The election is over, and the gears of government are slowly creaking back into motion, beginning with lawmakers staking out positions on the fiscal negotiations that will dominate the next few months, and perhaps longer.
So today, as Washington girds for a debate on the size and scope of government and how to pay for it, Philly U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the city’s Democratic chairman, planted his flag on the left, declaring that he would not accept any cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. Tuesday’s election results, he said, show that the public is with him.
“I don’t know what other message we could send them other than what we sent them on Tuesday … do not mess with our Social Security, do not mess with Medicare, do not mess with Medicaid,” Brady said, standing with about 50 union members outside Social Security Administration offices on Spring Garden Street.
For people who depend on Social Security, “their bills aren’t fixed, the grocery store’s not fixed, they all go up and up and up.” Around him, union members cheered.
The wealthy might support Medicaid cuts, because “they’re never going to use it because they got all the money, but we sent a message to all the money, didn’t we?” Brady said, wearing a blue House of Representatives wind breaker and gray Nike work out pants.
(As an aside, I’m new to the beat but felt like Brady summed himself up in a Philadelphia-style nutshell today when he told his union friends, “I don’t forget where I come from – you want to know why? Because I like where I come from. I don’t like them suits and ties and looking pretty.”)
Brady’s stand illustrates just how hard it might be for leaders in Washington to work out a deal that addresses the nation’s deficit and can get through the Democratically-controlled Senate and Republican-led House.
Democrats don’t want a reduction in benefits but want to raise taxes on upper incomes. President Obama campaigned on that idea, and voters gave him another four years, they point out.
Republicans want to lower tax rates and cut programs like Social Security and Medicare. They point out that voters left them in control of the House.
House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday opened the door to increases in tax revenue through closing loopholes, a small initial step on the long road to compromise. But there are many staunch conservatives who are sure to oppose any increase in tax revenues. Brady could be seen as the opposite – a stalwart Democrat who will adhere to the party’s long-standing tradition of guarding Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
The most fertile grounds for compromise seems to be a deal that includes some increase in tax revenue (where Republicans would have to give ground) and some reductions in Democrats’ cherished program (where they would give ground). But making that work depends on being able to corral the far ends of each party so that there are enough votes to make it happen.
Brady has typically been a loyal soldier, so if Democratic leaders do cut a deal, maybe he softens his stance and goes along with his party’s direction. But Thursday, before negotiations have gotten too deep, he was drawing a bright line.
Pressed on if he’d accept safety net cuts in exchange for upper income tax increases, he said no.
“I’ve got to see what the reductions are. I won’t be for reductions in Medicare, I won’t be for reductions in Medicaid, I won’t be for reductions on Social Security and I don’t know anybody that will be,” he said.
Instead, he said, make executives pay “a little more than their secretaries,” Brady said, and if that doesn’t do it, tax the fuel they use for their private jets.