No Touching The Third Rail

The big news that emerged last night was that, despite Pete Peterson's best efforts, no pol will touch the Third Rail. Via Yglesias, Ross Douthat writes:

[Paul] Ryan’s rejoinder was more urgent and more focused: America’s crippling debt was an organizing theme, and there were warnings of “painful austerity measures” and a looming “day of reckoning.” But his remarks [. . .] were even more vague about the details of that reckoning than the president’s address. Ryan owes his prominence, in part, to his willingness to propose a very specific blueprint for addressing the entitlement system’s fiscal woes. But in his first big moment on the national stage, the words “Medicare” and “Social Security” did not pass the Wisconsin congressman’s lips. [. . .] It’s clear that both parties have decided that a period of divided government twelve months before a presidential election is the wrong time to make big moves on entitlements and the deficit.

"Deficit hawks" were AWOL when The Deal was made so they have little to complain about in this. There will be no cuts in Social Security (which as Yglesias notes, is pretty stupid to be considering right now anyway.) The Third Rail remains untouched.

Speaking for me only

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    My worry, after parsing the language, (5.00 / 0) (#1)
    by jeffinalabama on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 08:19:35 AM EST
    remains this: Social Security and Medicare are stil on the table-- "Slashing" SS isn't the same as "incrementally correcting" SS.

    It doesn't matter what the increments are, what matters are the ideologies behind those increments. As I've said before, the most elegant solution? Lift the cap from $104K for SS.

    I don't think the issues are so simple for Medicare, but that was a larger part of the SOTU.

    I'm hoping you're correct, BTD, but I'm not confident given Ryan's leadership position and his idea of SS disappearing for the under-55 set to be replaced with something not examined yet.

    Ross Douthat is of the opinion (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by MO Blue on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 08:58:43 AM EST
     that the parties have decided to kick the can down the road until after the 2012 election.

    Better to wait, jockey for position, and hope that the correlation of forces after 2012 will be more favorable to their preferred solutions. And it's clear, too, that they've decided (with honorable exceptions) that it's too risky to even begin building support for the unpopular cuts or tax increases ahead. The bet, on both sides, is that there's still time to work with, and that the other party will blink, or at least give ground, before the real crunch arrives.

    Obama was strongly against extending the Bush tax cuts to the top 2% right up until the time he made "The Deal" for the Obama tax cuts which are even more generous to the top 2% and raised the taxes on 50 million working poor.

    I agree that Obama will not be "Slashing" SS. He will instead "tweak" the benefits downward to "fix" the program. That the "tweaks" result in lower benefits than if the program had been left alone will be the unintended consequences like raising the taxes on the poor in the deal.

    Whether or not Obama puts forth the "Grand Bargain" this year when the debt ceiling needs to be raised or after the 2012 when both houses have Republican majorities, is unclear but I do not think that the issue is anywhere close to being off the table or the next 6 years.        


    Prediction: No touching the 3rd rail (none / 0) (#28)
    by christinep on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 02:42:10 PM EST
    ...at least, by Democrats. In many ways, it helps that there is so much edginess out there--including word parsing--because it sets up an alarm system very early on for Democrats who want to be elected by Democrats.  As for Ryan, who knows what he is foolish enough to do...whatever it is, it won't go anywhere. Remember, as I've noted earlier, even Bush II at the height of his early 2005 "capital" couldn't do it ... after his first mention, his approval was all down from there.  Keep up the good & protective parsing, meanwhile.

    Slightly off topic but Krugman is (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Buckeye on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 08:58:24 AM EST
    shredding Ryan's reponse in total.

    The problem is (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by NYShooter on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 09:23:16 AM EST
    That both parties have agreed to ignore what the problem is.....it seams reality is "off the table."

    Since all segments of our government have been captured we face a landscape which states that the rich are untouchable and the working class, the poor & destitute have not contributed enough. Just look at all the areas of State budgets earmarked for cuts: mental help for the poor, food stamps, Medicaid, etc. But the one thing that would have made the greatest improvement to our fiscal situation, letting the tax cuts for the rich expire, was rejected by both parties.

    The solution is so empirically simple, the rich just don't pay their fair share. And when a slight increase to their contribution would barely be perceptible yet the subject is verboten this conversation has entered the realm of Kafkaesque insanity.

    I still think that any moves to (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by Anne on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 10:17:06 AM EST
    tweak, change, fix, adjust - whatever - Social Security, will not come after a prime-time, national announcement likely to instill fear and anger, but will happen behind closed doors, in back rooms, with selective trial-balloon leaks.  It will be handled like the frog in water that is gradually being brought to a boil - by the time people figure out what's going on, it will be too late.

