To this day, I cannot honestly tell if President Obama has been offering up things like chained CPI to Republicans because he is hoping to put them in a box and make them look completely unreasonable, knowing full well they're never going to go along with tax increases in exchange, or if he is cynical enough to think that going after the benefits of the elderly and the poor are going to go unnoticed by voters if they are willing to negotiate with Republicans, destroy the Democratic brand on New Deal social safety nets and marginalize the progressive base of the Democratic party.
The most generous read is that he's playing a dangerous game of politics and forcing Republicans to defend policies which are extremely unpopular with the public and putting himself out there as the "reasonable" middle in the hopes that most voters aren't watching the Kabuki theatre well enough to follow along. The worst is that he actually believes cutting benefits to seniors is some "balanced" approach to reducing our deficit when we've got record income disparity in America.
I am equally as perplexed and as irritated that Rep. Chris Van Hollen didn't give former Bush OMB director Sen. Rob Portman some pushback on this Sunday's Face the Nation when he played the Social Security-is-insolvent game, pretended that it adds to the deficit, when it doesn't, and conflated Social Security with Medicare and Medicaid.
They have their own set of problems that have nothing to do with Social Security, but everything to do with the fact that America has a healthcare crisis (whether it's government programs or private insurance) that Portman and his ilk in the Republican party refuse to do anything to remedy.
If Portman would like to "educate" the public, how about we start by not allowing him to lie to them?
It's also really disheartening to watch someone like Portman come on the air and fear-monger over deficits when the administration he worked for is largely responsible for the one we have now and not have that brought up to them. Every time one of them complains about that "Obama deficit," these charts should be shown on the air to rebut them.
Sadly, we're putting up with not just the media, but the Democratic leadership that isn't interested in challenging most of the GOP's lies when they come on the air. If anyone would like to contact Rep. Van Hollen's office to ask him why he's not willing to challenge Republicans when they lie about Social Security, here is his office's contact information.
Full transcript below the fold.
SCHIEFFER: And joining us now to get the latest on the budget crisis here in Washington, democratic congressman Chris Van Hollen, and Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, two legislators that the president has reached out to. I want to note that our -- we're under the limit here on how big these cups can be...
VAN HOLLEN: Portion control.
SCHIEFFER: Portion control right here. You know the president -- the big talk around Washington is this so-called charm offensive. He has dinner with these Republican legislators. You were over at the White House with Paul Ryan, the head of the budget commit on the Republican side. Senator Portman, you have actually taken phone calls from the president in the past. But I guess what's unusual here is that this is actually news, which kind of gives us an idea of the -- how wide the divide is. Did any -- is this doing any good, Senator Portman?
PORTMAN: It's great. I mean, to build some trust is a good thing. But to be honest with you, Bob, what the president needs to do is reach out not just to Republicans but to Democrats and to ensure that he gives them the political cover to do frankly what most of them know needs to be done. I won't speak for Chris, but having talked to him a lot about these issues, he gets it in terms of the need for us to deal with these very important but unsustainable entitlement programs.
SCHIEFFER: Well, do you think that he has given up on dealing with the leadership, that he feels like he just can't get anything done with them, and so he's going to kind of go around them?
PORTMAN: Well, I don't think he's going around them, but I think he's acknowledging what many presidents have in the past which is you do need to talk to the folks who the leadership are listening to. The second thing he needs to do, Bob, is he needs to talk to the American people about the reality, using the bully pulpit is incredibly important right now. We have to educate folks as to what the problem is. For instance, Social Security this year is in trouble. There's about an $80 billion deficit. The payroll taxes don't pay for the benefits going out. That in Medicare, on average, a family gets about $3 back for every $1 you put in for premiums and payroll tax. And that's not understood right now. So in order to do what we have to do in a relatively short period of time, because I think the window is pretty short here. I think it's by the end of this year, the president has a big role to play. Meeting with Republicans is fine, but I think it's more important to reach out to Democrats and let them know he has their back and reach out to the American people.
