ending tax breaks on upper-income Americans.

Boehner was about to make the deal, when Ryan “dropped a bomb” on it, fearing it would guarantee Obama’s re-election. Instead both sides settled on the sequester.

Ryan released another budget in 2012 that dropped Social Security privatization and added a public option to his Medicare plan.  Desperate for Tea Party credibility, Mitt Romney selected Ryan to be his running mate after being forced to embrace the congressman’s budget during the primary. Together, the two men re-elected the president.

After Obama’s re-election, Speaker Boehner reportedly tried to take the offer Ryan had rejected in 2011. The president told him it was off the table, and likely will be for the rest of his term unless Republicans consider higher taxes on the rich, which they won’t.

In the past two years, the deficit has been cut in half and is projected to be even lower within 10 years as a share of GDP than if the Simpson-Bowles debt plan or Paul Ryan’s first budget had become law. If the reforms to Medicare implemented in the Affordable Care Act continue to slow the growth of costs as they have since 2010, our long-term debt crisis may be solved, despite Paul Ryan’s best efforts.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, February 20, 2014

February 21, 2014 Posted by | Medicare, Paul Ryan, Social Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fruits Of Republican Folly”: It Falls To Democrats To Find A Way To Take Advantage Of The Moment

The Republicans badly damaged themselves with their contrived government shutdown and debt crisis, but it remains for the Democrats to drive home their advantage. Will they?

Based on the cost to the Republican brand and the pressure from corporate elites not to harm the economy, the days of shutdowns and games with the debt are probably over for the foreseeable future. If the Tea Party faction tries to repeat these maneuvers, House Speaker John Boehner would likely permit a free vote again, and enough Republicans would vote with Democrats to keep the government open.

The Republicans seem hopelessly split between a Tea Party faction that relishes governing crises and a more mannered corporate faction that kills government softly. But the GOP is still one party when it comes to destroying government as a constructive force in the economy and society.

Since Barack Obama took office, the two Republican factions have complemented each other in a successful “good cop, bad cop” effort to ratchet down public spending. Wall Street creates one sort of crisis; the Tea Party creates another; government takes the hit. Except for the short-lived stimulus of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, this is the first prolonged slump of the postwar era in which government cut rather than expanded public spending.

President Obama’s pivot to deficit reduction in late 2009 was in response to the pressures of the corporate elite, while his several capitulations in the budget cuts since 2010 have been driven by the Tea Party. In effect, the Tea Party and corporate Republicans have executed a pincer movement. Domestic discretionary spending relative to gross domestic product is now below that of the Eisenhower era.

With everything else having been cut, the pressure has shifted to the big social-insurance programs—so-called entitlements—that have thus far been protected. Once again, the corporate right and Tea Party right have called for a grand bargain targeting Social Security and Medicare.

A bargain connotes giving something and getting something. Republicans are disinclined to give anything in exchange for cuts in social insurance, least of all tax increases. Their opening gambit was an improbable offer to shrink Social Security and Medicare in exchange for increases in defense spending.

The Democratic caucuses in both the House and Senate are resolute defenders of Social Security. Polls show that more than 80 percent of Republicans and Democrats alike don’t want Social Security reduced. With Republicans pressing for cuts, defense of Social Security is a clear, bright line that benefits Democrats.

Unless, that is, President Obama chooses to blur it. He has already proposed in his 2014 budget a change in the annual cost-of-living adjustment to Social Security (the chained Consumer Price Index). Although a grand bargain is unlikely, Republicans are pushing a mini-bargain of sequester relief in exchange for cuts in other domestic spending or in Social Security. The chained CPI would yield about $34 billion of deficit reduction per year. This disguised benefit cut would split the Democrats as badly as the government shutdown split the Republicans.

A better mini-bargain would be relief from the depressive impact of the sequester without any offsetting cuts. The Democrats have some leverage here, because the sequester mandates at least $23 billion of defense cuts to take effect in January, requiring cancellation of multiyear weapons contracts dear to key Republican legislators. In exchange for restored military spending, Democrats could demand, and get, $23 billion in social spending. That $46 billion would help stimulate a stagnant economy.

Looking forward to the 2014 midterm, pollsters discern a paradox. Support for the Republican Party is down sharply. In October, Gallup found that 28 percent of those polled approve of the Republicans, down from 38 percent in September and the lowest since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. Yet message testing also shows that large majorities of voters are still inclined to fault “partisan bickering”—blaming both parties—rather than Republican obstruction for the government’s failure to make substantive progress in improving a feeble recovery.

