By Juan Williams - 07/25/11 10:00 AM EDT
Republicans keep asking, “Where is the president’s plan?” for spending cuts. Well, Democrats can see the plan taking shape, and they are hotter than last week’s weather.
In addition to more than $1 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending, President Obama is willing to give Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) an additional $650 billion in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Of the three programs, Medicare is in the most imminent financial trouble and is therefore the most in need of reform. Last May, the Medicare fund’s trustees issued a report saying the fund would go broke in 2024.
Now Obama is open to means-testing Medicare recipients and gradually raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. He also is willing to change the rules so the nation’s elderly have to pay higher Medicare Part B premiums to get benefits.
The president is additionally open to reducing Social Security cost-of-living adjustments to restrain future inflationary effects on spending.
Obama’s proposals on Medicare and Social Security are in line with the recommendations of last year’s bipartisan commission on deficit reduction chaired by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.
The White House cuts to entitlement programs are greater than those called for by the Gang of Six — a group of three Republican and three Democratic senators who have been trying to hash out a debt and deficit deal for months.
On Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poor, the president is intent on cutting spending by $100 billion, or 5 percent, concentrating spending on seniors in nursing homes and payments to children with disabilities.
Beyond that, he is opening the door to a smaller program. His aides say he plans to do it by reducing fraud, bargaining more robustly with drug and medical device makers and resolving the costly annual budget fight over the so-called “doc fix” — providing payments to doctors for Medicaid patients.
Obama defended these extraordinary concessions Friday night in a press conference announcing the most recent breakdown of talks with GOP congressional leaders.
“We believed that it was possible to shape [entitlements] in a way that preserved the integrity of the system, made them available for the next generation and did not affect current beneficiaries in an adverse way,” he said.
The president’s proposals have Democrats howling, but they seem mild compared to GOP proposals.
Back in April, Republicans voted for the budget crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The Ryan plan, which had the support of 235 GOP representatives and 40 GOP senators, ends the Medicare program as a guaranteed government entitlement and replaces it with a fixed-cost voucher program that ultimately would leave more seniors paying out of pocket for private insurance.
On Medicaid, Republican governors have proposed pushing more people off the rolls by lowering the income level required to qualify. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now considering a run for president, even said his state might withdraw from the program completely.
Opinion polls show voters across party lines do not want cuts to entitlement programs, even if it means failing to raise the debt ceiling. A new national poll from the Pew Research Center released last week found that 60 percent of adults say it is important to keep Medicare and Social Security benefits as they are. Earlier this year, the GOP lost a special election for a congressional seat in upstate New York because of fears over changes to Medicare.
Now, in the middle of the Washington debt-ceiling drama, Obama has put Democrats in the perilous political position of taking responsibility for entitlement cuts.
And last week, the White House began to feel the sting of opposition from Democrats. On Friday, liberal activist groups including MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the AFL-CIO coordinated calls to Democratic members of Congress.
The Service Employees International Union asked 400,000 supporters to make contact with Democratic legislators to stop “deep cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefits without asking for an ounce of sacrifice from corporations and millionaires.”
The largest political group in the country, AARP, blasted the reforms proposed by the president as cuts to the social safety net programs key to its retiree membership.
The irony here is that Obama has invited this political backlash, but Republicans still will not make a deal. They will never allow policy fixes needed to save these imperiled programs, no matter how “conservative” those fixes may be.
Ultimately, Republicans do not want to give Obama the monumental political victory of being the president who saved Social Security and Medicare.
Shame on them.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.