As the deadline nears to prevent default, both sides of the aisle are preparing – to solve the issue, or to point fingers if it’s not resolved in time. Debt ceiling increases have not been headline material outside the Beltway in years. The public is either largely unaware of them, or previous to this point, lawmakers chose not to gamble with the country’s sterling credit rating by engaging in public debate over the increases.
There has been much talk about dire circumstances if the debt ceiling is not raised before August 2, including Social Security checks not going out. Anyone in D.C. that is held responsible for that sort of failure would be facing a virtually insurmountable obstacle to remaining in office. According to the Census Bureau statistics on the 2008 general elections, voters from the 65-74 voter bloc outnumbered the youngest voters (age 18-24). A higher percentage of seniors were registered to vote in the first place, and a higher percentage of registered seniors actually vote. Approximately 75% of seniors in this age group were registered to vote, and approximately 70% actually voted in November of 2008, versus around 53% of the youngest eligible citizens were registered, and only about 44% actually voted. Put jeopardizing Social Security payments into the equation, and the Beltway may manage to help radically increase voter registration levels amongst seniors, pushing it even closer to 100%. There is no reason to think that there wouldn’t be a slim difference between number of registered voters and actual voters in that case.
None of this is news, which is why many political campaigns have traditionally catered to seniors, taking time to address senior citizens’ concerns whenever possible. Knowing this, the fact that suspending Social Security payments was brought up at all in the first place should make everyone pause to consider what is really going on with Obama administration. The debate on the debt ceiling has arguably moved beyond party lines as of last night, when Obama stated to the country in his address that he was not interested in concessions that his own party leaders have proposed. Repeating his desire to see the rich pay more taxes, and suggesting a “balanced” approach to the problem, Obama was really expressing his apparent disconnect with the reality on the ground, since the Democrats had already taken taxes off the table. Another disturbing issue is that in the heat of the moment, the meat and bones of the budget cut process has largely moved from the public eye – only numbers are being tossed around, with no mention of where that money is currently being spent. The only constant is a tepid contention that entitlement programs and the military are largely untouchable.
That brings it back to the perennially powerful senior citizen voter bloc. Medicare at least is not being publicly stated as a potential budget cut target. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) had been amongst the medical professionals in Congress that had been speaking out against wasteful spending in Medicare during the Healthcare Reform debates. “The bad cop-worse cop routine by AARP and the President to frighten seniors for political advantage is as disingenuous as it is hypocritical,” offered in a short statement regarding the current debt ceiling debate. “AARP is the same organization that makes hundreds of millions of dollars selling Medigap insurance policies to seniors, and lobbied hardest for passage of the healthcare law, which cut $500 billion from Medicare. After trillion-dollar stimulus bills, bailouts and massive new entitlement programs, the American public doesn’t think it’s radical for the federal government to begin living within its means. The Cut, Cap and Balance Act is the only bill that has passed either chamber of Congress, heeds the public call for putting the country back on a fiscally sound path, and ensures the United States does not default on our obligations – all without making a single change to Medicare or Social Security.” Perhaps no change in Medicare and Social Security shouldn’t be the goal. A more apt assessment would be to attempt to take a bite out of the multi-billion dollar bill that is paid for fradulent Medicare claims. Those are cuts that seniors would arguably fight to get.
The Cut, Cap and Balance Act is tabled at this point, and while it is unlikely, it could theoretically be placed back into play. Murphy’s contention that it could solve all the major issues regarding the debt ceiling deadline is probably accurate, if both parties would stop arguing long enough to see that they are all most likely being thrown under the proverbial bus by Obama. After seeing that he avoided the word “veto” in his speech, and during all discussions up to this point, it should have become obvious that the president was setting himself up to remain above the ire of the voters regardless of the results over the next week. Any solution the two houses can manage to place on his desk will undoubtedly be accepted because Obama does not want to bear the blame for the consequences. Pundits may argue over the impact of the Presidential Address on debt, but one thing cannot be denied. While some may have called it “too little, too late” for Obama to call on the public to write to their Congresspeople and Senators in Washington, that doesn’t mean the people didn’t hear him. The Congressional switchboard was flooded with calls the morning after the speech, leaving Obama with the ability to say to Congress “can you hear me now?”