Supporters of these essential programs are outraged -- and rightly so. We've been told that Social Security, which has its own source of revenue and contributes nothing to the deficit, was not on the table. And the White House has been saying since Obama's April speech that they would fight to prevent cuts to Medicare benefits. Now it is clear the White House is offering major cuts in both programs in hopes of getting Republicans to accept fairly small tax changes -- mainly loophole closings. But we won't really know the details until the White House chooses to tell us what they are proposing.
Here's the generous interpretation of what they are up to: they have judged that the Republicans are not going to accept any kind of deal involving spending cuts and tax increases, so they are they are offering more of what the Republicans say they want -- cuts to Social Security and Medicare -- in an effort to appear reasonable, even though they don't expect Boehner and the other Republican negotiators to accept their deal.
But who will think cuts to Social Security and Medicare are reasonable? Clearly not the American people, who in poll after poll -- and in the NY-26 special election -- clearly reject (by big margins) cuts to either of these programs. Clearly, this leak from the White House is intended to appeal to inside-the-beltway pundits, most of whom will never depend on Social Security or Medicare in their wealthy old age, and who applaud any cuts to "entitlements" while excusing Republican willingness to crash the US economy in order to protect tax cuts for the very wealthy.
President Obama needs to be very careful what he offers as part of a budget deal. Today, most Americans see the Republicans as the major problem -- demanding unreasonable cuts to Social Security and Medicare while refusing to ask the wealthy to sacrifice. And they see the Democrats as standing in the way of unreasonable cuts to these important programs. But in trying to curry favor with Washington pundits, the president runs the risk of indicating to the voters that cuts to Social Security and Medicare are "reasonable" sacrifices to ask Americans to make. At that point, the differences between the two parties get blurred -- and most Americans will be justified in asking who is fighting for us and our families.