Social Security

SOCIAL SECURITY…. The president told Congress last night, “To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security.” This, apparently, was not what Republicans wanted to hear.

The GOP liked a lot of what it heard in President Obama’s address Tuesday night about deficit reduction and personal responsibility.

But Republicans didn’t like what they didn’t hear: talk about Social Security reform. Obama zipped past the issue with a one-line reference…. The way to kill an issue in Washington is to suggest we begin to talk about it. Republicans took notice.

After hoping that Obama might be open to some sort of bipartisan reform that would reduce benefits and raise the eligibility age — and perhaps plant the seeds for private accounts — Republicans are now less hopeful that he’ll come their way.

“I was not happy,” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told the Huffington Post. “That was the one area of his speech I was not happy with. He appears to be backing away from what I thought was an earlier commitment to tackling Social Security reform.”

It wasn’t just McConnell. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Obama talked too much about healthcare and not enough about weakening Social Security. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said something similar. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said Republicans will work with the White House if the president is ready to embrace their ideas about Social Security.

Frankly, if these guys are “not happy,” the rest of us should be rather pleased.

I’m not entirely sure what GOP lawmakers were expecting on this issue. Last month, pressed on entitlements, the president told Washington Post editors, “‘Social Security, we can solve,’ he said, waving his left hand. ‘The big problem is Medicare, which is unsustainable….'” Obama made similar remarks throughout the campaign.

Given the kvetching, congressional Republicans make it sound as if they expected Obama to endorse an “ownership-society agenda” and embrace benefit cuts that aren’t needed anyway. If that’s what they’re waiting for, they’re going to be waiting a very long time.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.