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“Getting Serious” About Social Security – Or Why Obama Fills Me with Dread

arms and the man

(Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Obama is going to promote making “changes” to Social Security as part of his “getting serious” on the deficit, according to the Wall Street Journal. This move fills me with dread.

In a speech Wednesday, Mr. Obama will propose cuts to entitlement programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, and changes to Social Security, a discussion he has largely left to Democrats and Republicans in Congress. He also will call for tax increases for people making over $250,000 a year, a proposal contained in his 2012 budget, and changing parts of the tax code he thinks benefit the wealthy.

It is theoretically possible that Obama will only call for applying the payroll tax to incomes above $107,000–that being the only “fix” to Social Security supported by the American people and would give the program near infinite solvency–but I highly doubt it. Most likely, our deficit-hawk-in-chief is going to call for some form of cuts to Social Security benefits.

Dread at the policy level

If the Republican position is that Social Security needs to undergo huge cuts, and the Democratic position also becomes Social Security needs to be undergo cuts, but only modest ones combined with modest tax increases, the program is in real danger. The common gournd, default middle ground in the media, will then be that the program should undergo cuts, without the reference to any new taxes.

Dread at the political level

Republicans showed in 2010 as Democrats did in 2006 that a campaign directed at seniors with the message “the other party wants to cut your entitlements” is quite effective politically. If the Democratic leadership formed a united front around protecting Social Security and Medicare and then used Paul Ryan’s budget to hammer Republicans in 2012, it would likely have played out as a big political winner.

On the other hand, a campaign message of “dear senior citizens, vote for Democrats, we are desperate to cut your beloved Social Security and Medicare, but Republican want the cuts to be 15% larger” isn’t a path to victory.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at