I'll repeat that: the kerfuffle over the President's budget proposal isn't about chained CPI, benefit cuts, means testing of entitlements, etc.
It's about something potentially much more damaging to progressives and the Democratic Party brand.
The President's budget proposal communicates a simple fact: that the Administration has wholly accepted the Republican frame that deficit reduction matters more than stimulus and job creation. It's that simple.
That's not what Democrats ran on in 2012. And that does not bode well going forward.
It's one thing, in the course of budget negotiations to strike a "grand bargain" to consider cuts to entitlement in exchange for more revenue. But it's quite another to make that the opening salvo in your vision for a budget going forward.
When it comes to chained CPI, I'm truly undecided. I've heard arguments on both sides that make sense to me. But what I do know is that it's not something I'd be opening the discussion with, in any sense of the word. I know that "Hey, we've helped to preserve Social Security by indexing your cost of living increases to a more realistic measure of inflation, but it does cut your overall monthly benefit" does not fit on a bumper sticker, or makes for a great message come 2014.
Here we are, a month from the start of the sequester, and we are slowly starting to see the effects. Just today, we are told job growth is slowing. The sequester was a gamble that we lost on, frankly. We could be proposing a budget that says "we won in 2012" and truly expands the playing field of job growth and stimulus, as well as keep the promise of increasing taxes on the wealthy.
The Republicans in the House, of course, would reject that, just like they rejected the President's budget today because it called for more revenue. But at least that budget would not have put entitlements on the table.
This is about something broader...not a single issue. It's about what they used to call the "vision thing". Truly, the President doesn't have to worry about reelection. He's free from the bonds of being on a ballot ever again. So why not go big now? Go bigger than he has before?
Hell, why not just live up to the promise the President made just months ago? When he took the oath of office for a second term, stood on the steps of the Capitol, and said the following:
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.Precisely. We beat back that makers/takers BS in 2012. So why are we putting it back on the table? Why play in their sandbox?
It's time to take the sandbox back. It's not about chained CPI. It's about our values, and how we frame them, and the policies we propose to make it happen.
And we can't do that if we accept the Paul Ryan worldview as a starting point. Unfortunately, by putting possible entitlement cuts on the table, the perception is that Democrats are at least partially willing to accept part of that worldview.
Forget this Kabuki, Mr. President. It's time to go big or go home.