Mitch McConnell didn’t hear what he wanted to hear about Social Security in Obama’s speech:
McConnell said that when Obama and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had previously spoken to Republicans, they struck a tone that indicated a willingness to work on Social Security. "That was the place that I hoped, based on what both he and the chief of staff had said earlier, we’d be able to move on a bipartisan basis. He kind of brushed over that issue" in his speech, said McConnell.
The "back-pedaling" McConnell is upset about "comes after several weeks of intense lobbying from liberals" (or as others referred to it, "fear-mongering") on Social Security.
Lindsey Graham says "I think they’re getting pressure from the left." (Ya think?)
I do not believe that it was unhelpful to push hard on this and those that did were not being disloyal or hysterical in getting out front and making noise about it. There is clearly a faction in the administration who see social security "reform" as either something centrist technocrats believe they can take credit for "fixing" (Gene Sperling) and others who want to use it as a legislative bargaining chip (Rahm Emmanuel) . It’s important that those who believe that there has never been a less propitious moment for mucking with the safety net (indeed, we think it should be expanded) are also part of the mix.
As she notes, it isn’t over. Michael Scherer:
Although Administration officials don’t like discussing the problem on the record [no shit — ed.], the White House has not yet ruled out the idea of establishing an independent commission (outside the congressional committee structure) to look at creating a specific reform plan, an approach supported by many experts as the best way to break the political deadlock.
There is no "political deadlock," there is a horrendously unpopular idea that would trigger exactly what it’s supposed to trigger, a revolt at the ballot box. That’s democracy. So the idea of an "independent commission" would remove many of those nasty electoral repercussions and make it easier to enact something that people really, really hate. Here’s our old friend Jim Cooper, turning up like a bad penny:
"We have to approach the topic very gingerly," Cooper said in an interview, noting the concerns of certain congressional leaders that they will lose jurisdiction with an independent commission. "The key is going to be a required congressional vote, so we can’t duck the problem any longer."
According to health care reform advocates I’ve spoken with who were involved in the privatization battles against Clinton and Bush, they believe that if the administration puts Social Security reform off until after health care is done they will have time to mount public campaigns to oppose benefit reduction. But if it gets offered up as the price of Republican support for a health care package in a "grand bargain," they’re very worried. Everyone feels good about getting the Social Security Task Force killed and Pete Peterson scrapped from his keynote slot at the fiscal responsibility summit, but the NYT report of Rahm Emanuel negotiating with Lindsay Graham behind closed doors sent chills down everyone’s spines.
Here’s my fear. Yes, you can run a successful public campaign against cutting Social Security benefits, but it’s damn hard to run one against a process. If Rahm Emanuel’s "grand bargain" with Lindsey Graham for health care reform includes an "extraordinary process" that "provides for fast track consideration" to deal with Social Security (as Pete Peterson henchman David Walker described it at the summit), the writing will be on the wall, but it will be much harder for people to see.
At that point, the only thing standing between Social Security wolves and their burning desire to shred the social safety net will be Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. Cross your fingers and pray they hold.