It’s hard to imagine how, after sitting through hours of discussion about health care reform at yesterday’s White House summit, Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell chose Social Security as his very first comment on the event. For a split second, we thought maybe he forgot which summit he was actually attending (last week’s was Fiscal Responsibility, remember?). Here’s Ezra Klein’s post on the event and the full exchange between Senator McConnell and President Obama:
THE PRESIDENT: Let me -- I want to make sure that we are getting a good cross-section of views on this issue, so why don't I call on our Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell, if you've got any thoughts or comments on the issue.
SENATOR McCONNELL: First of all, Mr. President, thank you very much for having this session today. I think it's useful and it is significant, as Ted indicated, to have everybody in the room.
I'm also among those, as you and I have discussed before, interested in seeing us address entitlement reform -- and admittedly, Medicare and Medicaid would be a part of that -- but also Social Security. And particularly concerned about having a mechanism in place that guarantees you get a result. And I wonder where you see yourself and the administration now, for example, in supporting something like the Conrad-Gregg proposal, which would set in place a mechanism that could actually guarantee that we get a result -- if not on Medicare and Medicaid, at least on Social Security.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate the question, Mitch. As you know, we had a fiscal responsibility summit similar to the gathering that we've had here -- although I have to say the attendance here is even greater -- and what I said in that forum was that I was absolutely committed to making sure that we got entitlement reform done.
The mechanism by which we do it I think is going to have to be determined by you, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner and the members of Congress. We've got to make certain that the various committees are comfortable with how we move forward.
But the important point that I want to emphasize today is that on Medicare and Medicaid, in particular -- which everybody here understands is the 800-pound gorilla -- I don't see us being able to get an effective reform package around those entitlements without fixing the underlying problem of health care inflation. If we've got 6, 7, 8 percent health care inflation we could fix Medicare and Medicaid temporarily for a couple of years, but we would be back in the same fix 10 years from now. And so our most urgent task is to drive down costs both on the private side and on the public side, because Medicare and Medicaid costs have actually gone up fairly comparably to what's been happening in the private sector what businesses and families and others have been doing. That's why I think it's so important for us to focus on costs as part of this overall reform package.
With respect to Social Security, I actually think it's easier than Medicare and Medicaid, and as a consequence, I'm going to be interested in working with you. And I know that others like Senator Durbin, Lindsay Graham have already begun discussions about what the best mechanisms would be. I remain committed to that task.
But if we don't tackle health care, then we're going to break the bank. I think that's true at the federal level, I think it's true at the state level. It's certainly true for businesses and it's certainly true for families, okay.
Clearly, anti-entitlement members of Congress are still hopeful they can make a deal with the Obama administration that trades cuts in Social Security for healthcare reform. David Brooks also talks about this in today’s New York Times.
In fact, some in Congress see the Conrad/Gregg entitlement commission as the perfect vehicle to fast-track Social Security and Medicare cuts through Congress with limited debate and no amendments. It’s starting to look like the makings of a basic quid-pro-quo that trades Social Security cuts for healthcare reform. That’s just the same old kind of “let’s make a deal politics” the Obama administration must reject.
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