I was pleasantly surprised that President Obama in his deficit speech today didn’t publicly endorse cuts to Social Security benefits or call for any specific major cuts to Medicare benefits. This is a significant improvement compared to the trial balloons we have been seeing for the past months, which indicated raising the Medicare eligibility age could have been part of the Obama plan.
This is a positive development. Having President Obama publicly call for major cuts in Medicare benefits or change in age eligibility would have been terrible for our senior citizens and a total political disaster for the Democratic party. But it is important to remember: simply because the president did not put such cuts on the table doesn’t mean he took these cuts off the table.
President Obama has already privately signaled that in theory he would be willing to support major cuts to Medicare. And he’s hinted he’d be willing to cut Social Security benefits. They were both earlier put the table for a theoretical deal and this speech didn’t take them off the table. There was no veto threat to protect Medicare and Social Security benefits.
In fact, in his only veto threat Obama made it clear he would accept Medicare benefit cuts if they were accompanied by new tax revenue from the rich by saying, “I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their fair share.” That “but” is a very important clause that means there are scenarios in which Obama would sign a bill that significantly cuts Medicare benefits.
While it is good our Democratic President is at least not publicly pushing for major cuts in America’s social safety net, he has still very much left the door open to supporting major cuts in the future as part the grand bargain he has been pursuing almost since the day he took office.