If President Obama behavior on the issue of Social Security and his willingness to offer up cuts to Social Security as part of a deficit deal left any doubt about his personal intentions for the program, last night’s debate should put those doubts to bed. One of the most telling moments regarding what Obama’s second term would be like was his answer to the question on entitlements. From CNN debate transcript:
21:39:56: LEHRER: All right? All right. This is segment three, the economy. Entitlements. First — first answer goes to you, two minutes, Mr. President. Do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?
21:40:15: OBAMA: You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound. It’s going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker — Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill. But it is — the basic structure is sound.
This could have been a moment for Obama to try a sharp contrast with Romney and make a powerful appeal to swing voters. Obama could have made a simple and popular promise to protect the program from cuts. He could have said something like, “I consider Social Security benefits to already be incredibly modest. I promise to protect them as they are for all current future Americans. A small increase in revenue will be enough to make the trust fund stable for another 75 years.”
The president didn’t do this. Obama actively choose to pass up this chance to score political points in the middle of a contested election. Instead, Obama decided to use a vague term like “tweaked” to give himself maximum flexibility in the future. The reason a candidate does this is because they want to do something and they don’t want campaign statements getting in the way.
If Obama wasn’t planning to cut Social Security as part of “tweaking” it in a grand bargain, last night he would have promised not to do so.