I can't imagine President Barack Obama actually wants to cut Social Security. I'm not that cynical. Yet. If this was really about "saving" a program that is solvent for several more decades, all he'd have to do was raise the cap on payroll taxes. Right now, earnings above $110K-ish don't pay a Social Security tax. Why? Who the hell knows. But you raise that (or eliminate it altogether), and any potential future Social Security problem evaporates. I'll bet my first-born that the American people prefer that to cutting benefits for seniors.
So I actually take him at his word, that he is simply trying to give Republicans what they want in order to appear compromising and reasonable. Why does he need to appear compromising and reasonable? Who the hell knows, but he sure has a pathological need to appear that way. It didn't help him last time he bent over backwards to make a deal—the infamous debt ceiling negotiations of 2011. Let's look at the numbers after the fold.
Indeed, by the time Obama capitulated in late July, giving House Speaker John Boehner 95 percent of what he wanted, he was already at the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, and they fell even further in the weeks after. The White House thought that by looking "reasonable" and willing to compromise, the "adult in the room" as many of Obama's strongest partisans put it, that the American people would reward him. Well, they didn't. Indeed, Obama's numbers didn't head back into solidly positive territory until after the Democratic convention in September 2012, over a year later, and only after he took a more stridently partisan tone ahead of the the November elections.
In fact, 2012 exit polling confirmed that voters stopped seeing Obama as a strong leader.
If Republicans are so hell-bent on destroying our safety net, and they are, then make them put those proposals in their budget. Yet even Rep. Paul Ryan's draconian budget didn't touch Social Security. (And for good reason!)
Republicans released their ideal budget. It was Obama's turn to release his ideal budget. Then they'd go to the table to try and hammer out a compromise that would theoretically be somewhere in the middle. But as always Obama negotiated against himself, made concessions without corresponding Republican ones, became the only elected official in Washington, D.C., to put Social Security benefits cuts in a formal proposal (thus owning them), and then ... what?
Republicans dismissed everything out of hand, progressive groups went to war against the White House, Congressional Democrats distanced themselves from the proposal save for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (ever the loyal lieutenant), and seniors certainly weren't impressed.
If Obama's goal was to look weak and isolate himself, generating bipartisan scorn and ridicule while giving Republicans a chance to claim Democrats want to cut Social Security during 2014 elections, then sure, mission accomplished.
If he actually thought he was accomplishing something useful, however ... the mind reels.