Social Security and Medicare Are on the Ballot

A few days ago, the Biden administration released its budget proposal for the 2025 fiscal year (which begins in October). Given that Republicans control the House, this budget isn’t going to happen, so it serves mainly as a statement of principles and intent.

But that doesn’t make the budget irrelevant. It clearly signaled Democrats’ vision for the future — in particular, their belief that we can preserve the solvency of Social Security and Medicare by raising taxes on high incomes rather than by cutting benefits. And it draws a stark contrast with the vision of Donald Trump, who appeared to say during an interview with CNBC that he would seek to cut those programs.

I’ll come back to the question of what Trump meant by his remarks and, more important, what he might actually do if he returns to power. First, however, let’s talk about President Biden’s position.

You might be tempted to dismiss Biden’s assurances on safety net programs as boilerplate — don’t Democrats always promise to protect Social Security and Medicare?

But Biden has staked out a significantly stronger position than that of Barack Obama, who, as president, all too often seemed to be in the intellectual thrall of those I used to call the Very Serious People, opinion leaders who a decade ago dominated inside-the-Beltway discourse and were obsessed with the need for entitlement reform — which effectively meant cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Obama’s 2014 fiscal year budget teased entitlement reform to the point that even John Boehner, then the Republican House speaker, was prompted to say Obama “does deserve some credit for some incremental entitlement reforms that he has outlined in his budget.”

Biden is saying that none of this is necessary. This is a significant move to the left — although it’s also a move to the center, in the sense that voters never agreed with the elite conventional wisdom that benefits must be cut and a majority consistently say the rich don’t pay enough in taxes.

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