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Obama plays losing hand in budget negotiations

President Barack Obama’s annual budget — which he will send to Capitol Hill Wednesday — includes a cut to Social Security called chained CPI. “CPI” stands for consumer price index; the United States has always adjusted Social Security benefits to inflation. Essentially, this policy presumes that seniors will change their buying habits as prices go up. Obama’s upcoming budget will mark the first time that he is formally proposing to reduce future Social Security benefits.

Of course, Obama has said that he will only agree to this cut in Social Security benefits if Republicans agree to tax increases on the wealthy and some corporations. And Obama’s advisers no doubt believe that if he debunks the Republican talking point that “he isn’t serious about entitlement reform” the public will side with him and push their representatives to back Obama’s budget.

Here’s the problem. Obama’s budget proposal essentially mirrors his final compromise offer to Speaker John Boehner last winter. By putting chained CPI in his formal budget, Republicans feel that Obama will give even more on cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid later in the negotiation process. Boehner already dismissed Obama’s budget because he says that tax hikes are holding “modest entitlement savings” hostage.

As is often the case today, one tweet perfectly crystallizes the Republicans’ perspective on budget negotiations. Senator Marco Rubio tweeted Dec. 30, 2012 during the fiscal cliff debate, “Report that #GOP insisting on changes to social security as part of #fiscalcliff false. BTW those changes are supported by @barackobama.” Republicans don’t want to explicitly propose cuts to Social Security; their base relies heavily on seniors. But they do believe those cuts are needed, and attacking Obama for proposing them stands as an added bonus. Instead of including chained CPI in his budget, Obama should have forced the Republicans to offer those unpopular cuts and isolated them politically. Yet again, Republicans have slapped away Obama’s hand at an attempt for compromise. When will he learn not to play directly in their hands?

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