Economic Program | Memo

The Case for Taking Up Entitlement Reform

by Jim Kessler, David Kendall, Ryan McConaghy and Jonathan Cowan

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This new Third Way memo lays out the political case for why the Democratic party and the progressive movement should take the lead on entitlement reform. We also have recommendations for how to sell reform most effectively.

Here’s our case in a nutshell:

• 2012 will be about 2 issues – the economy and debt. While likely to be stronger, the economy may still be in a gray zone – a bipartisan agreement on the structural deficit would take the Republicans’ biggest issue off the table.
• Voters are extremely deficit sensitive and are likely to remain so. The party seen as most serious on the issue will win the day.
• We don’t believe Republicans “going too far” will be their Waterloo. They tried to privatize Social Security in 2005 and still fared better with seniors than every other age group in every election cycle since.
• Voters’ views on Medicare, Social Security, etc., are more nuanced than Washington often gives them credit for.
• With entitlements and interest on the debt set to consume 70% of the federal budget in 2030, it’s crucial that progressives fight to leave room in the budget for critical public investments on infrastructure, innovation, education and many other issues.

On messaging, we strongly suggest ditching the “pain and shared sacrifice” narrative, because it vastly overstates the incremental measures that need to occur. Rather, we recommend a security and growth frame.

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