Democrats Turn to Social Security for Political Momentum

Battered over Obamacare, the party wants to refocus the argument over entitlements.

Social Security supporters attend a rally in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 28, 2011 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Alex Roarty
March 6, 2014, midnight

In­creas­ingly anxious about the pro­spect of a dif­fi­cult elec­tion year, Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates are already start­ing to take refuge in one of the party’s most tried-and-true is­sues: So­cial Se­cur­ity.

It’s hap­pen­ing in Arkan­sas, where Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Pry­or has de­ployed a blitz of TV ads to ac­cuse his op­pon­ent, GOP Rep. Tom Cot­ton, of plot­ting to cut, privat­ize, and un­der­mine the pop­u­lar en­ti­tle­ment pro­gram. House Ma­jor­ity PAC, a su­per PAC that helps Demo­crat­ic House can­did­ates, has sim­il­arly taken to the air­waves to ar­gue that Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates want to ef­fect­ively get rid of it.

And in Flor­ida, where the parties face off in a spe­cial House elec­tion next week, So­cial Se­cur­ity has been the Demo­crats’ go-to at­tack against Re­pub­lic­an Dav­id Jolly. “I don’t think it’s right for Dav­id Jolly to risk So­cial Se­cur­ity money in the stock mar­ket,” said one neg­at­ive ad, fea­tur­ing an eld­erly couple talk­ing in­to the cam­era.

The at­tacks are the first glimpses of an is­sue the party will push to the fore­front of the 2014 elec­tions, ac­cord­ing to Demo­crat­ic strategists. With can­did­ates battered by Obama­care’s deep­en­ing un­pop­ular­ity, So­cial Se­cur­ity rep­res­ents one of their surest bets of put­ting Re­pub­lic­ans on the de­fens­ive in a year when the GOP oth­er­wise plans to play a lot of of­fense.

“So­cial Se­cur­ity re­mains a po­tent an is­sue for Demo­crats,” said Jef Pol­lock, a Demo­crat­ic strategist. “In mul­tiple na­tion­al polls, data shows that voters be­lieve that the Demo­crats are bet­ter able to pro­tect So­cial Se­cur­ity go­ing for­ward, and have also seen ample evid­ence about the reck­less ap­proach that most GOP­ers have taken to privat­iz­ing the sys­tem — something that is a real neg­at­ive for any GOP can­did­ate.”

The ques­tion is wheth­er this amounts to smart strategy or a des­per­ate play from a party with nowhere else to turn. The last great Demo­crat­ic hope for polit­ic­al suc­cess — the GOP’s sup­port for Rep. Paul Ry­an’s plan to voucher­ize Medi­care for fu­ture be­ne­fi­ciar­ies — failed to de­liv­er the sweep­ing con­gres­sion­al vic­tor­ies Demo­crats had prom­ised. And the is­sue hardly ad­dresses the elec­tion’s cur­rent top­ic du jour, the troubled im­ple­ment­a­tion of Obama­care.

“The na­tion­al en­vir­on­ment for Demo­crats is ter­rible, so they’re look­ing for any spe­cif­ic things they can, grasp­ing at straws,” said Keith Emis, a poll­ster for Cot­ton. “The elec­tion is about Obam­care, and they want it to be about something else.”

As a polit­ic­al is­sue, So­cial Se­cur­ity has laid re­l­at­ively dormant in re­cent years, sup­planted by a fierce de­bate over health care, Medi­care, and Obama­care. Pres­id­ent Obama largely sidestepped it dur­ing his last pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, in­stead strik­ing a con­cili­at­ory note that the two parties should be able to ne­go­ti­ate over the pro­gram’s fu­ture.

It flared briefly last year, when dis­cus­sions began over im­ple­ment­ing the “chained CPI,” a pro­pos­al that would have ef­fect­ively cut pay­outs to be­ne­fi­ciar­ies. The plan from Obama angered pro­gress­ive Demo­crats who con­sidered the policy and polit­ics wrong­headed, and even the chair­man of the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee, Greg Walden, warned his fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans about the pro­pos­al’s polit­ic­al con­sequences.

But it makes sense that some Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates would, along with con­tin­ued at­tacks on Medi­care, dust off the line of cri­ti­cism now. It’s dic­tated in part by the real es­tate of the 2014 elec­tion: Most of this year’s com­pet­it­ive House and Sen­ate races — such as those in Arkan­sas or Louisi­ana — are in con­ser­vat­ive, older, and whiter states. In places like those, So­cial Se­cur­ity is one of the few is­sues where the Demo­crat­ic agenda re­mains well-liked among voters. Polls show that seni­ors, even those who are Re­pub­lic­an, have a deep aver­sion to cut­ting the pro­gram even if it would help the coun­try’s de­fi­cit.

“You’ll see Medi­care and So­cial Se­cur­ity right at the fore­front of the con­trast we’re draw­ing between ourselves and our op­pon­ent,” said Erik Dorey, spokes­man for Pry­or’s cam­paign.

The sen­at­or’s cam­paign says its at­tacks against Cot­ton have res­on­ance be­cause the fresh­man House mem­ber voted for a budget last year that sup­por­ted rais­ing the re­tire­ment pro­grams’ eli­gib­il­ity age. Oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans, however, point out that it’s hardly a front-burn­er is­sue in Wash­ing­ton or else­where. While Obama­care is driv­en in­to the pub­lic con­scious­ness by count­less news stor­ies about its foibles, delays, and broken prom­ises, noth­ing makes So­cial Se­cur­ity sim­il­arly rel­ev­ant in 2014.

“I think there’s noth­ing to push back against; it’s not an is­sue,” said Peter Fea­man, a Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee mem­ber from Flor­ida, who’s watch­ing his state’s spe­cial-elec­tion race closely. “It’s made up out of whole cloth. Point to some bill some­where that’s talk­ing about re­du­cing be­ne­fits for So­cial Se­cur­ity re­cip­i­ents — it’s not there, at all.”

What We're Following See More »
ANOTHER NUCLEAR OPTION?
Byrd Rule Could Trip Up Health Legislation
12 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Even if House Republicans manage to get enough members of their party on board with the latest version of their health care bill, they will face another battle in the Senate: whether the bill complies with the chamber’s arcane ... Byrd rule, which stipulates all provisions in a reconciliation bill must affect federal spending and revenues in a way that is not merely incidental." Democrats should have the advantage in that fight, "unless the Senate pulls another 'nuclear option.'”

Source:
ONE WEEK
Senate Votes To Fund Government
1 days ago
BREAKING
ON TO SENATE
House Passes Spending Bill
1 days ago
BREAKING

The House has passed a one-week spending bill that will avert a government shutdown which was set to begin at midnight. Lawmakers now have an extra week to come to a longer agreement which is expected to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass before President Trump signs it.

PRESIDENT CALLS MEDICAID FUNDS A “BAILOUT”
Puerto Rico Another Sticking Point in Budget Talks
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."

Source:
POTENTIAL GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN?
Democrats Threaten Spending Bill Over Obamacare
2 days ago
BREAKING

Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login