fresh voices from the front lines of change







That was fast. Yesterday we suggested that the chained-CPI cut in President Obama's budget, which was presented as a gesture to Republicans, might instead be used to rebrand Democrats as "the anti-Social Security party."

It took them fifteen minutes.

A GOP official quickly called the chained CPI a "shocking betrayal of seniors." That's a replay of the Republicans' 2010 campaign, which used a "Seniors' Bill of Rights" to paint Democrats as the anti-Medicare party. That strategy helped them retake the House, and could be at least as effective in 2014.

This not-so-shocking "shocking" comment is further proof that it's political suicide for Democrats to support the chained CPI, a combined tax hike and Social Security cut in Obama’s new budget.

It’s too bad more Democratic commentators aren’t fighting the good fight on this one. Even when they voice their opposition, as Rachel Maddow did last night, they seem to get the politics wrong.

The Trap

It was hard to understand why so few pundits seemed to understand that President Obama was walking into a trap. Republicans want the chained CPI. But they’ve never been reluctant to use policies they support as a club to bludgeon any opponent foolish enough to agree with them.

That’s even more true when the policy in question is as wildly unpopular as the chained CPI, which they’ve verbally supported in this year’s talks – but which only the president has included in a budget. It's officially a Democratic proposal, not a Republican one. Whether or not the chained CPI is ever enacted, today the president gave them the perfect opportunity to attack him as an opponent of the elderly.

Obama officially released his budget at 11 a.m. in the Rose Garden. At 11:15 a Republican politician called it a “shocking attack.” That must be a new land speed record.

Walked Right Into It

Rep. Steve Israel, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is joining Obama in playing right into the GOP’s hands. As noted yesterday, his campaign strategy distances Democrats from their party’s signature programs and most popular positions. That's the perfect set-up for Rep. Greg Walden, who is Israel’s Republican counterpart.

Walden spoke to Wolf Blitzer on CNN after the President’s budget announcement and said this:

“(The Obama) budget really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors, if you will. And we haven't seen all the detail yet, and we'll look at it, but I'll tell you, when you're going after seniors the way he's already done on Obamacare, taking $700 billion out of Medicare to put into Obamacare, and now coming back at seniors again, I think you're crossing that line very quickly here in terms of denying access to seniors for health care in districts like mine, certainly, and around the country."

In case anyone has lingering doubts about what the GOP has in mind, Walden also said this:  "I think (Obama is) going to have a lot of push-back from some of the major senior organizations on this and Republicans, as well.” (emphasis ours)

MSNBC Missed It

To her credit, Rachel Maddow was one of the few prime-time hosts to cover a petition delivery to the White House yesterday which contained more than two million signatures opposing the chained-CPI cut. (Video here.) Maddow also commented that she’s “not in favor” of these cuts and is “very sympathetic” to the demonstrators’ cause. So far, so good.

But she didn’t explain why she opposes these cuts. And she ignored the many experts who could explain the chained CPI's dire economic - and political - pitfalls. She didn't interview a progressive or a nonpartisan expert. Instead she turned to … a Republican party operative.

GOP strategist Steve Schmidt spent most of his air time repeating false talking points. He said (according to my rough transcription) that we need to “strengthen these programs in the face of the demographic challenges they’re all under,” that we have to change these programs which were founded in the middle of the last century,” and that they need to be cut to “get the country on a sound fiscal footing.”

As a result, Maddow’s liberal and heavily Democratic audience was denied the opportunity to learn why the chained CPI is a very, very bad idea – one which will cut their Social Security benefits and raise taxes on the middle class.

Signal to Noise

The MSNBC audience deserved better. The only arguments they heard were ones that reinforced widely-disseminated misstatements, especially the notion that “changing demographics” are the root cause of federal debt.

The truth: Social Security is forbidden by law from contributing to the deficit, and it is long-term funding issues – driven primarily by wealth inequity, unemployment and other factors – that are depriving it of long-term revenue. Medicare and Medicaid have funding problems, caused in their entirety by our for-profit health system.

Schmidt and Maddow got the politics of the chained CPI exactly wrong, too. Schmidt said this:

“From a political perspective, what the noise on the left allows the President to do is claim the center, to claim the high ground of reasonableness …”

Maddow can be heard in the background, saying something which sounds very much like “yeah.”

That breezily-dismissed “noise on the left” is actually the sound of the real center. Schmidt’s nearly as out of touch with his party’s base as Obama is with his. As a new AARP poll shows, 70 percent of voters aged 50 and over oppose the chained CPI cut. That includes nearly two-thirds of Republican voters (63 percent), along with three-quarters of Democrats and seven out of 10 independents.

Voters were also opposed to the chained CPI’s effect as a tax increase, although the level of opposition is somewhat lower – apparently because they didn’t clearly understand that it would raise their taxes. (Trust us, that’ll change. The GOP will see to that.)

Wake-Up Call

Maddow’s Democratic viewers need to understand how badly the chained CPI will hurt their party in 2014 and beyond unless Democrats in the House and Senate reject it – quickly, before more damage is done. Democrats need to make calls and send emails voicing their opposition to this cut, and urging their elected representatives to speak out against it. (They can send emails here.)

And everybody needs to understand how the chained CPI will affect their Social Security benefits, and their taxes, in the years to come.  We’re all going to by affected by the chained CPI. Polling shows that most Americans oppose it, regardless of their political affiliation. That means Republicans and independents should make those calls and send those emails too.

The President has staked his claim on the wrong side of this issue. Other Democrats still have time to distance themselves. Let’s hope they do, for their sake as well as ours.

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