Charles Dharapak/ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner in January 2010 before the congressman ascended to his current post.
President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner in January 2010 before the congressman ascended to his current post. Charles Dharapak/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Speaker John Boehner is going where practicing Washington politicians normally fear to tread. He's making public his intention to tackle entitlement spending, namely Social Security and Medicare.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Boehner revealed some of his thinking. Some excerpts:
House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that he's determined to offer a budget this spring that curbs Social Security and Medicare, despite the political risks, and that Republicans will try to persuade voters that sacrifices are needed...
... Mr. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he told President Barack Obama that he would take the political plunge alongside him if the president announced his own willingness to tackle changes to those programs.
"I offered to the president we could lock arms and walk out and begin the conversation about the size of the problem," Mr. Boehner said, adding that Mr. Obama responded "positively."
Boehner's offer essentially inviting Obama to stand on the third rail of American politics with him, is certainly one you can see Obama refusing.
As the president eyes his own re-election, he's probably less concerned with where Boehner stands than on where the eventual Republican presidential nominee is on the issue.
Meanwhile, as Boehner said during the interview, many Americans don't know that entitlements are placing the greatest stress on the nation's finances, not "waste, fraud and abuse" or foreign aid.
The WSJ report cited a new poll it conducted with NBC News that showed that most Americans don't want Social Security touched. Indeed, 77 percent said it would be either mostly or totally unacceptable to cut Social Security.
And many of those who would draw a line in the sand on Social Security and Medicare would be members of Obama's party, including congressional Democrats. Boehner's offer of political cover would do nothing to help Obama with these voters.
Also, consider that a recent Gallup poll showed Obama running essentially even with a generic Republican candidate among voters who were 55 and older. The unnamed Republican was at 45 percent versus Obama at 43 percent. Obama would likely not be helped with this demographic by proposing significant cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
In light of all that, and given the political buzzsaw he ran into on the health care law, it would be understandable if the president ultimately told Boehner, "You go first on reducing entitlement spending. And good luck with that."