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Sunday, December 4, 2016

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) preemptively rejected President Barack Obama’s upcoming budget proposal Friday, slamming the president’s offer to cut Social Security as “only modest entitlement savings.”

President Obama’s budget plan, which he will send to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, will reportedly seek $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction through a combination of new revenues and spending cuts. The most controversial cut is the move to the chained consumer price index (“chained CPI”) for Social Security, which would significantly reduce annual cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security beneficiaries. President Obama has long suggested that he could support the measure, which would cut federal spending by about $130 billion over the next decade, only if Republicans agree to raise new tax revenues.

To many of the president’s liberal allies, such a proposal has been a non-starter. When he floated the idea in late 2012, many House Democrats warned that they would rather go over the “fiscal cliff” than accept the cut. Similarly, in an exclusive interview with The National Memo in March, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka vowed that America’s largest labor federation would oppose any budget deal that included chained CPI, saying the index is “another example of how Washington creates fancy-sounding phrases to mask stupid policies that only work for the rich.”

The public seems to stand with Trumka; recent polling suggests that Americans strongly oppose any Social Security cuts.

The budget reportedly includes several other cuts, such as $400 billion in health care savings (including additional means-testing for Medicare,) and $200 billion in cuts to farm subsidies, federal employee retirement programs, and unemployment compensation. Obama’s budget also aims to raise $600 billion in new revenues, including an increased cigarette tax, which would be used to finance the president’s proposal for universal pre-K.

“While this is not the president’s ideal deficit-reduction plan, and there are particular proposals in this plan like the CPI change that were key Republican requests and not the president’s preferred approach, this is a compromise proposal built on common ground, and the president felt it was important to make it clear that the offer still stands,” a senior Obama administration official told The Hill.

Obama’s offer to meet in the middle has already failed to move House Republicans, however. Not waiting for the full proposal to be released, House Speaker John Boehner quickly released a statement Friday blasting Obama’s plan.

“Despite talk about so-called balance, the president’s last offer was significantly skewed in favor of higher taxes and included only modest entitlement savings,” Boehner said. “In the end, the president got his tax hikes on the wealthy with no corresponding spending cuts. At some point we need to solve our spending problem, and what the president has offered would leave us with a budget that never balances.”

“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 added.

Although Boehner’s statement still completely ignores the $2.5 trillion in deficit reductions to which the White House has agreed since 2010, it does at least acknowledge that Obama is offering “entitlement savings” — even if Boehner rejects the compromise out of hand. This is a modest step in the right direction, considering that until this budget, Republicans have consistently denied that Obama has offered them anything at all.

In the end, that subtle shift may end up as the most significant result of Obama’s budget deal. Although the proposal has no real chance of becoming law — as evidenced by Boehner’s immediate rejection — making a highly publicized compromise offer will further expose the Republicans’ intransigence.

In March, President Obama reportedly offered congressional Republicans a choice: accept a deal that raised revenue in exchange for chained CPI and means-testing of Medicare, or walk away with no budget deal at all. In April, it appears that Boehner has made his decision.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

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