Last night, several news outlets broke stories saying the same thing: President Obama is willing to make a deal on Social Security. Contrary to liberal hopes, this isn’t a deal to raise Social Security benefits or lower the eligibility age—a reasonable idea when unemployment is high and growth is sluggish. Instead, Obama has reportedly offered to expand the scope of spending cuts, including major changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, in return for $1 trillion in new revenue and an increase in the debt limit.
At the moment, it’s far too early to say anything about the viability of this deal. Neither John Boehner nor Eric Cantor or Mitch McConnell are on the record as accepting the terms of this proposal, and it’s hard to imagine that Congressional Democrats would want to sacrifice parts of Social Security and Medicare for deficit reduction, particularly those running for re-election next year.
In light of the size of the White House proposal and its limited palpability to members of both parties, it’s hard to see it as anything but political theater; an attempt to demonstrate President Obama’s willingness to go “big” on deficit reduction. Even still, it’s extremely disheartening; it demonstrates that, as always, Obama is willing to cater to the center-right in a huge way (entitlement cuts) for the sake of a small political advantage.
Moreover, this proposal is further evidence that the debt ceiling negotiations were an intentional decision on Obama’s part. The president genuinely believes in deficit reduction, and chose to use the debt ceiling as an opportunity to cut spending with significant bipartisan cover. Obama hasn’t been fooled into these negotiations, nor is he playing rope-a-dope or a complex game of eleven-dimensional chess. This is what he wants.
What does this mean for liberals? Well, they can complain and attack Obama—they’ve already begun—but criticism from the left has yet to budge the president, and it’s doubtful that this time will be any different. Demonstrations sound great, but they don’t actually carry a high chance for success; if your only option for changing the political calculations of a president is protest, then you’re probably too late to the game. Likewise, a primary campaign against Obama sounds like it might work, but outside of activist circles, there is little appetite for a challenge. The Democratic establishment is satisfied with President Obama, and will work to ensure his reelection.
Indeed, given the importance of presidential elections, Obama will be able to count on organization and support from every member of the Democratic coalition. Moreover, if a deal comes through, it will probably help him with independents, who support modest reductions in entitlement spending.
Simply put, liberals don’t have much leverage over the Obama administration, which, unfortunately, makes our concerns—and our anger—a second-order consideration at best.