President Obama’s new budget will not include a proposal to implement “chained CPI” to slow the growth of Social Security benefits, according to White House officials.
And there’s one man who deserves most of the credit for making sure there will be no cuts to benefits to seniors until at least 2017 — ironically the politician who has worked the hardest to reduce the promises made to America’s retirees — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).
The president had included the reform measure in his 2013 budget as an attempt to provoke a so-called Grand Bargain with House Republican leaders. Such a deal would have required them to end some tax breaks for the rich. That was never going to happen and the White House’s acceptance of this fact helps focus the 2014 elections on votes most Republicans in Congress have taken in the past to cut both Social Security and Medicare, thanks to Paul Ryan.
The chairman of the House Budget Committee’s first budget plan in 2011 not only privatized Social Security — a proposal that President George W. Bush could not even get a vote on when the GOP controlled both houses of Congress — it remade Medicare into a voucher program that radically shifted the financial burden to seniors without doing much to reduce the overall cost of health care. The plan was so popular — at least with Republican donors — that it instantly made Ryan a national hero and possible presidential candidate.
The chances of enacting the plan with President Obama in office were zero, but Ryan, buoyed by his new stardom, helped guide House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) into a debt-limit crisis that shook global markets still dizzy from the financial crisis. House Republicans demanded a dollar in cuts for every dollar the debt ceiling was raised and President Obama obliged with a plan that not only included chained CPI, but also raised the Medicare eligibility age. To sell this plan to Democrats, the president demanded a small percentage of new revenues by ending tax breaks on upper-income Americans.
Boehner was about to make the deal, when Ryan “dropped a bomb” on it, fearing it would guarantee Obama’s re-election. Instead both sides settled on the sequester.
Ryan released another budget in 2012 that dropped Social Security privatization and added a public option to his Medicare plan. Desperate for Tea Party credibility, Mitt Romney selected Ryan to be his running mate after being forced to embrace the congressman’s budget during the primary. Together, the two men re-elected the president.
After Obama’s re-election, Speaker Boehner reportedly tried to take the offer Ryan had rejected in 2011. The president told him was off the table, and likely will be for the rest of his term unless Republicans consider higher taxes on the rich, which they won’t.
In the past two years, the deficit has been cut in half and is projected to be even lower within 10 years as a share of GDP than if the Simpson-Bowles debt plan or Paul Ryan’s first budget had become law. If the reforms to Medicare implemented in the Affordable Care Act continue to slow the growth of costs as they have since 2010, our long-term debt crisis may be solved, despite Paul Ryan’s best efforts.