The president is facing outrage from his fair weather supporters on the left for suggesting that he is open to changing benefit formulas for Social Security as part of a budget deal with Congressional Republicans. The concept of "chained CPI," and other changes to entitlement formulas, is something Republicans have been demanding as part of the budget negotiations for months. Republicans promised that if the president was willing to make some concessions on entitlements, they would show interest in additional revenue increases. So it should be clear from the history of these budget negotiations that chained CPI was not the president's idea. It's probably not his preferred method of fixing Social Security. This administration, which pushed through a Social Security payroll tax holiday for the last couple of years, evidently doesn't even consider it very urgent to shore up Social Security at all right now. But they are willing to consider such a proposal from the other side in the interest of getting a budget deal. Those expressing outrage on the left are somehow failing to grasp this elementary principle of negotiation strategy.
So now we have the left and right both ganging up on the president for trying to make a budget deal. The left plays into Speaker Boehner's hands by perceiving chained CPI as President Obama's idea. And the right seems ready to play the same trick they played with Medicare in both the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns, trying to blame the Democrats for taking people's benefits away, when that was their demand in the first place.
What will protect the president, and perhaps allow a deal to be made, is the American people. The president's popularity remains strong, especially compared to the standing of Congress. People generally favor the balanced package of spending cuts and revenue increases the administration is suggesting. A bit of public pressure to stop fooling around might help get a deal done. Once the irrational actors on all sides are done scoring political points and blaming one another for failing to make a deal, one hopes that enough rational actors will be left in the room to identify the common interests that will permit us to move forward.