So the shutdown debacle helps the Democrats but only marginally, unless they maximize their moment. Midterm elections are notorious for low turnout. Democrats have a prayer of taking back the House only if they energize their core voters. If President Obama goes into the midterm bragging about how much progress has been made, that won’t resonate with Americans suffering from flat or declining incomes and job insecurity. The Democrats need to stand for restored, broadly shared prosperity, not tinkering, and brand Republicans as the party that would cut your benefits.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, of all people, has set a fine example. In the deal that opened the government, McConnell sneaked in the only earmark: $3 billion for a dam in Kentucky. If we ramped that up to the whole country based on Kentucky’s share of the economy, the outlay would translate to about $200 billion. Call it the Mitch McConnell Memorial Infrastructure Program—a nice down payment on the public investment America needs.

 

By: Robert Kuttner, Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prsopect, November 7, 2013

November 11, 2013 Posted by | Medicare, Republicans, Social Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lessons Learned”: Why Giving Republican Bullies A Bloody Nose Isn’t Enough

Now is the time to lance the boil of Republican extremism once and for all.

Since Barack Obama became president, the extremists who have taken over the Republican Party have escalated their demands every time he’s caved, using the entire government of the United States as their bargaining chit.

In 2010 he agreed to extend all of the Bush tax cuts through the end of 2012. Were they satisfied? Of course not.

In the summer of 2011, goaded by an influx of Tea Partiers, they demanded huge spending cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling. In response, the President offered an overly-generous $4 trillion “Grand Bargain,” including cuts in Social Security and Medicare and whopping cuts in domestic spending (bringing it to its lowest level as a share of gross domestic product in over half a century).

Were Republicans content? No. When they demanded more, Obama agreed to a Super Committee to find bigger cuts, and if the Super Committee failed, a “sequester” that would automatically and indiscriminately slice everything in the federal budget except Social Security and Medicare.

Not even Obama’s re-election put a damper on their increasing demands. By the end of 2012, they insisted that the Bush tax cuts be permanently extended or the nation would go over the “fiscal cliff.” Once again, Obama caved, agreeing to permanently extend the Bush tax cuts for incomes up to $400,000.

Early this year, after the sequester went into effect, Republicans demanded even bigger spending cuts. Obama offered more cuts in Medicare and a “chained CPI” to reduce Social Security payments, in exchange for Republican concessions on taxes.

Refusing the offer, and seemingly delirious with their power to hold the nation hostage, they demanded that the Affordable Care Act be repealed as a condition for funding the government and again raising the debt ceiling.

This time, though, Obama didn’t cave — at least, not yet.

The government is shuttered and the nation is on the verge of defaulting on its debts. But public opinion has turned sharply against the Republican Party. And the GOP’s corporate and Wall Street backers are threatening to de-fund it.

Suddenly the Republicans are acting like the school-yard bully who terrorized the playground but finally got punched in the face. They’re in shock. They’re humiliated. They’re trying to come up with ways of saving face.

With bloodied nose, House Republicans are running home. They’ve abruptly turned negotiations over to their Senate colleagues.

And just as suddenly, their demand to repeal or delay the Affordable Care Act has vanished. (An email from the group Tea Party Express says: “Are you like us wondering where the fight against Obamacare went?”) At a lunch meeting in the Capitol, Senator John McCain asked a roomful of Republican senators if they still believed it was possible to reverse parts of the program. According to someone briefed on the meeting, no one raised a hand — not even Ted Cruz.

It appears that negotiations over the federal budget deficit are about to begin once again, and presumably Senate Republicans will insist that Obama and the Democrats give way on taxes and spending in exchange for reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling for at least another year.

But keeping the government running and paying the nation’s bills should never have been bargaining chits in the first place, and the President and Democrats shouldn’t begin to negotiate over future budgets until they’re taken off the table.

The question is how thoroughly President Obama has learned that extortionist demands escalate if you give in to them.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, October 12, 2013

October 15, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Growing Opposition”: More GOP Lawmakers Balk At Chained CPI

At least officially, the White House’s offer for some kind of grand debt-reduction deal is still on the table. To the chagrin of the left, President Obama is prepared to accept the “reforms” Republicans asked for in social-insurance programs, in exchange for concessions on tax revenue.

GOP lawmakers, true to form, continue to reject the idea of compromise, and to date, have not pointed to any concessions they’re willing to even entertain. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) acknowledged yesterday what everyone already knew — there will be no deal.

But of particular interest is the growing Republican opposition to the one thing they said they really wanted as part of a possible compromise.

Two House Republicans have told constituents they oppose proposed cuts to Social Security and veterans benefits by reducing the cost of living adjustment, according to letters they sent to constituents. President Barack Obama included the plan, known as chained CPI, in his annual budget, but specified that he was only offering it as a concession to entice Republicans into a compromise. For Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), however, the concession is itself objectionable.

