Advancing a Free Society

State of the Union Preview–Blahous

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

posted at E21

The State of the Union address will give us our first clear indications of whether there is a reasonable chance at bipartisan cooperation in repairing the federal government's unsustainable fiscal outlook, which is driven largely by projected cost growth in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Last year at this time the Obama Administration left it to a fiscal commission to chart the first steps. That commission was unable to agree upon recommendations to adequately scale back our unsustainable health care benefit commitments, but a majority did back a compromise template for Social Security reform. By so doing, they presented both the President and the Congress with an historic opportunity. Nothing significant can be expected from Congress on Social Security without the President's enthusiastic leadership.

President Obama has a chance to be remembered as the president who shored up the nation's largest and most popular domestic program, but to do so he will need either to signal strong support for the commission's product or something reasonably close in its fiscal effects. If he appears to distance himself or to move significantly left of his own bipartisan commission, chances of responsible bipartisan action will dwindle.