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Obama Takes GOP Senators to Dinner: 'Entitlements' on the Menu

If the president is finding "common ground" on spending cuts with Sen. Lindsey Graham, we are in trouble.

Photo Credit: AFP



As sequester cuts start to bite a little harder, the  Fix the Debt gang is pushing for a "grand bargain," deep cuts to earned benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare in exchange for some vague promises about "tax reform."

They may have a powerful ally in the White House. Rather than barnstorming the country demanding that Congress cancel the sequester (Representative John Conyers, Jr. wrote the one sentence bill to do this) and address our jobs deficit (now topping 9 million), President Obama seems ready to make a deal on the deficit, which is already in a steep decline.

In an unprecedented move, Obama -- who rarely even makes calls to the Hill --  was scheduled to take a group of Republican Senators out to dinner Wednesday night. On the menu? "Entitlements."

[EDITOR'S UPDATE: Politico has coverage of the dinner here.]

Read My Lips

"He's reaching out to Democrats who understand we have to make serious progress on long-term entitlement reform and Republicans who realize that if we had that type of entitlement reform, they'd be willing to have tax reform that raises revenues to lower the deficit," White House senior economic official  Gene Sperling said on Sunday on CNN.

Jay Carney, White House press secretary, said the same thing on Monday. "The president is interested in moving forward on deficit reduction that pairs the twin objectives of entitlement reform and tax reform in the way that his proposal does, in a way that is consistent with Simpson-Bowles and Domenici-Rivlin and others who have put forward ideas and proposals in a bipartisan way."  Simpson and Bowles, Domenici and Rivlin are all on the Fix the Debt board.

But take it from the man himself. On March 1, Obama told the press: "We have a long-term problem in terms of our health care costs and programs like Medicare. And what I've said very specifically, very detailed is that I'm prepared to take on the problem where it exists -- on entitlements -- and do some things that my own party really doesn't like -- if it's part of a broader package of sensible deficit reduction."

His sequester plan, right on the White House Web site, includes cuts to Social Security -- the so-called "chained CPI" or "superlative CPI" issue is  explained here. The point is that it cuts Social Security benefits every year in a way that builds cumulatively.  AARP has a calculator to show how big a hit your family might take.

Now you may believe that he has some grand master plan here, but at some point we just have to take the man at his word.

The Wimp That Gave It All Away?

Economists like Paul Krugman and Dean Baker tell us that the real emergency is the jobs deficit not the federal deficit and cogently argue that more federal funds are needed to stimulate the economy -- not cuts.

Baker is pretty harsh on Obama right now, charging that his lack of leadership on the issue led to the sequester. In 2009, Obama "proudly announced the need to pivot to deficit reduction after the passage of the stimulus and then appointed two deficit hawks, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, to head a deficit commission. This set the ball rolling for the obsession with deficit reduction that has dominated the nation's politics for the last three years. Instead of talking about the 9 million jobs deficit the economy faces, we have the leadership of both parties in Congress arguing over the debt-to-GDP ratios that we will face in 2023."