The Political Costs of Reform

President Obama’s budget proposal supports entitlement reform, in part, through the introduction of the chained CPI (rather than the current CPI-W) for calculating cost-of-living adjustments. This change has been part of various reform proposals over the years, although it has often been discussed as part of progressive indexing (i.e., maintaining the CPI-W for low wage workers, thereby increasing their Social Security payments relative to those with higher incomes).  This proposal has usually attracted the ire of those on the left, who view it as a cut in Social Security rather than a reduction in the trajectory of growth.

You would think that the President’s proposal would attract the unified support of the GOP. After all, many Republicans have made this proposal before, seeing it as one of several reforms that could address the long-term entitlement problem. But with the 2014 midterm elections quickly approaching, some Republicans may see the short-term political benefits of blocking reform to be irresistible.  Consider National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), who has presented the chained CPI as Obama “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors.”   A piece by Alex Roarty (National Journal provides an extended quote from Walden’s interview on CNN:

“When you’re going after seniors the way he’s already done on Obamacare, taken $700 billion out of Medicare to put into Obamacare and now coming back at seniors again, I think you’re crossing that line very quickly here in terms of denying access to seniors for health care in districts like mine certainly and around the country,” Walden said. “I think he’s going to have a lot of pushback from some of the major senior organizations on this and Republicans as well.”

Although the Club for Growth is not pleased with Walden’s critique, at least he has gained the support of the AFL-CIO, as the National Journal reports.

“Walden’s quote underscores what we knew,” said Mike Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO’s political director. “Obama’s chained CPI proposal is terrible policy that only makes political sense to Washington insiders who don’t get outside the Beltway often enough. Obama beat Romney because working people care more about jobs and fairness than the deficit, and Democrats risk losing their political edge on the issue if they stick with this Beltway gambit.”

The GOP leadership may discipline Walden. But if Walden’s comments signal the GOP’s intention of opposing reform in hopes of winning some additional seats in 2014 and undermining the Democratic Party’s claim of protecting seniors, one can predict that entitlement reform will be kicked down the road once again.

7 thoughts on “The Political Costs of Reform

  1. I’ve long said that should President Obama (or any Democratic president) adopt the Republican platform unmodified, the Republican party would oppose it tooth and nail. And vice versa, of course.

  2. It is hard to imagine an issue more dominated by ideology than entitlements. Everyone who knows anything about the debt situation long term knows that nothing short of putting Medicare on a budget will make a big enough difference. For one who claims to be a pragmatist the President appears to be an ideologue on entitlements. Only seniors and Democrats gain when he holds this view and the rest of us lose.

    1. Saying that entitlements are “dominated by ideology” is a really weird way of framing it.

      Since when is “Eff you, pay me” an ideology?

      Everyone who gets an SS check loves it, more or less. A few people who are financially secure enough that they would be able to lose it w/o having to rein in their lifestyle are OK with reform. Rs, Ds, and Indy seniors all love social security because, let’s be real, Bingo Night won’t pay for itself.

  3. Call me a cynic but I think the president knew full well when he proposed this budget that Republicans politically couldn’t or wouldn’t support the entitlement cuts he included.

    1. If this is correct and the President knew that his proposals would not be supported, he missed an opportunity to offer some bold structural changes that would have alerted the American people to the dangers inherent in not reforming Medicare structurally, as opposed to his tinkering around the edges. This would have represented real leadership.

      1. Indeed. Sadly, I think leadership of the sort you describe has long since been abandoned, by both parties, in favor of political positioning and advantage taking. But, then, I’m the cynic.

  4. The GOP leadership may discipline Walden.

    As it stands, this sentence is cryptic. What are they going to do? Strip him of his NRCC chairmanship?

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