Entitlement reform takes step toward reality in new Obama budget
President Obama will unveil a budget Wednesday that includes reforms to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare. The budget probably won't pass, but it points to a shift in the debate.
(Page 2 of 2)
Moreover, he noted that Democrats currently have the clout to shape the debate. “If we don’t do this now with a Democratic president in the White House, what’s going to happen next?” he asked. “Here’s a president who’s serious about it, who’s on our side philosophically, and now we can sit down with the Republicans and be in a stronger bargaining position.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Republicans see the president's plan on entitlements as at least a step in the right direction.
“The president acknowledging that something must be done to prevent their looming bankruptcy is a positive development,” said Brendan Buck, press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio, in a statement released Tuesday.
The hurdles facing legislation remain large, however.
Obama and Democrats want Republicans to back additional tax revenue as part of an entitlement-reform deal; Republicans respond that they’ve already let taxes rise on the rich (in the “fiscal cliff” deal struck in January), and that now it’s time to control spending.
Any entitlement reform vote would be difficult for many lawmakers in either party.
“Real Democrats don't cut Social Security benefits, period,” said Jim Dean, chairman of Democracy in America, which claims to have collected 2 million signatures opposing the president's Social Security reforms.
But the financial landscape has changed since Obama first campaigned for the presidency.
Early in 2008, the federal deficit for the year was projected to total 1.5 percent of GDP. “Mandatory” spending including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security totaled 11 percent of GDP. The forecast was that in 10 years, mandatory spending would be 12 percent of GDP.
The comparable Congressional Budget Office report for 2013 shows a likely deficit of 5.3 percent of GDP, mandatory spending of 13 percent of GDP, and the expectation is that mandatory spending will be 14 percent of GDP within a decade.
In short, the cost of entitlements is projected to drive the national debt steadily upward if unaddressed.
A majority of Americans appear eager to see compromise rather than stalemate in Washington. In a Heartland Monitor Poll in December, 59 percent of Obama voters said the president should compromise with Republicans in Congress as opposed to remaining firm in his views, and 54 percent of Romney voters said Republicans in Congress should compromise with the president on things like stabilizing Social Security and taming deficits.
Even as many Americans show great reluctance about potential changes to Social Security and Medicare, the public's desire for Washington to rein in the debt and deficits explains why entitlement reform is on the table – and in Obama’s budget – even if passage of legislation this year is far from assured.