By George E. Curry
Believe it or not, President Obama’s decision to finally stand up to Teapublicans – a Republican Party hijacked by Right-wing Tea Party zealots – in the latest standoff over the Affordable Care Act and the debt ceiling was the easy part.
Next comes the real fireworks over the budget. And, judging from the past, the Democrats are likely to wave the white flag of surrender, even before the first shot are fired.
Don’t forget that although Obama campaigned on the promise of extending the Bush tax cuts only for individuals earning less than $200,000 and couples making less than $250,000, which would cover 98 percent of all taxpayers, he eventually capitulated under Republican pressure, extending the Bush-era rates on incomes below $450,000 for families and $400,000 for individuals.
And in his unsuccessful effort to reach a grand bargain with House Speaker John Boehner in 2011, according to leaked confidential documents, Obama expressed a willingness to support cuts to TRICARE, the health insurance program for the military and military retirees; Social Security, Medicare, housing, nutritional assistance and other social programs.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich explained why he, too, feels Obama will cave in to Republican demands.
“He’s already put on the table a way to reduce future Social Security payments by altering the way cost-of-living adjustments are made – using the so-called ‘chained’ consumer price index, which assumes that when prices rise people economize by switching to cheaper alternatives. This makes no sense for seniors, who already spend a disproportionate share of their income on prescription drugs, home healthcare, and medical devices – the prices of which have been rising faster than inflation. Besides, Social Security isn’t responsible for our budget deficits. Quite the opposite: For years its surpluses have been used to fund everything else the government does.
“The President has also suggested ‘means-testing’ Medicare – that is, providing less of it to higher-income seniors. This might be sensible. The danger is it becomes the start of a slippery slope that eventually turns Medicare into another type of Medicaid, a program perceived to be for the poor and therefore vulnerable to budget cuts.
“But why even suggest cutting Medicare at all, when the program isn’t responsible for the large budget deficits projected a decade or more from now? Medicare itself is enormously efficient; its administrative costs are far lower than commercial health insurance.”
Equally troubling are the signals the president is already sending on the budget.
“Keep in mind that the budget that we are going to pass under any deal is going to be the Republican budget. It will have cuts that are much more substantial than Democrats would prefer,” Obama said in an interview with New York’s WABC-TV two days before the government reopened. “The Democrats have not asked for anything to reopen the government. The Democrats haven’t asked for anything for paying our bills on time.”
The last time I checked, the Senate and the executive branch were controlled by Democrats. Republicans control only the House. And the only reason they control the House is because of gerrymandered congressional districts. In the last election, House Democrats received more votes than House Republicans. So why does President Obama feel that the nation will be stuck with a “Republican budget”?
Second, Obama correctly noted that Democrats have not asked for anything to reopen the government or raise the debt ceiling. And, as Congressman Gregory W. Meeks of New York observed, that is the problem.
Meeks told Politico, “At no point have we said what our demands are. All you’ve heard was what their demands are. Maybe we should put down what our demands are of what we need and what we want because there’s things that are important and dear to us also, and then the negotiations start from there.”
The tragedy is that Democrats usually won’t stand firm even when public opinion is on their side. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducted asurvey in March asking: What is more important, taking steps to reduce the national debt or keeping Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are?
According to Pew, 55 percent favored keeping Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are 34 percent preferred taking steps to reduce the national debt, and 11 percent said both are equally important.
Yet, Obama is willing to make concessions on Social Security and Medicare.
With no demands on the table, it’s impossible to know what, if anything, is important to the Democratic Party anymore. That’s not the case with the Teapublicans. Love or hate them, they have clearly and forcefully stated they want to privatize Social Security, turn Medicare into a voucher system, and want deep cuts in social programs. They have not only articulated their priorities, they have demonstrated with the shutdown how far they are willing to go to fight for their misguided beliefs.
What are Democrats willing to fight to the end for? If you find out, please let me know.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.