Politico’s Ben Smith claims that Barack Obama can get a free pass from the left if he moves to gut Social Security and Medicare:
President Barack Obama plans a busy February. The new administration hopes to have a stimulus package passed by Congress, a new plan in place to shore up ailing banks and, by month’s end, to hold a “fiscal responsibility” summit.
If the stimulus and banking bailout weren’t controversial enough, the summit fills some entitlement reform critics with dread, as they fear it could speed calls for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
Strikingly, however, Obama appears to be getting unusual room to maneuver on entitlements by most of his liberal allies. On the subject of entitlement reform, in fact, Obama’s honeymoon continues — at least in the unlikely precincts of the Democratic left, a counterintuitive development that has buoyed the spirits of reformers who would like to see drastic changes in the way Social Security works.
I’m not sure what the administration’s thinking is, but certainly I wouldn’t be silent if he were to propose draconian cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare. On the other hand, if Obama wants to get the long-term public fiscal situation in check by tackling its main root cause — runaway cost inflation in the health care sector — I would applaud that:
I have some reason for confidence that Obama will, in fact, do the right thing. That’s because the liberal perspective on this is espoused by, among other, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag. The chart above comes from his Congressional Budget Office days when he produced a masterful slide series entitled “Health Care: Capturing the Opportunity in the Nation’s Core Fiscal Challenge” which defines the “fiscal challenge” correctly as less an “entitlement” problem than an “health care” problem. You could solve the entitlement problem fairly easily, if brutally, without tackling the health care problem — just pair back benefits. And then instead of a bankrupt state you’ll have bankrupt families and you won’t have achieved anything. But if you can solve the health care problem, you’ll have done most of what needs to be done and set the stage for tackling other issues.