Kudos to President Obama For Touching the Third Rail
President Obama submitted a budget wildly out of balance that increases taxes across the board. But he also stuck his tongue on the infamous ‘third rail’ of American politics by proposing chained CPI for calculating Social Security cost of living increases. Bravo.
We’ve Been Asking For This #
Economic conservatives have pointed out for years that America’s entitlement programs are bankrupting the country.** The $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities can’t go on**. Accounting gimmicks only get you so far.
I proposed a phase out of Social Security in The Conservative Manifesto in 1993. Obama’s proposal isn’t even a step in that direction, but it’s still an acknowledgement by the most liberal president in US history that entitlements can continue to grow.
Republicans Can’t Oppose Chained CPI #
Sure, the AARP and other far-left groups are crying an gnashing teeth over the proposal—that’s why they call it the ‘third rail.’ But Obama’s move is strategic. Republicans have to sign on or risk being seen as hypocrites.
Already, the Club for Growth slammed Rep. Greg Walden for Walden’s take-down of the chained CPI proposal. Walden’s comment about Obama’s “shocking attack on seniors” threatens to put the GOP into position as defenders of Social Security, guardians of the third rail. For my entire life and longer, defending Social Security against any reform has been the job of Democrats.
Millennials On The Hook #
I heard someone say that Obama’s “turned his back” on the people who elected him. Poppycock. The people who elected Obama, especially in 2012, were Millennials—the folks born after 1982 who begin adulthood with an anvil over their heads—the weight of unfunded liabilities under Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Meanwhile, the AARP’s members voted overwhelming for Romney.
Obama’s mild revision to COLA indexing benefits his strongest demographic group, and the group I’m most interested in winning over. This will be their country soon and for a long time.
This Could De-Energize the Third Rail #
Welfare reform was possible only because Bill Clinton was President and Newt Gingrich was Speaker. When one party controls White House, Senate, and House, that party actually tends to play it safe. Why? They have no one to blame if something goes wrong, and they’re more worried about holding onto what they’ve got than advancing the principles that got them there. See Tom DeLay.
But when power is split, both parties want to gain the office they lack. Or, in the case of presidents, they want to solidify their legacy. Both sides, then, are willing to take chances.
Once Clinton agreed to welfare reform and the GOP signed on, it was a sure thing. A certain number of Democrats were sure to go along because Clinton was their president. Republicans were certain go go along because it was an issue they’d championed for years. And it got done.
George Bush could not have touched the third rail, because Democrats and the media—and some Republicans—would have destroyed him. Look what happened when he pitched privatizing part of Social Security.
But Obama has flipped the switch on the third rail. If the Republicans jump on that one issue fast, they may be able to make Social Security reform a debatable issue instead of a suicide mission. This is their chance to advance a principle instead of covering their asses.
Let’s hope they take it.