How Badly Will Obama's Chained CPI Error Hurt Democrats In The Midterms?
Social Security has long been the third rail of American politics. It has generally kept Republican predators, fearful of losing their careers, at bay. By introducing the Republicans' plan for Chained CPI, Obama has weakened the power of the third rail. It's the worst thing he's done since taking office. In the long run, it could well permanently tarnish the Democratic Party brand. And in the short run, many Democrats worry it will destroy the party in the midterms.
Although Boehner and Miss McConnell demanded that Obama include Chained CPI in his budget proposal, the GOP immediately jumped on it as a betrayal of seniors and vets (which it certainly is). Greg Walden (R-OR), head of the NRCC, immediately went on the attack against Democrats for this "shocking attack on seniors." Who couldn't have seen that coming?
Democratic candidates are being put into the uncomfortable position of having no choice but to distance themselves from Obama. Mike Lillis at The Hill reported that no less a party Establishment shill than Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), a former-- failed-- head of the DCCC, who oversaw the catastrophic Great Blue Dog Apocalypse of 2010, recognizes the danger for Democrats running for Congress next year and that "Walden's comments foreshadow a line of attack the GOP will use on the campaign trail."
"There are the substantive concerns about the chained CPI-- I share many of them-- but there are also the political concerns," Van Hollen said Friday. "And the fact [is] that Republicans were very quick to show they would use this as a political weapon against Democrats.And aside from the obvious crackpots like Louie Gohmert, Phil Gingrey, Ted Yoho, Steve King, Mike Pompeo, Steve Stockman and Paul Broun, among the Republicans who voted for Chained CPI in the Republican Study Committee budget were members of Boehner's inner-circle like House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), House Homeland Security Committee chairman Mike McCaul (R-TX), and House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX). In CA-25, for example, Lee Rogers has been very clear that he opposes Chained CPI and all cuts to earned benefits for seniors and veterans, while McKeon already voted for it. Rogers: "I’m eager to find out where McKeon stands on taking away benefits from seniors, since he’s supported previous measures like ending the Medicare benefit and raising the Social Security age. As a doctor I am adamantly opposed to cutting benefits to our population in most need. I announced several weeks ago, I would have been a day-one signer of the letter Mark Takano and Alan Grayson authored pledging to protect seniors and veterans from cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, including chained CPI."
"I know there have been efforts to rewind the tape on that," Van Hollen said, referencing Republican criticisms of Walden's comments, "but that first salvo demonstrated what the Republican campaign committee intends to do."
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said Obama's Social Security proposal was a gift to Republicans that could single-handedly kill any chance the party had at regaining the Speaker's gavel in 2014.
"Seniors vote in even heavier numbers, proportionately, in off-year elections," he said. "So just looking at a political standpoint... I would think that this would be a damning blow to our chances of taking back the House next year."
...Walden delivered a different verdict, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Obama was “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors."
That's precisely the message Republicans used to great effect in 2010, when, despite their own calls to slash Medicare spending, they accused Democrats of threatening seniors by enacting billions of dollars in Medicare cuts under Obama's signature healthcare reform law.
"I don't underestimate the degree to which they'll be disingenuous," Rep. Mark Takano (Calif.), a freshman Democrat who has emerged as one of the loudest critics of Social Security benefit cuts, said Friday. "It harkens back to the charge that $700 billion was taken from Medicare and put into ObamaCare, and [they] told all the seniors it was a [benefit] cut. That was very deceptive, [and] this is another instance of that."
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), another staunch defender of Social Security, echoed that charge Friday.
"I never underestimate Republican hypocrisy," he said.
Not all Democrats fear Obama's chained CPI proposal will be a liability for the party during the midterms. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, argued that the president proposed the change, so any political fallout should be directed at him.
"They cannot lay that dead cat at our door," Ellison said Friday. "I don't know how it's going to affect the president's brand, but it would be completely unfair to affect the House Democratic Caucus brand, because we had nothing to do with it and most of us are affirmatively and explicitly against it."
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), another fierce critic of chained CPI, offered another reason he thinks GOP attacks on Obama's budget won’t stick: Republicans, he said, have crusaded for similar entitlement cuts for too long to reverse course convincingly.
"The party that champions the dismantling of Medicare has a hard time attacking anybody for going after seniors," Deutch said Friday. "They would not come with clean hands to that argument."
Deutch predicted the conservative House Republican conference would ultimately prevent Walden and his National Republican Congressional Committee from attacking Obama's chained CPI proposal on the campaign trail, even if it would prove effective.
"There are too many members of his caucus who want to do real harm to Social Security and Medicare," Deutch said. "They won't allow him to even make that political argument because he'll expose them for what they really want to do."
Complicating the GOP attacks on Obama's proposal, more than 100 Republicans voted this year in favor of the Republican Study Committee budget, which includes a shift to the chained CPI.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) argued that the Republicans' track record on Social Security-- which includes the effort by President George W. Bush to privatize the program-- would make it "immensely difficult" for GOP leaders to make an effective campaign strategy out of Obama's proposal.
"They are firmly embedded in the minds of the public as being a party that does not support Social Security," DeFazio said. "Hypocrisy is rife around here, but I think that was a personal statement by Greg Walden. … I don't think this is a budding strategy."
..."Our job is to make clear that Mr. Walden's crocodile tears over [Obama's proposal] rings insincere and hollow," Takano said. "As a whole, Republicans want to do far, far, far more damage than chained CPI."
Other Democrats have similar dynamics at work. Florida anti-Social Security Republican, John Mica, voted for the Study Committee Budget and for Chained CPI. His opponent, Nick Ruiz has this to say about the Chained CPI scheme: "I would never vote to diminish Social Security benefits.These benefits cover retirees, widows, children, disabled persons and veterans-- none of whom receive enough as it is by current economic standards of reasonable cost, inflation and common decency. In fact, it's part of my platform to actually increase Social Security benefits, financed by lifting the FICA cap, and Wall Street cost-sharing." Same for Kenneth Sanders in TX-06. Joe Barton is a Chained CPI fan and voted for it. Sanders has been clear that "Chained CPI and the Ryan budget are both wrong for America. What this country needs right now is the kind of booming job creation that will get the economy running again. Penalizing seniors by taking Social Security earnings out of their pockets in not just wrong for the economy; it's immoral."
But will voters be able to distinguish? Or will they just have Obama and Chained CPI in mind-- with the help of a misleading GOP advertising blitz-- when they go to the polls in 2014?