Barack Obama, pushover

His "fiscal cliff" concessions are unnecessary and premature. Why can't he recognize his bargaining leverage?

Topics: RobertReich.org, Barack Obama, Fiscal cliff, John Boehner, Republican Party, Editor's Picks,

Barack Obama, pushover (Credit: Reuters/Samrang Pring)
This originally appeared on Robert Reich's blog.

Why is the president back to making premature and unnecessary concessions to Republicans?

Two central issues in the 2012 presidential election were whether the Bush tax cuts should be ended for people earning over $250,000, and whether Social Security and Medicare should be protected from future budget cuts.

The president said yes to both. Republicans said no.  Obama won.

But apparently the president is now offering to continue the Bush tax cuts for people earning between $250,000 and $400,000, and to cut Social Security by reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments.

These concessions aren’t necessary. If the nation goes over the so-called fiscal cliff and tax rates return to what they were under Bill Clinton, Democrats can then introduce a tax cut for everyone earning under $250,000 and make it retroactive to the start of the year.

They can combine it with a spending bill that makes up for most of the cuts scheduled to go into effect in January. Republicans would be hard-pressed not to sign on.

Social Security should not be part of any such deal anyway. By law, it can’t contribute to the budget deficit. It’s only permitted to spend money from the Social Security trust fund.

Besides, the president’s proposed reduction in annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustments would save only $122 billion over 10 years. Yet it would significantly harm the elderly.

It defies logic and fairness to give more tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting benefits for the near-poor.



The median income of Americans over 65 is less than $20,000 a year. Nearly 70 percent of them depend on Social Security for more than half of this. The average Social Security benefit is less than $15,000 a year.

Even Social Security’s current cost-of-living adjustment understates the true impact of inflation on elderly recipients, who spend far more on healthcare than anyone else – including annual increases in Medicare premiums.

Hands off Social Security. If the Republicans are willing to raise tax rates on high earners but demand more spending cuts in return, the president should offer larger cuts in defense spending and corporate welfare.

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie "Inequality for All" is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

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