    That Obama even mentioned both SS and Medicare last night is not reassuring; it just tells me he still has both in his sights - and even if he leaves it to the Congress to do, I think it will be much like the health whatever reform - and have Obama's fingerprints all over it.

    I just see no real reason to trust Obama, or the Dems, to defend and protect these programs.

    As usual, my outlook is more optimistic (none / 0) (#29)
    by christinep on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 02:48:50 PM EST
    Tho normally I would agree with the sentiments in your first paragraph, Anne...when it comes to other issues or subject matter. For Social Security, the very edginess and sensitivity (thank goodness!) that I mentioned above in this thread will guarantee that even a whisper about something different with Social Security will be leaked. For many reasons, including the most obvious electoral reason, there is no realistic threat to this strong, strong Democratic issue.

    The GOP doesn't want its fingerprints in cutting (none / 0) (#4)
    by Dan the Man on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 08:59:24 AM EST
    SS/Medicare.  Obama might be willing to support it, but since the GOP controls the house, any such bill needs approval by the GOP.  But with the "keep your government mittens off my SS/Medicare" faction supporting them, the GOP's gonna be doing no such thing.  This is why many of us came to believe that GOP control of the house would make SS/Medicare safer.  The GOP isn't going to go on record in voting for cutting SS/Medicare because it could only hurt them (Obama might not care if cutting SS/Medicare hurts the Democrats or not).

    Which also negates the approach (none / 0) (#5)
    by Buckeye on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 09:01:27 AM EST
    of balancing the budget with spending cuts alone.  Cannot be done without whacking the big 3 - and that will not happen.

    BTW the Democratic "Deficit hawks" (none / 0) (#6)
    by MO Blue on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 09:02:49 AM EST
    were not IMO AOL when The Deal was made. They were front and center voting for the tax cuts for the top % and most are on record against raising taxes at this time.

    looks like no touching is a hit (none / 0) (#8)
    by Capt Howdy on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 09:28:28 AM EST
    I think the whole 9% (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by Capt Howdy on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 09:29:11 AM EST
    must comment here



    Well, Captain some of (none / 0) (#15)
    by KeysDan on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 10:02:44 AM EST
    us are a little slower on the analysis that the "watchers" polled (final: Jan 26 at 12:31 am, per link).  However, count me among the 91 percent, not on the "approval of the proposals", but on the WTF program, generally.  The speech was all I hoped for--it soared with the eagles, balanced yins and yangs and challenged us to compete with third world developing countries.  Importantly, the speech did not give away the store as bipartisan bona fides, although a few moments of anxiety bore through with "strengthening" social security (but preferred over "reforming") and claims of all is well on the Iraqi violence front.  

    I didnt hear him say (none / 0) (#17)
    by Capt Howdy on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 10:07:52 AM EST
    "all was well".  I heard him say we are leaving with some dignity and hope to do so in Afghanistan.

    We aren't leaving. (none / 0) (#20)
    by Ga6thDem on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 10:22:45 AM EST
    Obama is not going to get us out of Iraq or Afghanistan.

    right (none / 0) (#21)
    by Capt Howdy on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 10:28:09 AM EST
    All is well on the Iraqi violence (none / 0) (#22)
    by KeysDan on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 10:33:57 AM EST
    front, was not a quote but a sense of his reporting that gave anxiety, if for no other reason than tempting fate, if not Moqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi army.  The bombings do seem to be on the upswing and 50,000 troops will be remaining.

    Preordained (none / 0) (#10)
    by andgarden on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 09:45:51 AM EST
    These speeches almost always get a good reaction. Like I said last night: the same speech the President always gives.

    you know (none / 0) (#11)
    by Capt Howdy on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 09:54:11 AM EST
    I didnt really think so.  sure, it was a good deal of boilerplate but I thought he said some pretty interesting things.  I completely avoided any punditry.  this is strictly M.O.

    for example, I really like the idea of reorganizing government.  it is long overdue and only a dem could probably do it. Im sure if we actually knew how much money is wasted every day by duplication and outdated bureaucracy


    The funny thing is (none / 0) (#13)
    by jbindc on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 09:57:38 AM EST
    for example, I really like the idea of reorganizing government.  it is long overdue and only a dem could probably do it. Im sure if we actually knew how much money is wasted every day by duplication and outdated bureaucracy

    (and I agree, BTW), this is the kind of stuff Reppublicans have been talking about for years.  Makes you wonder why this isn't one of those things people can really come together on.


