Obama and the Third Rail

According to the NY Times Obama plans to wade in to Social Security and Medicare reform:

President-elect Barack Obama said Wednesday that overhauling Social Security and Medicare would be "a central part" of his administration's efforts to contain federal spending, signaling for the first time that he would wade into the thorny politics of entitlement programs.

The strongest liberal criticisms of Obama during the primary came when he adopted the Republican's "Social Security is in crisis" line. While there is a solid case to reform Medicare within the context of reforming our national health care system and providing universal care, there is very little reason to mess with Social Security. Opening up Social Security for changes at this point in time is especially troubling since recent economic performance will make the program look less viable now than it will look in 5 or 10 years when economic growth returns. One silver lining is that any attempt to privatise the program is probably DOA given last year's stock market performance.

Since Obama made Social Security reform an issue in the primary he is probably serious about making changes with this announcement, I doubt it is a head-fake for Republicans.

Anyone have any idea why he is raising Social Security as an issue now? And why in the context of controlling budget deficits?

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Open thread on playing it safe or being bold

Over Thanksgiving my family (all Barack Obama voters in the general) were talking about what we'd like to see him do as president. One of my biggest concerns about Obama has always been that he would compromise too much in the name of bipartisanship and not seize the opportunity to get groundbreaking legislation through Congress. I've also worried that he would water down good policies that threaten to significantly bring down his approval rating.

From my perspective, Bill Clinton's presidency was not very successful for a lot of reasons. Some of them were his fault: he put the wrong people in charge of certain jobs, and he picked the wrong battles and listened too much to Wall Street advisers when it came to policy.

Some things were not Clinton's fault: the Democrats who ran Congress in 1993 and 1994 were not always interested in working with him, and the leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress were more interested in destroying his presidency than anything else.

After getting burned in the 1994 elections, Clinton hired Dick Morris as a political adviser and moved to the right in order to get re-elected. He served a full two terms, but he didn't leave a mark on this country. His greatest achievement, balancing the budget, was undone quickly by his successor. Many smaller successes on environmental and social policies were also reversed by George Bush's administration.

Clinton approved a bunch of good presidential directives, especially on the environment, during his last 60 days in office. Doing them years earlier would not only have been good policy, it also would have prevented Ralph Nader from gaining so much traction in 2000.

Clinton left some very big problems unaddressed, like global warming and our reliance on foreign oil, because the obvious solutions to these problems would have been unpopular.

Compare Clinton's legacy to that of Lyndon Johnson. Although Johnson made terrible mistakes in Vietnam (continuing and compounding mistakes made by John F. Kennedy), he enacted a domestic agenda that changed this country forever. Some of Johnson's achievements were popular (Medicare), while others cost the Democrats politically in many states (the Civil Rights Act). But Johnson did not shy away from big change on civil rights because of the political cost.

I understand that no president will ever do everything I'd like to see done. I'd be satisfied if Obama enacted a groundbreaking, lasting improvement in one or two big areas, like health care or global warming. The right policies often have powerful enemies. I would rather see Obama get good laws passed to address a couple of big problems, even if doing so costs him the 2012 election.

My fear is that in Obama will end up like Bill Clinton--a two-term president who didn't achieve anything that will continue to affect Americans' lives four or five decades down the road.

If Obama only goes to the mat to accomplish one or two big things, what should they be? Keeping his promise to end the war in Iraq? Getting universal health care through Congress? Taking real steps to address climate change? Enacting a huge public-works program to deal with unemployment? Building high-speed rail connecting major American cities?

Would you be satisfied with progress in one or two areas, even if it meant that Obama was not re-elected in 2012?

Yes, I understand that taking some step toward solving one or more of these problems would be popular, but real progress might require some provisions that are unpopular. That's what I'm talking about--policies that go against powerful interests and do more than convey the appearance of solving a problem.

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Bailout - Social Security = Happy Rich People

Beat the Press blog had this three days ago, but the slash Social Security and Medicare advocacy continued yesterday in the Washington Post (see further down the page):

The Post Uses Crisis to Attack Social Security

Those waiting for any mea culpas from the Washington Post editorial page (remember all those news stories and columns warning about the housing bubble? [NOT! - fairleft]) will have to wait a bit longer. Instead of acknowledging its failure to report accurately on the circumstances that led up to this crisis, the Post is using it as an opportunity to push its agenda for cutting Social Security and Medicare.

The reasoning powers of the Post's editors are still lacking. The loss of trillions of dollars of equity in housing has just wiped out most of the wealth of baby boomers nearing retirement. Their dependence on Social Security and Medicare will be greater than ever as a result (and these people vote). That's what happens when you rely on David Lereah (the former chief economist of the National Association of Realtors) as your main source on the real estate market.

The Post was at it again yesterday, advo-reporting established power's desire to attack Medicaid and Medicare (and by implication Social Security):

The sheer size of the bailout could give the next president political cover to address long-festering fiscal problems, such as the burgeoning costs of Medicare and Medicaid, yet neither of the men vying for the job has shown an interest in taking advantage of it, they say.

Note the devastating bipartisanship on display as the Post 'news report' continues:

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Senator Stevens (AK) - A public health threat

Senator Stevens (AK) - while accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the health insurance and Big Pharma lobbyists, managed to support some bad-for-your health legislation.

He voted against the Patient Bill of Rights which would have helped patients get higher quality care.

He voted against allowing Medicare to negotiate volume discounts with drug companies - bilking taxpayers out of billions of dollars and passing on higher prescription drug prices to senior citizens.

Senator Stevens - not good for your health.

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Evaluating the Bush Presidency: Economy F-

As we mercifully approach the end of the Bush Presidency, the pundits will mercilessly begin the process of evaluating his Presidency.  He has failed in so many areas such as foreign policy, diplomacy or lack of it, respect for the constitution and rule of law, the economy, trade and social security to mention only a few, that it is a challenge to know where to begin.  Since the President recently intoned with great bravado and chest-thumping that the fundamentals in the economy are sound, it sounds like a good place to start.

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