Why Liberals Don’t Trust Obama on Entitlement Reform

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Progressives are sounding the alarm ahead of President Obama’s upcoming speech on deficit reduction and entitlement reform. No one knows exactly what argument Obama will make in response to Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget proposal unveiled last week, but Jonathan Cohn foresees an opening negotiating stance too close to the center for his liking.

I feel like I’ve seen this play before. Obama starts off with a flexible, center-left position. The Republicans start off with a rigid, far-right position…The two go back and forth, eventually reaching a compromise that is somewhere between the two ideological starting points–which is somewhere on the right.

There is a time to bring opposing parties together. And there is a time to choose sides. I hope Obama realizes this is one of the latter.

In a subsequent post, Cohn predicts that on in Wednesday’s speech, Obama will propose raising taxes on the rich and strengthening cost control provisions in the Affordable Care Act. But what Cohn would really like to see is the president suggest far-left reform’s to balance Ryan’s proposal to end transform Medicare into a private system and severely cut funding for Medicaid. Says Cohn:

A seriously left-wing proposal would also seek to reduce overall health care costs (as well as those incurred by the government and individuals) more aggressively than the Affordable Care Act does, by using the kind of blunt, global price controls you get in single-payer systems. In other words, a truly left-wing alternative on health care reform might actually justify the label “government-run health care.”

Cohn’s concern that the Obama straetegy will automatically shift the entitlement debate to the right seems is rooted in recent history. Progressives will never forget that Obama was willing to forgo the public option during the health care debate, a move that eventually seemed politically necessary – think Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, Senate votes #59 and #60 – at the time but seen by some on the left as an unnecessary capitulation that cut health reform off at the knees. Obama (and congressional Democratic leaders) started the conversation at the public option, after all, not further left at single payer.

Adam Serwer also doesn’t have much hope that Obama will stand up for the left’s social principles on Wednesday:

…the President has displayed a maddening ideological tendency to locate himself between two perceived extremes, regardless of the merits of one position or the other. So because Republicans want to destroy the social safety net so they can cut taxes on top earners, and Democrats have vowed to stop them, the White House has, rather predictably, placed itself in the middle.


I understand the limits of the bully pulpit, but if the White House can’t draw a line and say No to this, what does it stand for?

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones put up a tweet today that crystallized progressive apprehension about Obama entitlement reform.

@SuzyKhimm Ryan’s plan already setting benchmark for the debate. MT @JimPethokoukis: $4.4 trillion difference b/w Obama’s first 2012 budget and Ryan.

Then again, there’s another way to read this – that Obama’s 2012 budget, which did nothing to truly reform entitlements, set a benchmark and Ryan merely responded.