Like many liberals, I am going through a painful disillusionment phase with Barack Obama. I am disheartened and saddened by his approach to governing since his reelection. I fear he is setting Democrats up for failure in 2014.
If there is one thing that unites Democrats it is a passion for the needs of the middle class and the poor. Since his reelection Barack Obama is showing signs that he is putting some nebulous legacy and quest to “get things done no matter what the odds” ahead of the best interests of the American people.
The most painful aspect has been Obama’s repeated declarations, most explicitly in his FY2014 budget, that he is prepared to scale back social security cost of living adjustments and increase Medicare payments in order to balance the budget. He says this will only happen if Republicans agree as part of a grand bargain to also raise taxes elsewhere.
Obama is way too smart a politician to not realize that social security is not contributing to the deficit. Indeed in most years it diminishes the deficit by putting its surpluses into the treasury. This proposed means of diminishing social security benefits is through a mechanism called “chained CPI” (consumer price index). Basically it would reduce inflation protections built into social security, on the assumption that people will reduce spending patterns when prices rise, for example going with ground beef instead of steaks. However, the elderly spend a disproportionate amount of their income on health care expenses, which has proven resistant to the “ground beef for steak” approach. Regardless, this would still amount to a cut in income generally compared with inflation for people who can least afford to take the hit. This means they will endure a reduction of standard of living, which is already pretty poor for many social security beneficiaries without pensions or high valued 401Ks. Worse, it would do nothing to control the deficit. Obama appears to be willing to balance the budget on the backs of those least able to afford it, and who contributed to their social security over the years based on certain assumptions which may well go by the wayside. It’s unfair and it is back stabbing.
As for Medicare, the president is proposing means testing, essentially requiring those at somewhat higher income levels to contribute more in the way of deductibles and copays when we use Medicare. There is no question that Medicare is a growing entitlement and there is enormous waste in the system. I am all for removing the waste in the system, which can be done by moving it from a fee-for-service model to an outcome-based payment model. As a driver of medical inflation, Medicare is a laggard not a leader, with significantly lower costs and inflation per enrollee than private health insurance. As for means testing, it is unfair because those who earn more have contributed more of their income over the years toward Medicare, effectively subsidizing the care for those at lower income levels. The tax is 1.45% of your income. Someone making $20,000 pays $290 a year in Medicare taxes. Someone at my income level pays closer to $1900 a year in Medicare taxes. The result of this proposed change would be to charge people like me more for the same benefits when we claim them after having already paid more by contributing more to the system during our working lives. It’s sort of like paying an income tax twice. It is fundamentally unfair.
To add insult to injury, yesterday the president signed into law changes to the STOCK act that essentially undid the work of the last Congress to provide better visibility into stocks owned by members of Congress and the Administration. This was a no-brainer for a supposedly progressive president: veto it.
Meanwhile, the former organization Obama for American has morphed into Organizing for Action, and the organization has been petitioning people like me to contribute to it, supposedly to help promote progressive causes. What is progressive about cutting social security benefits for people in a solvent system? Why would I contribute to an organization that works for a president who wants to do the exact opposite of what Vice President Joe Biden promised in the last campaign: not to cut social security benefits, not even by one dime? How do I get excited about sending them money when they want people to contribute more toward Medicare instead of removing the waste in the system?
The worst part is this could easily set up a repeat of the disastrous 2010 election, which brought in Tea Party members that have largely obstructed work from getting done. What drives people to the polls is motivation. Seniors, already disinclined to vote for Democrats, will be even gladder to vote for Republicans who promise not to cut their social security benefits, as even Paul Ryan has pledged. How do you excite the Democratic base to turn out when they are being asked to enthusiastically endorse an agenda that further stiffs it to the working class and seems more a product of Republican thinking than Democratic thinking?
To say the least all of this is disappointing, which amounts to leaving us Democrats dispirited, which gives us little incentive to vote or to get further engaged in politics, which is supposedly the whole purpose of Organizing for Action. But OFA is really about promoting the president’s agenda, not the people’s agenda. They no longer align.
I will support and vote for true Democrats who will fight for the working class, who will fight to ensure that everyone pays their fair share, including corporations that pay increasing fewer taxes every year. Once these under taxed groups have paid their taxes, then I will consider tax increases on the working class. I will not vote for Republican-lite candidates.
I hope Obama wakes up because he is making a fatal mistake not just to his legacy, but to his agenda and to the needs of Americans. The compromise he is chasing simply will not happen with the current Congress, which is good, because Republicans in Congress will put lower spending ahead of deficit reduction, as they have shown time and again. However, there is no reason to move our goalpost first when they won’t move their post at all. The mere act of moving proves not statesmanship but cowardice because it will show conciliation without affect. It also drains energy from progressives and makes us feel all our energy was for naught.
Democrats would be wise to estrange themselves from Obama and OFA. I know I am until he asks for contrition and puts the American people ahead of the concerns of the rich.