Obama finally admits cuts to Medicare, Social Security are on the table

Update: New coalition whip-count page here. Lists the good, wavering, and bad senators, with links.
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Obama finally did it. In an interview with ABC and Barbara Walters, President Obama admitted that Medicare and Social Security cuts are on the table.  The following text is from the ABC News write-up, with my emphasis and paragraphing:

Boehner and House Republicans have proposed curbing the rate of increase for Social Security payments and raising the eligibility age for Medicare, among other changes, which are non-starters for many Obama supporters. In his interview with Walters, the president hinted at new flexibility on entitlement spending cuts, but only once Republicans concede on top tax rates.

“If the Republicans can move on that [taxes] then we are prepared to do some tough things on the spending side,” Obama said. “Taxes are going to go up one way or another. And I think the key is that taxes go up on high-end individuals.”

Raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 is “something that’s been floated,” Obama said, not dismissing the idea outright.

“When you look at the evidence, it’s not clear that it actually saves a lot of money,” he said. “But what I’ve said is let’s look at every avenue, because what is true is we need to strengthen Social Security, we need to strengthen Medicare for future generations, the current path is not sustainable because we’ve got an aging population and health care costs are shooting up so quickly.”

As we’ve said all along, cuts to the safety net are on the table in the Obama-Boehner negotiations — for both sides. And this confirms it.

Bottom line — he wants it. He just doesn’t want to get killed — by us or other Democrats — for doing it.

Raising the Medicare eligibility age is backdoor privatization

I’ve made that argument here, and I’m not alone. Now we find this, from Matt Yglesias (again, my emphasis):

medicare social security elderly couple

Couple via Shutterstock

Conservatives Want To Raise The Medicare Eligibity Threshhold To Make It Easier To End Medicare

… Peter Suderman at Reason [a longtime conservative magazine] has a good account of why conservatives might think a minor tweak in the number of people who qualify for Medicare is a helpful step on the road to privatization:

The most important likely effect is political. Reforming Medicare is difficult in part because of resistance by beneficiaries, who hold a lot of political influence … Diminishing the size of the beneficiary class is likely to diminish resistance to further change, and while it’s not enough, it might ultimately make reform easier.

Basically the idea is that if we reduce the number of people who get Medicare we leave the remaining Medicare with a smaller coalition behind it. Basically you’ve got a new version of Newt Gingrich’s old concept that instead of repealing Medicare outright you create a situation in which “it’s going to wither on the vine” and die.

Now there are two more reasons why you don’t want to raise the eligibility age — it puts Medicare people into Obamacare’s private insurance pool, and as noted above, it shrinks the size of the remaining recipients — who will then have a smaller voice when they complain. Not to mention it saves no money and, yes, will kill some people.

Mr. Obama, this is all on you, if you do this.

Takeaways

We’re moving past the middle of the game. Obama is out. Here are my takeaways:

1. Game on. Obama is now in the open, speaking in his own voice and not through presumed surrogates. Time to let him own it and blast him for it. White House phone numbers here. Further action opportunities here.

2. ABC News is in on the sell. The first phrase of the first sentence of the ABC News report is this one:

As the clock ticks toward a tax hike on all Americans in 20 days…

This framing says that your taxes are in the cross-hairs (so be very afraid). In fact, your taxes will stay the same under any strategy Obama takes — this one, or the one where he lets them all go up on December 31, then brings them back down for you in January.

The difference is this — if he negotiates for tax rates now, he gets to raise them less for billionaires (his real base) than if the full Clinton top marginal rate (39.6%) kicks in automatically. See here for more on how that works. Ezra Klein thinks the Obama-negotiated top rate could be closer to 37%. Today’s top marginal rate is 35%.

3. Time to focus on the Senate. Democrats control the Senate, and Obama can’t sign what the Senate won’t pass.

There are Senate-specific instructions here, including lists of Democrats who signed the Sanders letter, and Democrats who didn’t. That web page includes all Dem Senate phone numbers plus a report-back email address ([email protected]socialsecurityworks.org). Please call early and often, and please report back.

Update: New coalition Senate whip-count page here, with links.

Each of those senators should be pinged daily. Your message: It’s the right thing to do. And Democrats will go down heavy in 2014 if the party allows this. Remember, this is not about Obama; it’s about the future of the whole party. And you can say that — some of these folks are seriously bubbled by big money donors and that rarified DC air.

The “good ones” need to be helped to stay good, and the “bad ones” need to hear from you and not just their lobbyist friends. Again, let them all know that the party will suffer if the party allows this.

For example, Barbara Boxer (D-CA) — (202) 224-3553 — is a signer, but Twitter friend nignog63 made the call to her office and reports “no clear position on raising the Medicare eligibility age”. Care to confirm that?

Some of these people are sincerely principled; many more are just careerists — they care about their jobs and their Senatorial bennies. I’d make part of the argument along the “loss of job”  lines.

As I said last time, it’s not over. But it’s heating up. Obama outing himself means (a) he knows it’s toxic, and (b) we’re nearing the endgame. Let’s not lose our focus. He’s not losing his.

Courage,

GP

To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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