The question remains as to whether Democrats' 21st century vision will accord an appropriate role for the social insurance programs and protections that helped make America great in the 20th, as the President would like, or follow the oft-repeated Beltway truism that we must “invest, even as we cut,” which is code for investing in infrastructure at the expense of our modest social safety net. Rather than view the President's competitiveness framing as a threat, we progressives must seize it as an opportunity to elevate and expand our social insurance programs, as well as enforce our labor and trade laws. We have a very strong case to make that from both a substantive and a political perspective, America will achieve economic greatness because of a robust social safety net, rather than in spite of one.
Tom Friedman—and nearly every other Washington pundit obsessed with the idea of “cut and invest”—just does not get how basic social insurance actually makes our society stronger and wealthier. The case we progressives need to make emphatically is that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are more relevant to American competitiveness than ever. Compromising on them is compromising on innovation.
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