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Supermajority of Senators Seek Grand Bargain on Taxes and Entitlements

Sixty-four Senators, half from each party, expressed their desire to have the President take up tax and entitlement reform this year, as part of budget negotiations. The filibuster-proof majority in favor of these efforts doesn’t mean that a resolution can be worked out – both sides have a very different conception of things – but it does mean that the debate is likely to begin. And it begins with the Obama economic team at least interested in cutting Social Security, with the political team trying to hold them off.

The letter was circulated by Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who were able to get a supermajority of the Senate within 24 hours. It urges Obama to “engage in a broader discussion about a comprehensive deficit-reduction package.” […]

“Specifically, we hope that the discussion will include discretionary spending cuts, entitlement changes and tax reform,” the letter states.

“We need the White House to be engaged,” Johanns said in a press call explaining the letter. “There is no question that tackling tax reform and entitlements is tough. … We won’t have any chance unless the president joins with us in the good-faith effort.
“The ball is very clearly in the president’s court,” Johanns said.

“We want to work toward a comprehensive plan,” Bennet said. “This is about keeping the conversations going, keeping it alive.”

Given the makeup of the House side, I would say this would be the worst possible time to engage in a grand bargain. But it’s been something the President has strived for since the moment he came into office. Here’s Digby:

Just keep in mind that “tax reform” and tax hikes aren’t the same thing. In fact, if the unsuccessful deficit commission report (as predicted, used as the “new bipartisan baseline”)is any guide, the things they will agree upon are the elimination of arcane loopholes which will swiftly be replaced by new ones and ending middle class breaks like the mortgage interest deduction. But don’t let that get in the way of a glorious agreement that will really start hurting citizens long after most of these people are well in their retirements, comfortably counting their millions, or in their graves […]

This is not looking good in my opinion. They are determined to push this and there is almost no energy directed toward cutting defense. Medicare is probably off the table because of the recent health care battle and the GOP’s ruthless, hypocritical attack on Democrats. That leaves discretionary spending and Social Security, the issue which the country has been prepped to believe is going broke unless something is done.

There is a small flare-up on the right over military cuts, actually, but I don’t see that going anywhere beyond perhaps what Robert Gates laid out, which is actually a reduction in growth rather than a cut. So I generally agree with this analysis, and it doesn’t look good for Social Security. There’d better be more support beyond Harry Reid.

To that end, Reid and Bernie Sanders have teamed up on a modified amendment that would express the sense of the Senate that Social Security benefits for all current and future retirees should not be cut, and that the program should not be privatized in any deficit reduction legislation. It’s a smart resolution that puts the entire Senate on the record, and it could come up for a vote as early as the week of March 28. Going forward, that’s going to be a very crucial vote.

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David Dayen

David Dayen