Social Security is Probably Pretty Safe For Now

The White House has officially released its 2014 budget proposal, and it’s pretty much what everyone expected. In particular, it cuts the growth of Social Security benefits by adopting chained CPI and raises taxes on the wealthy by reducing the size of their tax deductions. So does this mean that Social Security is in danger? Ezra Klein comments:

As the White House sees it, there are two possible outcomes to this budget. One is that it actually leads to a grand bargain, either now or in a couple of months. Another is that it proves to the press and the public that Republican intransigence is what’s standing in the way of a grand bargain.

We’ll see. But I’ll put my marker on the table right now: the answer is behind Door #2. There will be no grand bargain, not now and not in a couple of months. In fact, as time passes, a grand bargain gets less and less likely. There was a brief period after the election when it seemed as if the adults in the Republican Party might exert a little control over the tea party wing and try to reach a deal with Obama. But that moment passed, the tax jihadists have reasserted their dominance, and there’s zero chance that they’ll agree to any kind of tax hikes. So: no grand bargain, and no cuts to Social Security.

Obviously I could be wrong. But anyone who thinks so had better be prepared to explain just how and why I’m wrong—and if you point feebly to Obama’s “outreach” dinners for those Republican senators, you might as well just concede the point now. They’ll eat dinner with Obama, but they aren’t going to vote for any tax increases, and even if they do, the House won’t follow their lead. So take your pick: either the modern GOP really is as intractable and deranged as we keep saying it is, or Social Security is in danger of being cut. It’s hard to have it both ways.

For what it’s worth, this is why I’m comfortable taking a fairly academic approach to the whole issue of chained CPI. I don’t doubt that Obama’s offer is sincere, but it doesn’t matter. Republicans aren’t going to take it. Obama will get his proof that Republicans simply aren’t willing to negotiate seriously, and who knows? Maybe it will do him some good. But that’s all he’ll get.