President Obama knew full well that many Democrats and liberals would be sharply critical of his decision to propose reducing the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, one of the centerpieces of his 2014 budget, which was released on Wednesday.
In fact, he was counting on it. He wanted to show that he was willing to antagonize his supporters to get a budget compromise, putting Republicans on the spot to do the same.
Naturally, Republicans refused. Curbing the rise of Social Security benefits and raising Medicare premiums for higher-income people were two of the highest priorities for Republican leaders just a few months ago. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, said last fall that if Obama proposed them, he would consider allowing tax revenue to go up.
But, on Wednesday, when the president actually did so, McConnell dismissed the budget as unserious. Not a single congressional Republican could be found to consider a budget that combines twice as much in spending cuts as it raises in tax revenues.
The Social Security proposal remains a bad idea. It could hurt vulnerable retirees and stymie better ideas to improve the system, like raising the wage cap subject to the payroll tax.
But it seems unlikely to happen if Obama holds to his demand for more revenues in exchange, given the Republican intransigence. For now, it has served its purpose — no one will be able to accuse Obama of refusing to touch entitlements, and no one can credit Republicans for being at all serious about a deficit-reduction compromise.
Rejecting the president’s budget also means passing over a host of good ideas — chief among them replacing the arbitrary and damaging sequestration cuts with more sensible reductions, along with ways to make the rich pay a larger share of revenues.
The plan would cut spending by about $1.2 trillion over a decade, which is more than is necessary and more than Obama previously offered. The cuts include $306 billion from Medicare providers by relying more on generic drugs and demanding greater efficiencies from doctors and hospitals.
Drug companies would have to pay a much larger share of the costs borne by low-income Medicare recipients. Farm subsidies would be cut by $38 billion, and spending on the military, the State Department and homeland security would also be reduced.
Couples with incomes starting at about $170,000 a year would have to pay about 5 percentage points more for Medicare premiums. And there would be several other significant tax increases. Collectively, new revenues would bring in about $600 billion in a decade.
Much of that would help pay for needed new spending, including $166 billion for public works and $77 billion for early-childhood education.
It is clear that the incessant demands by Republicans for entitlement cuts were always hollow; some have already said the budget hurts older people. The growing impact of the sequester cuts will also make it clear that Republicans are rejecting a far more rational way to govern.