What Vice President Joe Biden said today was, to use his now-famous phrase, "a big effin' deal." No, we're not talking about his "chains" comment which, as usual, has fascinated a press corps obsessed with taking statements out of context and playing "gotcha" games. We're referring to the comments he made about Social Security in a Virginia coffee shop.
From a press corps pool report, as relayed by NBC News:
"Hey, by the way, let's talk about Social Security," Biden said after a diner at The Coffee Break Cafe in Stuart, VA expressed his relief that the Obama campaign wasn't talking about changing the popular entitlement program. "Number one, I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security," Biden said, per a pool report."
As if that weren't enough, Biden said it one more time:
"I flat guarantee you."
What does it mean when those words come from the Vice President of an Administration that's been talking for years about a deal to cut Social Security? A lot.
Could the Vice President have been "off the reservation," as the saying goes, speaking unscripted words that don't have the White House's full backing? Possibly, but it seems unlikely. These words sound like they were pretty well thought out: "Hey, by the way, let's talk about Social Security."
And the Vice President said "I guarantee you" -- not once, not twice, but three times.
It's true that the President has spoken about making cuts to Social Security as part of a larger deal, even saying things like this (unwisely, in our opinion): "Okay, we'll make some modest adjustments that are phased in over a very long period of time. Most folks don't notice 'em."
We criticized him for those words then, and if he repeats them we'll criticize him again. But this is a sign that the White House's thinking may have shifted now that Paul Ryan's in the race. Not only has the Republican Party shown that its most intransigent wing is now in the ascendancy, making a post-election deal unlikely, but the Ryan nomination makes it easier to draw a clear distinction between the parties on Social Security and Medicare.
Ryan may be laying low on Social Security right now, but he's on record as supporting the unpopular plan to privatize it. Legislation he co-sponsored in 2005 would have allowed workers to divert up to 40 percent of their contributions into private accounts -- accounts that would have enriched Wall Street bankers and then would have been devastated by the financial crisis those bankers created in 2008.
Ryan's Social Security plan would have drained nearly five trillion dollars from the Social Security Trust Fund which Americans rely upon for future benefits, according to Social Security's Chief Actuary. It would have cut guaranteed benefits by nearly 40 percent when it was fully implemented. Ryan's bill would have funneled billions to Wall Street bankers -- and this supposedly "fiscally serious" politician's plan would have forcedthe government to borrow $1.2 trillion which it wouldn't have been able to repay until 2083.
That makes this the perfect time for the Administration to describe a stark difference between its ticket and the GOP's: They'll cut your Social Security and we won't. They'll privatize it to make bankers rich off the public dime -- think of it as another bailout -- and we won't. They'll drive the nation deeper into hock to benefit their rich friends, and we won't.
And the White House can even add, as Vice President Biden did: We flat out guarantee it.
Why have the Vice President say it first? Remember, Vice President Biden also spoke out in support of gay marriage shortly before the President did. Part of the Number Two guy's job is to take some arrows for the boss. That gives the President's team the chance to see what works and doesn't work in the messaging before he speaks up.