    Welll.... (none / 0) (#31)
    by christinep on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 03:06:09 PM EST
    This is an "I'm not going to be skeptical, but" statement. OTOH, I spent a year on a government reorg team in 1994-95; it was one of the hardest and best experiences all rolled ito one (and, judging by the workability and acceptability of the product for that particular time and region, I think the product improved the situation.) So, after patting myself on the back for that one, it is important to say that government reorgs on the level declared by the President are not only monumental endeavors, but they invite all kinds of agenda from the ultimate participants. <My "diplomatic" words.> For example: I've seen smaller reorgs where the merged or newly created or abolished positions seemed to correlate with the persons holding those positions...more specifically, the malleability of the incumbents.  In my experience and with my slant, Repubs--especially under President Reagan--were unusually astute in managing the reorgs for results close to their hearts. Being such an unabashed Democrat myself and being one who lived the shifting organizational milieu at times, I am heartened to know that the Administration--by this date--will have taken the time to know both substantively and policy-wise the criticality of reorganization. Read: Not only who regulates salmon issues at Interior, but also who issues and who regulates important permits, etc.

    oh (none / 0) (#32)
    by Capt Howdy on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 03:31:08 PM EST
    no question it will be hard.  but it needs to be done.

    Completely agree, Captain (none / 0) (#33)
    by christinep on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 03:35:42 PM EST
    Just watch the alligators. But, it has to happen.

    Yep (none / 0) (#12)
    by jbindc on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 09:54:59 AM EST
    Nate Silver

    ...First, the most common public response to the State of Union is none at all. Presidential approval has rarely moved by more than 4 points in either direction: it happened following just 9 of the 42 addresses included in the analysis, and the average change is just under 3 points. Some of what change we do see, moreover, is probably just random noise (if you took two identical surveys of 1,000 people each -- like polls just before and after a State of the Union speech -- sampling error alone would produce a deviation of nearly 2 points on average).

    Second, to the extent that they have any effect at all, State of the Union addresses have been just as likely to hurt a president's approval rating as to help it. The president's standing in the Gallup poll advanced following 19 of the 42 addresses, declined following 20 of them, and remained exactly the same following 3.

    In some ways, this is surprising. The State of the Union typically gets a fairly sizable audience: about 30 million people watched last year's speech on television, for instance. The president is seen in a grand setting and gets to control his message. (While the opposition party has been granted an opportunity to respond since 1966, most of these efforts have been wanting.)

    I thought the other thing (none / 0) (#14)
    by Capt Howdy on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 10:01:06 AM EST
    that, at least for me, jumped off the screen was the fact that John Roberts was the only thing that kept the Supremes from a completely partisan display.  and they want us to be less partisan.

    Except that Kennedy was there too (none / 0) (#16)
    by andgarden on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 10:07:42 AM EST
    I dont put Kennedy (none / 0) (#18)
    by Capt Howdy on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 10:08:59 AM EST
    in the same pot with the missing three.  and I think the fact that he was there supports that.

    not so much the chief justice.
    I think he saw what a horrible picture it would be without him.


    The Dem appointees were thrilled to greet (none / 0) (#30)
    by MKS on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 03:00:25 PM EST

    Ginsburg gave Obama a big hug.....Sotomayor and Kagan seemed all agush....Breyer was a happy chatty Cathy.


    Of course! (none / 0) (#23)
    by TeresaInSnow2 on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 10:52:21 AM EST
    The audience for any president's SOTU are frequently those who approve generally of the president and just want to hear again how wonderful he is for the country!

    I couldn't stand to watch.  I know in no uncertain terms that everything he says is bullsh*t.  What is the point of watching?

    I watched cupcake wars instead.


    I didnt watch it either (none / 0) (#24)
    by Capt Howdy on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 10:55:08 AM EST
    I watched it this morning.  last night I watched a show in one of the discovery channels about the antichrist.  featuring Teddy Haggard.  it was awsum.

    Hard to appreciate level of AZ crazy (none / 0) (#25)
    by BobTinKY on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 12:30:01 PM EST
    situated here as I am in KY.

    in repsonse to wrong BTD post (none / 0) (#26)
    by BobTinKY on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 12:30:58 PM EST

    we knew (none / 0) (#27)
    by Capt Howdy on Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 12:58:48 PM EST
    what you meant.

    AP story repost from (none / 0) (#36)
    by jeffinalabama on Thu Jan 27, 2011 at 09:04:05 AM EST
    last night's Open Thread: "Social Security Sick and getting Sicker."

    The framing kabuki begins. Doesn't matter that under Reagan, this was expected and ACCONTED FOR in a Bipartisan manner.

    What happened to reporters knowing history, or at least googling it? This story wouldn't have made a C in my beginning newswriting class. And we wrote cuneiform on clay back then.

    My husband watched the SOTU (none / 0) (#37)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Jan 27, 2011 at 05:18:01 PM EST
    and complained about how vague he was.  He also complained about there now always being a rebuttal to the SOTU, what was Ryan doing up there because he wasn't really giving a rebuttal.  Is the SOTU just going to be a president standing up and claiming the union is strong, and then some knee jerk is going to come on and say huh uh!?