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Chained CPI and Presidential Position-Taking


Chait on the removal of Social Security cuts from Obama’s budget:

In reality, the fundamentals of the situation have not changed at all. Last year, Obama was willing to adopt C-CPI in return for concessions Republicans would never, ever make. This year, Obama is still willing to adopt C-CPI in return for concessions Republicans would never, ever make. Putting the compromise in his budget was merely Obama’s way of locating the blame for the reality that Republicans in Congress will never, ever, ever strike a fiscal deal with him. The disappointed deficit scolds sitting just to Obama’s right, and the joyous progressives just to his left, are committing the same fallacy. They are mistaking a step premised on an impossibility for a semblance of reality.

This is largely true as far as it goes. There was no chance of a Chained CPI-for-upper-class-tax hikes deal passing last year or this year, and to infer from the offer that Obama was determined as an end in itself to cut Social Security and would find some way to do it was really, really, stupid.* Does this mean that liberals have no reason to be happy that Chained CPI was removed from this year’s budget? I wouldn’t say that. The only useful thing congressional Republicans have to contribute to society is that they make “grand bargains” impossible, so in terms of the policies that will be enacted the precise content of Obama’s proposals isn’t important. But presidential position-taking might have some symbolic effect, and so if nothing is going to pass you might as well not have crappy policy proposals in your budget (even if they can’t be enacted.) To whatever marginal extent the politics matter, better that the Democratic brand be “we will protect Social Security” than “we care about the deficit.”

*You may wonder about how the guy who embarrassingly “bet” that Obama would get his wish of Social Security cuts enacted by early this year would react. With a gracious concession of error! Just kidding. Leaving aside the particularly puerile ad hominems:

Sadly, as anyone who reads liberal blog comments knows, there really are people who believe, or at least pretend to believe, that any position taken by an public official represents a sincere position, and elementary concepts such as “tradeoffs,” “bluffing,” and “strategic misdirection” represent immensely complicated eleventy-billion dimensional chess that cannot possibly reflect reality. Apparently, junior high civics textbooks just aren’t what they used to be. To add to the comedy, in my experience there’s a roughly 100% overlap between people who believe that 1)Obama inherently supports Social Security cuts and/or that Orrin Hatch and Bob Dole sincerely favored John Chaffee’s Potemkin health care proposal and 2)Obama, despite his public position in favor of the public option, secretly prevented staunch liberals like Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson, and Max Baucus from voting for it. The pretense that strategy doesn’t exist in politics would appear to be highly selective.

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