In the short term Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who is serving as the chief negotiator in the current deficit talks, reaffirmed that Social Security is not on the immediate table. On ABC’s This Week Geithner made it clear the White House wants any changes to Social Security to be part of separate process. From ABC:
GEITHNER: No. I didn’t say that. Let me clarify that. Thank you for asking me that. What the president is willing to do is work with Democrats and Republicans to strengthen Social Security for future generations. So Americans can approach retirement with dignity and with the confidence they can retire with a modest guaranteed benefit. But we think you have to do that in a separate process, so that our seniors aren’t — don’t face the concern that we’re somehow going to find savings in Social Security benefits to help reduce the other deficits.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So to be clear, that is one thing that is clearly off the table. Social Security is off the table in these negotiations.
GEITHNER: We are prepared to, in a separate process, look at how to strengthen Social Security, but not as part of a process to reduce the other deficits the country faces.
President Obama has repeatedly made it clear that he is open to cutting Social Security benefits and even offered to do so as part of a possible 2011 debt ceiling deal with Speaker Boehner. Not including Social Security directly in the current talks is probably a result of the Obama administration accepting that the current negotiations already have far too many moving parts. Getting a deal is already very difficult and adding another big issue would make that task significantly more complex.
The idea of Social Security being dealt with in a “separate process” should make defenders of the program very nervous. As we have seen, House Republicans are extremely reluctant to increase any taxes even when faced with the pending expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Any deal Republicans are willing to agree to regarding Social Security would likely be pure cuts or, at most, contain only token revenue increases.