The Blue Dog dream of having a Gregg-Conrad task force to make recommendations on Social Security and other social safety net reforms, which would be subject to an up-or-down vote of Congress, will evidently not be forthcoming any time soon. Contrary to what the Wall Street Journal said Obama told the Blue Dogs, plans to create such a task force will not be pursued after the February 23 "fiscal responsibility" conference. But in today’s interview with Ben Smith of Politico, White House budget director Peter Orszag confirms what we wrote last week — that cutting benefits is part of the White House’s long-term plan to deal with Social Security:
Orszag’s long-running project – something that has made him the Left’s favorite Cabinet member – has been replacing talk of an “entitlement crisis” with his argument that Social Security requires only modest tax hikes and benefit cuts, while Medicare and Medicaid have much more dramatic fiscal woes.
“Social Security faces an actuarial deficit over the next 75-100 years. In the past I’ve resisted the term ‘crisis’ to describe that kind of situation,” he said. “This is not quantitatively as important as getting healthcare done.”
This seems to be the frame du jour, that "modest benefit cuts" is a liberal "solution" to the Social Security "problem." Steven Benen believes Orzsag says "all the right things." Ezra Klein echoes it today, when he says that "Monday’s fiscal reform summit, which has caused a lot of heartburn in progressive circles, is not, according to sources in the administration, going to actually upset them":
Any fixes would look more along the lines of, well, the Orszag-Diamond proposal — which most liberal[s] embraced as the responsible alternative in 2005 — than the Pete Peterson plan.
Ezra’s administration sources say that Social Security is not likely to be something jumping quickly onto the agenda, which — given the distinct lack of enthusiasm with which such plans were received by Congressional leadership — is not really a surprise. But the new frame seems to be that Orszag is a "centrist" who is rescuing Social Security from the hands of "extremists" who think there is a "crisis," and that he’s a hero of "liberals" who won’t mind "modest budget cuts" to deal with the "problem."
There’s nothing "liberal" about accepting the frame that Social Security needs addressing in any way that cuts benefits, no matter how "slight." The Orszag plan calls for raising the retirement age and cutting benefits for people under 55. The "liberal" position, per Jamie Galbraith, is that Social Security benefits actually need to be increased, not decreased.
Please welcome Dr. Galbraith to the Overton Window: