In (now yesterday's) Washington Post, editorial page editor Fred Hiatt makes it clear that he is one of the most out there of Washington "liberal" social safety net hysterians, totally obsessed with cutting benefits for Social Security and Medicare, no matter what. Dean Baker duly takes him to task on various fronts, including that taxes could be raised (and even Republicans are willing to do so to avoid cuts in those programs), defense could be cut more, and there is no guarantee that if liberals go along with cutting those benefits, the money will go to discretionary non-defense spending as Hiatt wants rather than yet another round of tax cuts for the rich See http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/beat-the-press/fred-hiatt-is-holding-head-start-hostage-until-liberals-support-cuts-to-social-security-and-medicare . I have a few additions to Dean's worthy screed on this.
One is the matter that Hiatt seems particularly incensed that Congressional liberals have not jumped on Obama's proposal for a chained CPI for COLA adjustments to Social Security. Hiatt completely ignores that there is an alternative CPI for the elderly that shows substantially higher rates of price increases for goods purchased by the elderly than the non-elderly, with the still rapidly rising medical care costs a main reason for this, even if that rate of increase is decelerating. A chained version of that is probably conceptually the best one to use. As it is, Hiatt simply does not care what is fair or reasonable. He just wants to have those future benefits cut now, blankety blank, no matter what the rationale. After all, if we do not cut the future benefits now, we might have to cut them in the future!!!
Like many other VSPs who regularly pat each other on the back, such as Bowles and Simpson, he is clearly upset that the recent declines in the budget deficit have taken the pressure off for a grand bargain of tax increases and spending cuts, with social safety net cuts the centerpiece of this. What is funny is that he fails to notice that this recent decline in the deficit is in fact partly the result of what is effectively a grand bargain that has now been struck, although admittedly a pathetic and stupid one and not done so in any coordinated way: the ending of the Bush tax cut for the rich and the ending of the Obama fica tax cut for the middle class and poor along with the spending cuts mandated by the inane sequestration. Sure, this is not what these good government goo goo VSPs think should be done, but they are living in la la land if they think this totally dysfunctional Congress is at all remotely able to have any sort of sensible negotiation on this matter, if indeed such were really needed, which is highly questionable in the current situation. They would rather blame Obama anyway, even though he caved to the VSPs and offered the chained CPI for SS, only to have everybody in both parties in Congress shoot it down, well aware that the public does not like it at all.
Something that is important is that Fred Hiatt is an especially influential VSP, much more so than most, who only rarely surfaces in such a public way as he does here and whose role is probably not that well known by the broader public. His influence on the editorial WaPo page is certainly why few columnists there go against his arguments, with Harold Meyerson being about the only one I can think of who does so on any regular basis. While some simply ignore the topic, several other supposedly nominally liberal columnists there parrot the line of Hiatt, including Robert J. Samuelson and Ruth Marcus. And, of course, all their conservative columnists also agree that Social Security and Medicare should be cut, period, the sooner and greater, the better.
What remains to me a bit mystifying is how he and some of these others managed to get themselves so obsessed and in such conniption fits over this. I suspect that it dates back to the 90s when Clinton was pushing the issue, with much talk of setting up private accounts then and of course under Bush as well. I attribute much of the original push to pressure coming from Wall Streeters like Robert Rubin who saw lots of money for their companies if such accounts were set up. That has largely fallen out of the discussion, but this consensus among Washington insiders that formed then, has simply remained ("Everybody knows Social Security is in crisis," said Robert Schieffer to John Kerry and George W. Bush during their third presidential debate back in 2004), even though it is clear that this view is highly unpopular with the public, and many of the arguments that these people make have been repeatedly discredited over a long period of time. This is clearly the general phenomenon, but why somebody like Hiatt is so particularly obsessed himself to the point of writing such a silly column as this one, which is simply crawling with false or distorted "facts," more documented by Dean Baker and his commenters, is something of a mystery to me in the end.