Still too close to call

The president won the election by convincing a majority of voters that he was the genuine protector of the middle class.

His opponent ran as a shape-shifter, one day a rabid Tea Partier, the next a moderate. But among the many conflicting themes Mitt Romney tried out in his unsuccessful presidential campaign, one that he clung to was the out of control federal deficit and the need to rein in spending on the nation’s safety net programs.

As you recall, both the president and Romney stressed that the election was about the best way to create jobs.

But now President Obama says he will spend some of his precious time hitting the campaign trail again, this time trying to sell the American people on why it’s a good idea to agree to some cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as part of a “grand bargain” with congressional Republicans to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff, a set of congressionally-self imposed tax increases and budget cuts. The president is adamant that taxes on the rich will have to go up as part of a “grand bargain,” which of course, Republicans, Wall Street and corporate CEOs all adamantly oppose. Their opposition has created a false consensus inside the Beltway that maintains that essential programs such as Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable.

Voters might be forgiven if they’re surprised by this wheeling and dealing over Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as Matt Bai writes in the New York Times, “The possible terms of a grand bargain never came up because neither side [during the campaign] wanted to talk about it.”

But all of a sudden that’s all our leaders are focused on, when they’re not consumed with David Petraeus’ sex life and shirtless FBI agents.

Where’s the jobs program?

The president has been hanging tough on the need to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans but now seems to be waffling about protecting Social Security and the other safety net programs that protect the well being of hundreds of millions of Americans after a lifetime of work. In negotiations with Republicans during his first term, the president had already offered to make cuts in the safety net.

Unions and progressive groups say they are now mobilizing to protect the social safety net. But will they buck the president if he deems such cuts necessary to make a deal with Republicans?

Dave Dayen at Firedoglake, who has followed the assault on social insurance programs, expresses doubts.  Noting that polls show a majority of the public is opposed to such cuts, Dayen wrote: “The Obama coalition has always been more tribal than ideological, willing to take their cues from their standard bearer.”

One troubling sign comes from a column by Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast, suggesting that  “entitlements” need to be on the table with Republicans, even if they’re not the cause of the deficit, because the president needs bargaining chips to get the tax increases on the rich.  So the safety net has to be sacrificed, not because it’s causing budget problems, but to satisfy Republicans – who just got whooped in the election!

Does anybody think President Obama would have been reelected if had told voters he planned to use Social Security and Medicare as bargaining chips?

The president should hit the road, but he should do it in support of the social insurance programs a majority of Americans want unscathed, and against the budget hokum that blames these programs for the deficit.

The president and his team have shown they know how to get the job done when his own job is at stake. Now it’s time for them to use their prowess to protect the safety net from the vultures that are circling it.

Call the president today and ask him if he’s got our backs.