The fight over whether the United States maintains a social-safety net for seniors and our most vulnerable citizens is, by any reasonable measure, a "which side are you on struggle?" The Republicans know that; they are ready to shred the safety net in order to advance a privatization agenda that enrichs their wealthiest donors. But President Obama is still having trouble taking a stand.
Consider this line from the president’s much-anticipated address regarding budget balancing, debts and deficits: "While Social Security is not the cause of our deficit, it faces real long-term challenges in a country that is growing older. As I said in the State of the Union, both parties should work together now to strengthen Social Security for future generations. But we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market."
On the plus side, Obama is rejecting Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposal — a growing favorite with Republicans — to begin the process of privatizing the Social Security, as well as Medicare and Medicaid.
On the negative side, Obama is entertaining the notion that, while "Social Security is not the cause of our deficit," it may be necessary to make dramatic changes to the program. At a time when House Republicans are talking up the notion of raising the retirement age to 70 and otherwise reducing benefits and imposing budgets on the elderly, the president is expressing a willingness to negotiate away a lot of what is social and secure about Social Security. That’s unsettlingto reduce budget deficits by $4 trillion over the next 12 years in a speech designed to give the White House political momentum in the fight with Republicans over spending.
The key part of the president’s plan is a “debt fail-safe” trigger that would initiate “across-the-board spending reductions” if by 2014 the projected ratio of debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) “is not stabilized and declining toward the end of the decade,” according to a fact sheet released by the White House in advance of the president’s speech.
So it was with most of the president’s speech, which erred again and again toward a middle ground that can only be occupied if Democrats surrender key points to Republicans.
The folks at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee summed things up reasonably well with a statement that: "Americans will be very glad to hear that the President supports raising taxes on the rich. But he needs to take Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare benefit cuts completely off the table. The overwhelming majority of Americans oppose cuts to these programs, but support taxing the rich, ending corporate welfare, and reducing military spending. That, plus investment in jobs, should be the Democratic plan."