White House economic advisor hinting that entitlement cuts will be on the table

It won't sit well with congressional Democrats, but the president's top economic advisor, Gene Sperling, told a business group that Democrats are likely going to have to accept entitlement cuts if they want any sort of increase in "investments."

Business Week:

Here's some of what Sperling had to say. He led off with the importance of entitlement cuts. (All emphasis is mine):

"Sometimes here [in Washington] we start to think that the end goal of our public policy is to hit a particular budget or spending or revenue metric--as if those are the goals in and of itself. But it's important to remember that each of these metrics ... are means to larger goals. ... Right now, I think there is among a lot of people a consensus as to what the ingredients of a pro-growth fiscal policy are. It would be a fiscal policy that--yes--did give more confidence in the long run that we have a path on entitlement spending and revenues that gives confidence in our long-term fiscal position and that we're not pushing off unbearable burdens to the next generation. That is very important."

That's a vague, guarded, jargon-y Washington way of saying, "We're going to have to accept entitlement cuts--get used to it." Then came the justification, which was the weakness of the economic recovery:

"You have to think about this as part of an overall pro-growth, pro-jobs strategy. Also, there's no question that right now we still need to give this recovery more momentum. We cannot possibly be satisfied with the levels of projected growth when we are still coming back from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Sperling repeatedly drew a distinction between a deal that "hits a particular metric" and one that is "pro-growth," leaving no doubt that the White House favors the latter. I took "hits a particular metric" to mean "secures X amount of dollars in new tax revenue." Sperling's clear implication was that that's not something the White House is concerned about.

Tax refiorm that includes closing some loopholes for the rich while lowering corproate rates in exchange for entitlement cuts? A revenue neutral tax reform package in exchange for some big savings - over time - in entitlements?

It's an attractive place to start negotiations - too bad both sides utterly reject the base premises involved. Democratic politicians who came out in favor of entitlement reform would get primaried as would GOP lawmakers who pushed that kind of tax reform.

We better face it; unless a couple of wave elections bring a decisive advantage to either party, there will be no "grand bargain" involving taxes and entitlements.