Note, we’re not just talking about two random House Republicans. Immediately after Obama said he’s willing to give GOP lawmakers what they asked for, when Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee who’ll oversee his party’s 2014 midterm efforts, accused President Obama of waging “a shocking attack on seniors.”

Then Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) said he’s “not a fan” of the policy. Rep. James Lankford (Okla.), the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, called chained CPI “draconian.” Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) said of the policy, “It’s not my plan… This is the president’s plan.” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), a House Ways and Means Committee member, added, “I’m very sensitive to the fact that you’re impacting current seniors in particular. It’s something I’m very hesitant to jump up and down and support.”

Let’s be clear about the chain of events:

1. Congressional Republicans demand that the White House put chained CPI on the table as part of budget talks.

2. President Obama reluctantly agrees to put chained CPI on the table as part of budget talks.

3. Congressional Republicans criticize the chained CPI policy they said they wanted.

To reiterate a point from a month ago, it’s only fair to mention that plenty of congressional Republicans, including members of the GOP leadership, have welcomed Obama’s offer — while refusing to point to any comparable concessions they’d accept, of course — so this isn’t a party-wide phenomenon.

But we’re well past the point of Greg Walden acting as a solo hack, condemning a policy he supports because he thinks it might boost the GOP in the 2014 midterms. There’s a sizable contingent of congressional Republicans who have publicly criticized the exact same policy congressional Republicans said they wanted Obama to accept.

Shouldn’t that affect the larger discussion rather dramatically?

Remember, the White House doesn’t actually like chained-CPI. Obama freely admits he doesn’t want this policy, and only offered it because Republicans are such enthusiastic supporters of the idea. From the president’s perspective, he and his team are going to have to tolerate some measures they don’t like if there’s going to be a bipartisan compromise in which both sides accept concessions they would otherwise reject.

But that was before GOP lawmakers called this policy — the one Republicans demanded — a “shocking attack on seniors” and a “draconian” policy.

So, given all of this, can someone remind me what’s stopping the president from simply walking away from the idea he doesn’t like anyway? At this point, Obama could hardly be blamed for declaring, “I thought Republicans wanted this policy, but if they consider this a draconian attack on seniors that they cannot support, I’ll gladly drop the idea and we discuss something else.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 8, 2013

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Social Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Balking At Their Own Ideas”: The GOP Offers President Obama A Chained-CPI Off-Ramp

When Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee who’ll oversee his party’s 2014 midterm efforts, accused President Obama of waging “a shocking attack on seniors,” it took an enormous amount of chutzpah. At issue, of course, is a controversial proposal to change the way Social Security is indexed — the “chained-CPI” policy — that the White House does not like, but which Obama offered as a concession to congressional Republicans who demanded it.

In effect, Walden was condemning the president for his own party’s proposal. A day later, House Speaker John Boehner, one of the officials who demanded Obama put chained-CPI on the table, subtly rebuked Walden’s craven criticism.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that Walden isn’t alone. Last week, Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) said he’s “not a fan” of the policy, and soon after, they had some company.

“The president is trying to say this draconian thing that no one likes is the Republicans’ fault,” Rep. James Lankford (Okla.), the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, told reporters on Friday.

“It’s not my plan,” Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) said about chained CPI. “This is the president’s plan.”

Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), a House Ways and Means Committee member, added, “I’m very sensitive to the fact that you’re impacting current seniors in particular. It’s something I’m very hesitant to jump up and down and support.”

The word “bullpucky” keeps coming to mind.

Yes, plenty of congressional Republicans, including members of the GOP leadership, have welcomed Obama’s offer — while refusing to point to any comparable concessions they’d accept, of course — so this isn’t a party-wide phenomenon.

But the larger point is that having even some congressional Republicans balk at their own idea offers the president an opportunity.

Remember, the White House doesn’t actually like chained-CPI. Obama freely admits he doesn’t want this policy, and only offered it because Republicans are such enthusiastic supporters of the idea. From the president’s perspective, he and his team are going to have to tolerate some measures they don’t like if there’s going to be a bipartisan compromise in which both sides accept concessions they would otherwise reject.

But over the course of just a few days, GOP lawmakers have called this policy — the one Republicans demanded — a “shocking attack on seniors,” a “draconian” policy, “the president’s plan.”

It is, of course, painfully absurd for the right to criticize Obama for doing exactly what Republicans asked him to do, but therein lies the point: there’s nothing stopping the president from simply walking away from the idea if the GOP has suddenly discovered they dislike their own proposal.

As I mentioned briefly last week, Obama, who doesn’t like chained-CPI anyway and realized his own party is furious, could credibly declare right now, “I thought Republicans wanted this policy. But if they consider this ‘a shocking attack on seniors,’ I’ll gladly drop the idea.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 15, 2013

April 16, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Social Security | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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