Thursday, November 15, 2012

Obama's consistency on entitlements

As the debate over a "grand bargain" heats up, we're starting to hear some rumblings from the left that sound pretty familiar to me. One of the critiques they have leveled against the President is that he is going to give away the store on entitlements. Often these folks point to the negotiations on the debt ceiling deal and claim that he was prepared to do so to get an agreement with Boehner. Now they're gearing up to suggest that its possible he'll do that again in the negotiations over the fiscal cliff.

To put all this in perspective, I'd like to take a little trip down memory lane to April 2011 (several months before the debt ceiling crisis). At the time, Paul Ryan had just released his budget and was being hailed as some kind of great policy wonk by the media.  President Obama responded by giving a major speech on fiscal policy. You might remember this as the one where he invited Paul Ryan to attend and basically tore him a good one.

Liberals hailed the speech as one of those times they saw the President taking a strong stand against Republican attempts to roll back all the progress we've made since the New Deal. But I've always wondered if they actually heard the whole thing.

In that speech President Obama laid out the spending cuts that he proposed to Medicare/Medicaid. What's interesting is that they happen to sound an awful lot like what he put on the table with Speaker Boehner during the debt ceiling negotiations and what he's proposing now. Here's the particulars he laid out back then.
We will reduce wasteful subsidies and erroneous payments. We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power to drive greater efficiency and speed generic brands of medicine onto the market. We will work with governors of both parties to demand more efficiency and accountability from Medicaid.

We will change the way we pay for health care -– not by the procedure or the number of days spent in a hospital, but with new incentives for doctors and hospitals to prevent injuries and improve results. And we will slow the growth of Medicare costs by strengthening an independent commission of doctors, nurses, medical experts and consumers who will look at all the evidence and recommend the best ways to reduce unnecessary spending while protecting access to the services that seniors need.

Now, we believe the reforms we’ve proposed to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid will enable us to keep these commitments to our citizens while saving us $500 billion by 2023, and an additional $1 trillion in the decade after that. But if we’re wrong, and Medicare costs rise faster than we expect, then this approach will give the independent commission the authority to make additional savings by further improving Medicare.

But let me be absolutely clear: I will preserve these health care programs as a promise we make to each other in this society. I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs. I will not tell families with children who have disabilities that they have to fend for themselves. We will reform these programs, but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations.
When it comes to Social Security, President Obama has always said that the program does not contribute to our deficit, but that it faces a sustainability problem over the long run. Here's what he said about that in the same speech.
While Social Security is not the cause of our deficit, it faces real long-term challenges in a country that’s growing older. As I said in the State of the Union, both parties should work together now to strengthen Social Security for future generations. But we have to do it without putting at risk current retirees, or the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market. And it can be done.
When/if you hear liberals freaking out about President Obama giving away the store on entitlements during these negotiations on the "fiscal cliff," I'd suggest that you ask them if they were equally concerned when he laid out the specifics on that back in April 2011. Because that's STILL what is on the table today. He's been absolutely consistent on this one...which is generally how he plays.


  1. Which means they NEVER actually listen to what he says, but speculate on it. Thanks for explaining why this 'grand bargain' stuff from the left is utter nonsence


    1. I really don't understand the building freak-out about this. These are the very same folks that were defending Obama during the campaign for finding $716 billion of savings in Medicare while adding benefits to recipients.

      Perhaps you're right that they just don't bother to listen. Its either that or their freak-out meter needs a little pumping.

    2. I wonder if it's not so much a question of not listening to Obama as much as not having an Obama-English dictionary. I don't mean that this is Obama's fault. But there are certain political phrases where Obama's political opponents seem to control the meaning, 'reform' being quite a key one.

      When Mr Boehner says he'd like to 'reform' taxes, what do those of us on Obama's side of the fence predominantly hear? I hear 'cut'. That's what 'reform' seems to mean to the GOP.

      So when I also hear Obama talking about 'entitlement reform' - without consciously slowing down and paying attention - that's the same link which is made in my mind: he wants to cut entitlements.

      This isn't actually correct. He wants to literally reform them. But in my not-quite-paying-attention moments, that isn't what I necessarily hear...

    3. Perhaps you have a point sib.

      That's also why I thought it would be helpful to go back to the 2011 speech where he got pretty specific about what "reform" means.

    4. Those of us who want a robustly-funded social safety net have an obligation, both ethically and as a political matter, to make sure that the money is allocated efficiently. Money wasted in one program is money taken from another that's equally important to its beneficiaries. There are two themes in Obama's politics: the first, "when we work together we do great things," is the most talked-about. The second, given less attention, is rigor. Obama prizes excellence above nearly all other traits. He would rather have someone brilliant with whom he has basic philosophical disagreements (e.g., Summers) than someone he agrees with who isn't as competent. Likewise, efficiency is the cardinal virtue in the construction of a policy.

      When I heard Obamacare (I'm glad the term is sticking) cut Medicare while maintaining benefits, I was thrilled. Why wouldn't anyone be?

    5. Absolutely right Bill!

      As I've often said - good government is the very best strategy for promoting the liberal cause.

  2. Thank you, Smarty. I've said it again and again, this is the only guy with workable, pragmatic ideas to put on the table. He is the ONLY one who has the ideas and the will to execute them. He has a plan. To date I have not heard one whit's worth of workable ideas from anyone else who also has an understanding of planning and policy and the ability to execute. Mostly what I've heard is a pile of whale shit so far. It does my heart good to realize somebody else out there is reading the man's words and listening to him and watching him spell out and execute those ideas.