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October 11, 2013
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The next few days may be the most perilous for ordinary Americans in Obama’s presidency, as the White House is looking for a deal with far-right Republicans that takes Obamacare off the budget-cutting table, reopens the federal government and raises its debt ceiling.
As the government shutdown continues, Democrats have seen their approval ratings soar, prompting pollsters to say that the GOP will be punished in the next federal election. But what’s shaping up 13 months from now is less important than what will shape up in the next 13 or so days. That’s because the White House’s openness to revive “grand bargain” talks with GOP radicals over future funding for entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, and more tax cuts for the wealthy, can only end badly for the middle- and working-class Americans.
“If we went into serious negotiations, then I think that could be taken in short order,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-OK and House Appropriations Committee member, said Friday, after negotiating Thursday night with other House GOP leaders at the White House over ending the shutdown and debt stalement.
The problem that Democrats face is that the agenda of the House’s slightly less-extreme Republicans is not new. It is still so far to the right that a deal could imperil programs that Democrats have built over decades, starting with the cornerstone of the 1930s New Deal, Social Security, and continuing in the 1960s War on Poverty, with Medicare, or health care for seniors. Fully funding retirement security programs is needed more than ever today, as near-retirees owe an average of $102,000 on home loans and $18,000 on credit cards, according to Social Security Administration statistics.
Polls continuously find that the vast majority of Americans, regardless of political party, do not want entitlements like Social Security or Medicare cut. But these big-ticket items have consistently been in right-wingers’ budget-cutting crosshairs, where they are falsely but deliberately blamed for outsized roles in creating the federal debt—instead of George W. Bush-era tax cuts and a war of choice in Iraq. The hard right, now driving the federal shutdown, has been laboring for years to end America’s social welfare programs. That attitude is part of why the right hates Obamacare, as it is seen as expanding that legacy.
It appears that the GOP’s price for reopening government and raising the debt limit is for Obama to “seriously consider,” as Cole said, an array of policy options targeting these needed and popular entitlements. This menu would include the unbalanced Simpson-Bowles plan of cutting retirement benefits while lowering federal income tax rates, especially in the top brackets. Or, as Obama has said, possibly changing the inflation formula that calculates Social Security increases, which would hurt the majority of seniors who have no retirement plans or little lifetime savings.
The apparent revived interest in a “grand bargain” over the federal budget and tax cuts isn’t taking place on a level playing field, because the starting line is so far to the right.
The Republicans driving the shutdown are nowhere near the political 50-yard-line. The mainstream media coverage of would-be dealmakers is filled with revisionist history or worse, historical amnesia. Republicans who a year ago were seen as being out-of-touch—such as 2012 Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan—are today touted as “adults” that the White House can deal with. That’s how The New York Times portrayed Ryan, glossing over his slash-and-burn agenda that voters rejected in the 2012 presidential election.
There’s a real danger that the Republican extremists will move from their 5 yard line to their 15 yard line and stop there, bellowing that they have compromised while demanding cuts to safety nets, and then Obama would look intransigent if he keeps saying no.