Feeling pressure from the left, Obama backs off of Social Security cuts in budget

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Left untouched by both deals, however, are the larger, more complex issues central to a grand bargain, namely entitlement reform and broad tax reform.

Analysts said lawmakers with this fall’s midterm elections on their minds are unwilling to wade into the dangerous waters of entitlements and Republicans are especially vulnerable to Democrats’ use of “push Grandma over the cliff” ads.

Without congressional partners, it became apparent that Mr. Obama would be taking a fruitless gamble by putting Social Security on the table.

“What the Murray-Ryan budget deal in particular showed is the wheels of Congress can turn when we’re focused on the places we can find agreement. Unfortunately, because of [Republicans’] refusal to look at revenues we’re not going to get a grand bargain. It’s just not going to happen. The Murray-Ryan budget deal was an acknowledgment of that,” said Harry Stein, associate director for fiscal policy at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Some Democrats have called for expanding Social Security. At least three bills were introduced in the last Congress to increase cost-of-living adjustments or add benefits for those who retired without a lot of savings.

Without a major entitlement reform, some analysts said, Mr. Obama will use his budget to flesh out the path he mapped during his State of the Union address last month. That course focuses on small, targeted measures rather than large-scale challenges central to a grand bargain.

Mr. Obama is expected to call again for an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, an increase in the nationwide minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, and increases in federal spending on education, job training, infrastructure and other areas.

The White House has revealed that the budget will include a request for a $1 billion “climate resilience” fund to help prepare the nation for the effects of climate change.

Initiatives such as the climate resilience fund are more likely to dominate this year’s budget than big, controversial proposals such as a change to Social Security, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston who specializes in the presidency and presidential leadership and power.

“I think he has gotten a pretty clear message that this is not going to be the year to go big. I think he probably won’t. And I think that’s probably politically smart for him,” Mr. Rottinghaus said. “He’s not going to get the $100 billion plan or the $50 billion plan. He’s going to get the $1 billion plan. He’s going to take what he can get.”

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