SCHIEFFER: Well, that's kind of interesting, congressman. Here you have a Republican Senator saying what the president needs to do is get in touch with his own party, people in your party. Is he? And is there more he can do there?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, sure he is. The president has been reaching out to Democrats. The complaint from our Republican colleagues in the past was that he was only reaching out to Democrats. So I think this is an important move forward. The president had been meeting with Republican leaders all along. After all, he had Speaker Boehner for a long period of time in negotiations last December. And Speaker Boehner said he didn't want to meet one on one with the president any more. I mean, that is what the speaker said. So now the president is reaching out more broadly among Republicans, which I think is a good thing. Ultimately, of course, in order for us to reach an agreement, everyone's got to be willing to compromise. And the president has indicated that he wants to -- he understands he needs to make more cuts. We've done $1.5 trillion in cuts. He understands we have to do more. But he also recognizes you want to do it in ways that doesn't gut our investments in education and violate commits to seniors. You also need revenues. And ultimately our Republican colleagues are going to have to back off their position where they're saying you can't close one single tax loophole for the purpose of reducing the defense. You've got to take a balanced approach going forward. So, more talk is good, but ultimately we need everybody to come together and compromise.
SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you this because you were both members of this so-called super committee back there that was going to come together and you were going to be the ones who were going to work out something so we didn't have to go in to this sequestration. Were you ever close to a deal?
VAN HOLLEN: Well what I can say, Bob, is I think everybody went into this discussion with the best of intentions, everybody got up to try and work hard every day to try to get a deal. There were moments when I think we thought maybe there would be a breakthrough. Looking back, sort of in the rearview mirror, it's hard to see a moment where there was going to be a real breakthrough. And, again, from my perspective, and again, obviously, people have different perceptions, it goes back too this fundamental disagreement. We support a balanced approach, meaning a mix of revenue, as well as cuts.
SCHIEFFER: Was that your take, senator, because I've heard some people say, look, we had a deal and it just all fell apart.
PORTMAN: Well, we came very close. And it was a balanced approach, and Republicans supported it. And Republicans still approach...
SCHIEFFER: So what happened.
PORTMAN: ...a balanced approach. I mean, look, spending is the problem, there is no question about it. The Congressional Budget Office just told us again two weeks ago that if we don't do something on the spending side, there's no way that taxes at any level can catch it, because spending goes up so rapidly. In fact, these important programs -- Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, they just told us they will double in size in the next 10 years, which is, of course, the main reason, along with interest on the debt, that you add another $10 trillion to the budget deficit. Revenue, on the other hand, actually goes up above its historic average by 2015, just a couple of years from now. And stays above its historic average. So taxes on the economy will actually be more than it has been since World War II as a percent of our economy, which is how economists like to look at it. So we've got to deal with the spending side. That's what's critical. And if we don't do that, Bob, nothing else will matter.
SCHIEFFER: Well, Senator Lindsey Graham said on this broadcast last week, he would support a grand bargain that would bring in new revenue from tax reform as long as it includes entitlement reform. Would you agree to that?
PORTMAN: In the supercommittee, Republicans agreed to that. We had tax reforms, which helps to grow this economy, which is historically weak also, the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression. Tax reform will help those folks who are on bottom rung of the economic ladder get up to the second and third wrung, so that's needed. It also does provide us the ability as Republicans to say, look, we're getting the growth out of the taxes and along with entitlement reform we would be willing to put some more revenue on the table. Again, in the supercommitee, we did that.
SCHIEFFER: You did it.
PORTMAN: But the problem right now is we don't see from the president any structural changes in this unsustainable course on entitlements. We see the request for more and more taxes at a time when we raised taxes $620 billion on the American economy.
SCHIEFFER: But what about that, congressman? I mean, aren't you going to have to do more on the entitlements than Democrats have suggested doing thus far?
VAN HOLLEN: We are. And the president has proposed that. The difference is a difference in approach when it comes to Medicare. The Republican approach to date has been they want to deal with rising Medicare costs by transferring those extra costs on to the backs of seniors whereas the approach we took in Obamacare was change the incentives in Medicare to end overpayments to providers and we saved $750 billion. And Paul Ryan just announced the other day that is going to include those savings in his budget, savings that he campaigned actively against. So, yes. But we need to build on that approach, which doesn't pass the additional burden on Medicare beneficiaries whose median income is $22,000. Which is why we said we need revenue as part of the plan to reduce those other costs.
SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, I want to thank both of you for coming...
VAN HOLLEN: Bob, thanks very much.
PORTMAN: Thank you.