COMMENTARY | President Barack Obama announced Monday during a news conference that Social Security and Medicare were on the table for consideration as spending cuts as part of a compromise deal with Republicans to raise the debt ceiling. He said that tough decisions were going to have to be made in order for a deal to be reached. Obama said he will refuse any short-term debt ceiling deal, but nothing could be done if one side refuses to negotiate (a pointed remark at Republican intransigence about tax breaks and loopholes). Default and government shutdown was not acceptable, he said.
But cutting the benefits for the aged, the disabled, children, and the poor are acceptable?
The tough decisions all seem to weigh heavily on senior citizens and the poor, the unemployed and those dependent upon entitlement programs. Tax breaks and loopholes and the elimination of unnecessary subsidies (all of which Republicans refer to as "increasing taxes") hurt mainly bank accounts of the wealthy, all of which could not only add revenues to government coffers and reestablish surpluses in government spending like in the days of the Clinton administration but would make spending cuts to Social Security and Medicaid unnecessary.
Besides, those tax breaks are not true "tax increases," they're a reestablishing of the tax level that was being paid during the Clinton administration. The Bush tax breaks allowed a respite, allowed the wealthy to get far wealthier. They've done next to nothing for the poor. The proof is in the economy. However, Republicans want to make those tax breaks permanent, even increase the amounts and percentages allowed. All of which decreases potential federal revenue. And when federal revenues are not there to meet spending, deficit occurs. The national debt rises.
Republicans thus far in the debt ceiling debate have demanded spending cuts -- and rightly so for some targeted and unnecessary programs (not to mental future fiscal budgets). Social Security and Medicare are hardly part of those. Although the argument can be made that they're a huge part of the budget and that there are problems within the programs that could increase efficiency and save taxpayer dollars, that is not the same as cutting overall benefits to those whose standard of living and medical welfare depend upon their benefits and monthly government stipends.
But in demanding spending cuts, the Republicans have offered nothing in return. Of course, they don't have to -- the spending cuts they prefer, for the most part, are part of excessive discretionary spending, mostly for programs they do not support -- such as Social Security and Medicare and social assistance programs.
But taking away the tax cuts and the loopholes, tax code breaks like decreased capital gains and inheritance taxes, have helped increased the national debt to the point it is at present. The Bush tax breaks also decreased federal revenues while the country pursued two major wars, which were subsidized by foreign loans, was considered emergency funding (extra-budgetary), and increased the national deficit in addition to the yearly fiscal deficits.
Re-establishing taxes to their former level (across the board, or only on the nation's most wealthy, which is what has been proposed by Democrats) would raise revenues and aid in maintaining current discretionary spending standards and decrease the deficit. (And a decreased deficit -- or a nonexistent one in the case of a balanced budget -- adds less to the national debt.)
President Obama said during the press conference: "I want to be crystal clear -- nobody has talked about increasing taxes now. Nobody has talked about increases -- increasing taxes next year."
And the debate goes back to the Democrats offering over at least $1 trillion in targeted spending cuts (estimated to cut the overall deficit by $4 billion in the next decade), but Republicans offering nothing in exchange, nothing to increase government revenues (until 2013, when Obama proposes the tax breaks to be rescinded -- a proposition that Republicans oppose), and continuing the protection of tax breaks for the wealthy (because the tax breaks they are protecting do not affect the poor and the unemployed). All just to get Republicans to raise the debt ceiling, something that, if not done, will cause a government shutdown and cascading economic consequences not just in the U. S., but worldwide as America begins to default on its debts.
And now President Obama would chastise Democrats for not wanting to "do anything with entitlements: would prefer, frankly, not to have to do anything on some of these debt and deficit problems"? And then offer up the safety nets of the poor and the aged just to get a deal with a political party that would sacrifice Social Security and Medicare in order to protect a few tax dollars per millionaire -- those that readily admit they can afford it?
Consider that while the unemployment and underemployment rate puts the total of unemployed at nearly 25 million individuals. And that there are nearly 50 million individuals receiving food stamps. At the same time, tax subsidies for oil companies continue in an industry that sees record profits. And businesses have seen record profits throughout the Great Recession and on into the economic "recovery."
And while he is looking to close the deal on a "grand compromise" that actually shows no compromise from Republicans and the bowing to their demands by Democrats, does President Obama truly believe that he can be reelected if he continues to offer social assistance and entitlement programs as part the deal when Americans (liberals, conservatives, and independents) in poll after poll are against such spending cuts? This is the Democrat that liberals elected as President -- a politician that would so easily cut programs that hundreds of millions of Americans have paid into throughout their working lives so that part of -- if not all of -- their economic and health burdens might be alleviated if necessary and when they reach retirement age?
President Obama might want to start acting like a Democratic president and begin negotiating from the strengths of popular opinion with regard to Social Security and Medicare in the debt ceiling talks. Democratic legislators need to stand firm against offering the entitlement programs as part of the deal. The Republicans have already established that they are willing to destroy Medicare (read: Paul Ryan's 2012 budget and Medicare restructuring). Let them feel the public's wrath in 2012. And if President Obama continues giving in to Republican demands, let a Republican have the White House. The next president might have a difficult time advancing the ultra-conservative agenda of eliminating entitlements with a Congress with a majority of Democrats.