Obama: Giving Away Social Security

Here is Mitt Romney’s proposal to cut Social Security benefits, from the Romney campaign website:

First, for future generations of seniors, Mitt believes that the retirement age should be slowly increased to account for increases in longevity.

Second, for future generations of seniors, Mitt believes that benefits should continue to grow but that the growth rate should be lower for those with higher incomes.

In other words, cuts in benefits. In the first debate, I was waiting for President Obama to go to town on this. Instead, Obama had this to say:

LEHRER:  "Mr. President. Do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?"

OBAMA: "You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound. It’s going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker — Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill."

He’s got a similar position to Mitt Romney’s? On Social Security? Does this man just want to hand the presidency to Romney on a platter?

Ever since he appointed the Bowles-Simpson Commission, Obama has been far too inclined to the premise that Social Security will need to be cut back as part of some grand bargain to cut the deficit. In the budget negotiations of 2011 (which will trigger the sequester mechanism if Congress fails to agree on massive cuts), Obama offered House Speaker Boehner Social Security cuts in exchange for tax increases; the president was saved from himself only by Republicans' refusal to consider tax increases on even the wealthiest Americans.

Romney was all too clear about what he would do. Under the former Massachusetts governor's plan, Social Security is retained in current form for those in or near retirement—with the unmistakable message that younger and middle-aged adults (who face gawd-awful economic prospects) can expect cuts in their Social Security benefits.

Obama ought to be whacking Romney on this threat. Instead, the White House is softening up public opinion to accept very similar cuts.

For instance, Obama surrogates are using language almost identical to Romney’s, that current beneficiaries have nothing to fear. The Obama campaign website declares: “He believes that no current beneficiaries should see their basic benefits reduced, and he will not accept any approach that slashes benefits for future generations.” (My emphasis added.)

Clear signal: Younger people will have their benefits reduced, and note the use of the word “slash” rather than the word “cut,” suggesting that modest cuts are in the offing. (Thanks to Jon Walker on Firedoglake for ferreting this out.)

The Obama website also touts a Brookings paper co-authored by former Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag that proposes several forms of cuts in Social Security, including an adjustment for life expectancy and cuts in the benefits of the highest-earning 15 percent of workers.

So, because of the influence of the deficit hawks and Social Security fear-mongers, Obama is giving away what should be one of the clearest differences with Romney and one of the most winning issues for his campaign. Maybe if Democrats scream loudly enough, they can still get him off this suicidal kick.