NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 13, 2013

Obama hugging a political third rail

Bill Plante
Newburyport Daily News

---- — I had finished with the morning’s news before Big Freddy showed up, shook his umbrella to a close, and shrugged out of his rain gear.

“Good morning,” I said, as he shoved the table in my direction and settled into his side of the booth.

“It is that,” Freddy said. “We’ve been parched for a parade to be rained on, and the tide has turned.”

“And you just shrunk figures of speech,” I said.

“Thank you for that,” Freddy said. “Shrinking’s the word for what our president of these dis-united states is trying to do with our Social Security checks and Medicare benefits.”

“I just read that,” I said.

“Desperation time,” Freddy said. “He’s hugging the third rail of politics. It’s bad enough he wants to tighten the screws on Medicare benefits. He wants to limit Social Security benefits.

“Last November, he was saying Social Security wasn’t the cause of the deficit. Now he wants to trim it more than somewhat by shrinking payouts, and it’s not just Republicans saying no way that’s going to happen.

“Markey, Lynch, and Warren want no part of what he’s proposing, and they’re not the only ones.”

“But Obama’s not proposing direct Social Security cuts,” I said.

“It amounts to the same thing. It’s a slight of hand,” Freddy said. “The federal government calculates the cost of living. It’s been going up, and so have Social Security benefits.”

“So?” I asked.

“So, the government gets to figure how to live on less than what’s been used in figuring the cost of living,” Freddy said.

“Taking away the cake,” I said.

“Well, maybe the frosting on the cake,” Freddy said. “The point is the government gets to figure payouts. But if he gets what he wants, it could be we get less than what we’ve been getting.”

“A cut’s a cut, and costs are climbing,” I said.

“Whatever it is would be a big headache for Democrats,” Freddy said.

“They own everything in Washington but the House, and they need only 17 seats to get that back.

“They own the Senate, but a flock of seats are going to be open, and it’s why Lynch and Markey, and Warren are rattling their swords over this.”

“But what’s Obama to do?” I asked. “We’re spending money by the trillions, faster than we can print it.”

“Get Republican backing for the cuts,” Freddy said.

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“I’m dead serious,” Freddy said. “He’d be saying, ‘OK, you budget-cutters over there in the House and Senate. You say you want to cut costs, here’s your chance.’”

“Which, if Lynch, Markey, and Warren represent what other Democrats would do, Obama would lose,” I said.

“Lose what?” Freddy asked. “He’s not running again, and history will show he tried to cut costs.”

“A part of his legacy ... what every president leaves behind,” I said.

“Well, what Bush left behind was the mess Obama inherited,” Freddy said. “He still has most of four years left to do what he can to accentuate the positive, but he needs the House and the Senate. It’s any-port-in-a-storm time to get it.”

“And Republicans need to keep the House, but they need to get the Senate back, and that could happen,” I said..

“There are 33 seats up for grabs there. They’ll need six more than they have. Obama won’t be on the ballot this time around, and his favorable numbers are down to 49 percent and slipping.

“That keeps up, there’ll be less coat-tail voting, and Democrats better hope Lynch, Markey, and Warren are wrong.”

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Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and a staff columnist.