In a speech this week in Indiana, President Barack Obama announced a major shift in his position on Social Security. “It’s time we finally made Social Security more generous and increased its benefits,” Obama declared, “so today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they have earned.”
This is a welcome change from Obama’s past support for a so-called Grand Bargain that likely would have included cuts to Social Security benefits. It is tempting to view it as evidence of how Obama “really” thinks about the issue, in the same way that his support for gay marriage, after years of opposing it, was seen as a reflection of his real views. But the shift on Social Security isn’t about Obama per se. Rather, it’s an excellent example of how political pressure from below can facilitate change. It also demonstrates the limitations of a president’s ability to impose his vision on the country.
Until 2014, Obama’s budget proposals included an offer to reduce the growth of Social Security benefits by changing how the cost-of-living increase is calculated, in exchange for a deal including upper-class tax increases. Obama, in other words, has not only dropped even contingent proposed cuts, but is also calling for an expansion of benefits. This is a big deal.
– New Republic