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Democrats Edge Closer to Rhetorical Box Canyon on Social Security

Are Democrats boxing themselves into a rehetorical situation on Social Security from which there is no escape? (photo: PhotoOptik on Flickr)

House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are directly attacking Republican proposals not only to privatize but to cut Social Security benefits, which could prove extremely problematic after the results of the deficit commission get released in November.

The Speaker’s office pointed to a new book from “Young Gun” Republicans Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, touting economic ideas similar to Ryan’s “Roadmap” for deficit reduction. The Roadmap doesn’t actually reduce the budget, relying on made-up tax figures to reach its targets. And it provides massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans as well. But for the first time I can remember, the Democratic missive points directly to Social Security budget cuts proposed by the minority:

“In a new book to be released next month, three House Republican leaders include many of the policies and ideas that some in their party have promoted over the last year, as well as a controversial plan to drastically cut the country’s entitlement spending.

“… Ryan’s proposal, which looks to balance the budget through slimmer versions of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the tax code, has vexed many Republicans who have attacked Democrats over the federal debt but who don’t want to say they would favor cutting entitlement programs.”

The press release notes that the CBO found that the Ryan Roadmap would reduce Social Security benefits “below those scheduled under current law for many workers who are age 55 or younger in 2011.”

Previously, Democrats have carefully and cynically attacked Republicans for wanting to privatize Social Security, and that they would “protect it.” This elides the prospect of voting with the cat food commission recommendations, which could include means testing or retirement age increases, both of which amount to benefit cuts. Here, the Democrats specifically charge that Republicans will cut benefits. And yet many of their top officials have flirted with the prospect of doing so, from Steny Hoyer to James Clyburn. (Pelosi has notably rejected such talk, and this is her press release. However, she did push a resolution to vote on the recommendations in the lame-duck session.)

I mentioned this in my roundup last night, and it’s worth repeating. “If Democrats run this explicitly on Social Security for two months, only to cut benefits in the lame-duck session, they’ll have lost the goodwill of a substantial portion of the base for a generation.”

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Democrats Edge Closer to Rhetorical Box Canyon on Social Security

House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are directly attacking Republican proposals not only to privatize but to cut Social Security benefits, which could prove extremely problematic after the results of the deficit commission get released in November.

The Speaker’s office pointed to a new book from “Young Gun” Republicans Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, touting economic ideas similar to Ryan’s “Roadmap” for deficit reduction. The Roadmap doesn’t actually reduce the budget, relying on made-up tax figures to reach its targets. And it provides massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans as well. But for the first time I can remember, the Democratic missive points directly to Social Security budget cuts proposed by the minority:

“In a new book to be released next month, three House Republican leaders include many of the policies and ideas that some in their party have promoted over the last year, as well as a controversial plan to drastically cut the country’s entitlement spending.

“… Ryan’s proposal, which looks to balance the budget through slimmer versions of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the tax code, has vexed many Republicans who have attacked Democrats over the federal debt but who don’t want to say they would favor cutting entitlement programs.”

The press release notes that the CBO found that the Ryan Roadmap would reduce Social Security benefits “below those scheduled under current law for many workers who are age 55 or younger in 2011.”

Previously, Democrats have carefully and cynically attacked Republicans for wanting to privatize Social Security, and that they would “protect it.” This elides the prospect of voting with the cat food commission recommendations, which could include means testing or retirement age increases, both of which amount to benefit cuts. Here, the Democrats specifically charge that Republicans will cut benefits. And yet many of their top officials have flirted with the prospect of doing so, from Steny Hoyer to James Clyburn. (Pelosi has notably rejected such talk, and this is her press release. However, she did push a resolution to vote on the recommendations in the lame-duck session.)

I mentioned this in my roundup last night, and it’s worth repeating. “If Democrats run this explicitly on Social Security for two months, only to cut benefits in the lame-duck session, they’ll have lost the goodwill of a substantial portion of the base for a generation.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen