The best hope for protecting Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts during the next round of manufactured crises continues to be the Republican unwillingness to accept any new taxes.
Top Republicans are very directly calling for benefit cuts in the next round of possible deals. Just yesterday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said we need to raise the Medicare age and adopt more means testing.
There is every reason to believe President Obama would support a deal that includes benefit cuts. He has quietly pushed for a deal cutting entitlement benefits during his entire tenure in office. Obama also agreed to benefits cuts during both the failed debt ceiling negotiation in 2011 and during his fiscal cliff negotiations with John Boehner.
The only real major disagreement that would potentially stop any deal is the issue of new revenue. Obama still wants a big deficit reduction package in the near future but Democrats insist any deal contains roughly a 1:1 ratio of spending cuts to new revenue. On the other hand, Republicans are adamantly claiming that taxes have now been dealt with and no new revenue will be allowed.
Democrats somehow think they broke the back of the GOP opposition to tax increase during the last deal. Democrats think they can get Republicans to agree to more revenue this time by doing it only through “closing loopholes.” This seems to be wishful thinking. Technically Republicans only approved a slightly smaller tax cut than they really wanted, and roughly half the GOP still voted against it.
In two months we will likely see another push for a “grand bargain.” The only thing that seems to stand a real chance of derailing it is the firm Republican opposition to any tax increases. Ironically, it may be the Tea Party caucus which once again indirectly protects Social Security.