President Barack Obama’s forthcoming 2015 budget will not include a proposal to trim Social Security benefits, offered last year in an attempt to draw Republican support for a potential “grand bargain” on deficit reduction.
Instead, the president will call for tens of billions in fresh spending on domestic priorities aimed at highlighting divisions between the two parties ahead of this year’s midterm elections.
The Wall Street Journal’s Carol Lee and Damian Paletta detail the contours of the administration’s plan:
The proposal—which will serve more as a political treatise than a fiscal blueprint—won’t include a call to slow the growth of Social Security spending by changing how the program accounts for inflation, White House officials said Thursday. Such a change is favored by the GOP and had been included in Mr. Obama’s budget plan last year.
Instead, Mr. Obama’s budget, which will be released in full early next month, will propose $56 billion in new government spending on programs such as education, manufacturing and job training, which would be offset by spending cuts and tax increases on high-income earners.
White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday the decision to leave out the cost-of-living adjustment to Social Security benefits reflected a change in approach on the part of congressional Republicans.
“There was a point in time when there was a little bit more optimism about the willingness of Republicans to budge on closing some tax loopholes,” Earnest said. “But over the course of the last year, they’ve refused to do that.”
Still, Earnest refused to shut the door completely on reaching an agreement with GOP lawmakers, saying the move “does not reflect any reduction in the president’s willingness to try to meet Republicans in the middle and find a balanced way to reduce our deficit.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill had a different take on the administration’s choice.
“This reaffirms what has become all too apparent: the president has no interest in doing anything, even modest, to address our looming debt crisis,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. “The one and only idea the president has to offer is even more job-destroying tax hikes, and that non-starter won’t do anything to save the entitlement programs that are critical to so many Americans. With three years left in office, it seems the president is already throwing in the towel.”
Democrats who opposed the president’s decision last year to offer adjustments to Social Security payments praised the turnabout.
“Budget conversations should focus on how we can work to help struggling seniors in this country, not on how to shift the burden to working people and retirees,” Reps. Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the president’s budget “will be a powerful statement of Democratic principles.”
“In particular, I commend President Obama for his commitment to keeping Social Security strong, and for rejecting Republican calls to cut badly-needed cost of living increases,” he added.
Given the partisan climate in Washington these days and the looming midterm campaign, the odds on any significant legislative action on the deficit were long to begin with. Thursday’s move by the administration simply recognized that reality.