John Boehner, Speaker of the House, revealed why it's politically naive for the president to offer up cuts in Social Security in the hope of getting Republicans to close some tax loopholes for the rich. "If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there's no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes," Boehner said in a statement released Friday.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor agreed. He said on CNBC he didn't understand "why we just don't see the White House come forward and do the things that we agree on" such as cutting Social Security, without additional tax increases.
Get it? The Republican leadership is already salivating over the president's proposed Social Security cut. They've been wanting to cut Social Security for years.
But they won't agree to close tax loopholes for the rich.
They're already characterizing the president's plan as a way to "save" Social Security -- even though the cuts would undermine it -- and they're embracing it as an act of "bi-partisanship."
"I'm encouraged by any steps that President Obama is taking to save and preserve Social Security," cooed Texas Republican firebrand Ted Cruz. "I think it should be a bipartisan priority to strengthen Social Security and Medicare to preserve the benefits for existing seniors."
Oh, please. Social Security hasn't contributed to the budget deficit. And it's solvent for the next two decades. (If we want to insure its solvency beyond that, the best fix is to lift the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes -- now $113,700.)
And the day Ted Cruz agrees to raise taxes on the wealthy or even close a tax loophole will be when Texas freezes over.
The president is scheduled to dine with a dozen Senate Republicans Wednesday night. Among those attending will be John Boozman of Arkansas, who has already praised Obama for "starting to throw things on the table," like the Social Security cuts.
That's exactly the problem. The president throws things on the table before the Republicans have even sat down for dinner.
The president's predilection for negotiating with himself is not new. But his willingness to do it with Social Security, the government's most popular program -- which Democrats have protected from Republican assaults for almost eighty years -- doesn't bode well.
The president desperately wants a "grand bargain" on the deficit. Republicans know he does. Watch your wallets.
ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock" and "The Work of Nations." His latest is an e-book, "Beyond Outrage," now available in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.