The Party of Status Quo

The Washington Post editorial board argues that Joe Biden’s comments on Social Security the other day were far more disturbing than his “chains” gaffe:

On the same trip to southern Virginia, Mr. Biden wandered into the Coffee Break Cafe in Stuart. According to the White House pool report, when a diner there said, “I’m glad you all are not talking about doing anything with Social Security,” Mr. Biden responded: “Hey, by the way, let’s talk about Social Security. Number one, I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you.”

The Post pressed the White House on whether Biden’s comments reflected official policy, and were given the brush-off:

In response to our inquiry, White House officials said that Mr. Biden’s “flat guarantee” was not meant to convey a change in administration position, which they said is best understood from Mr. Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address, which called for “a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.”

That speech was hardly a profile in courage: Mr. Obama opposed “slashing” benefits for future retirees. But that presumably (if tacitly) left room for trimming benefits. The president went further in failed negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner last summer, putting on the table changes in the way Social Security cost-of-living adjustments are calculated.

Why won’t the White House get into specifics? For the same reason Senate Democrats have declined to take up a budget plan, and President Obama has declined to offer a proposal to keep Medicare solvent and reduce the deficit. Because of the political risk involved. It’s much easier to attack the Republican plans than to offer new solutions. The Obama campaign prefers to propagate the myth that Republicans are callously trying to target the poor and the elderly with their plans, rather than acknowledge that reform is hard — and that any solution will require tradeoffs.

The Obama campaign also wants to have it both ways; attacking Romney and Ryan for their “radical” proposals, while simultaneously mocking the idea that Ryan’s reforms are bold or courageous.

Of course the Ryan plan took courage. If it didn’t, Obama would have proposed his own detailed response a long time ago. Instead, during the White House press briefing today, Jay Carney refused to specify when, if ever, the president would give more details on his plan to keep Medicare afloat.

When the media wonders why Romney’s VP choice hasn’t resulted in an elevated debate, the answer is clear. The country can’t begin the serious conversation that Obama claims he wants until he puts more details on the table.