Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Entitlement Reform: Why Obama Faces Tough Sell to Supporters

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Entitlement Reform: Why Obama Faces Tough Sell to Supporters

Article excerpt

President Obama is going to have to maneuver carefully on entitlement programs cherished by Democrats to cut the the grand debt deal he seeks.

First, hes going to have to accede to changes to entitlement programs (chiefly, Medicare) that reduce the governments long-term debt in order to get congressional Republicans on board for such a plan at all.

But then, hes going to have to sell the plan to his own supporters as having little to do with debt and deficits at all, if hes going to avoid a massive backlash. Polling shows severe resistance to the kinds of entitlement changes that Republicans want.

Thats the upshot of polling from center-left group Third Way released on Tuesday and a response from the more liberal National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Obama voters dont like that these are being discussed in the context of deficits, says Jim Kessler, a co-founder of Third Way. They want it in the discussion about solvency. So the challenge will be that should there be a major agreement that deals with these programs, that they are talked about in the context of fixing these programs, not reaching some magic number on the budget. And thats a challenge.

Just how steep is the challenge? Third Way, a group that supports entitlement reform in order to make way for spending on other priorities like education and infrastructure, found that 9 in 10 Obama voters are are worried about the long-term solvency of Medicare and Social Security.

But ask them what they want to do with it and the answer is clear: In focus groups, Third Way found that Democratic and independent voters indicate that they want these programs fixed to keep them solvent, but not to pay down the debt.

Reducing the debt through entitlement changes is exactly what Republicans want. I can say on the part of my members that we fully understand that you cant save the country until you have entitlement programs that fit the demographics of a changing America in the coming years, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky told reporters after a meeting of congressional leaders with the president last week.

And its exactly what Americans dont want, argue a bevy of liberal groups including the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare, who argued in a response to Third Ways polling that, in fact, the American people have spoken on changes to Medicare and Social Security and have said, in large part, no thanks. …

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