President Barack Obama's presidential legacy hinges on whether he can significantly reform entitlement spending, says one top former Republican official.
Former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who has paired with former Clinton administration Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles in a bipartisan push for deficit reduction, said Tuesday Obama will have a "failed presidency" if he doesn't take on his own party when it comes to Social Security and Medicare reform.
"[Obama] knows what to do and if he doesn't get a handle on entitlements and the solvency of Social Security, he will have a failed presidency," Simpson said at a Politico-sponsored event. "And if he wants to have a legacy of the new FDR or the second whatever that is that drives him that's fine with me, but he will have a failed presidency unless he deals honestly with these programs without cutting the poor and the wretched and all the rest. I don't think he wants that at all. He's too smart."
Obama and Republicans have been negotiating since 2011 on how to cut spending and lower the country's $16 trillion debt. Obama has floated Social Security reforms—including lowering the annual rate of benefit growth—that the most liberal in his party oppose, but Republicans have said he isn't willing to go far enough to achieve meaningful reform.
Federal entitlement spending, including programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, made up 44 percent of the federal budget in 2012, according to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Simpson said he's optimistic that with the 2012 election behind him, Obama will be willing to deal.
"The political guys have hopefully all gone home now and they were there for a purpose and it worked: get him re-elected," he said. "So now maybe, maybe, just maybe they'll sit down and do policy for the best interest for the country without the howling, shrieking, keening wail of the coyotes using emotion, fear, guilt, and racism to beat your brains in."