I missed the part about there being some democrat president who actually wanted to cut retirement programs, but that (flattering-to-his-own-side) detail aside, I think Mr. Yglesias is basically right. A kind of all-time first.
The welfare state has entropy, Original Sin, and Man’s Fallen Nature on its side. Opposing it, reducing it, reforming it is hard. Being a liberal is like ordering a second Martini or agreeing to have dessert, easy. That’s actually why there are so many liberal politicians. The guys determined to be elected, at any cost, figured out long ago which side has the easier task.
What we learned, in other words, is that even with a Democratic President in the White House who’s eager to cut spending on retirement programs they still don’t get cut. That’s how robust the welfare state is. Recall that the last time we had a Republican President in the White House what he did was make Medicare benefits significantly more generous. Recall also that Mitt Romney ran on a pledge to increase Medicare benefits for ten years and then offset that by cutting benefits for younger people in the future. That’s how robust the welfare state is. Concern trolling about Democratic senators’ willingness to blink on taxes is neat, but all we’re seeing again and again is confirmation of Paul Pierson’s thesis from Dismantling the Welfare State?, namely that dismantling the welfare state is incredibly difficult.
If you want to worry about something, worry about the United States of America. What we’ve seen time and again for the past five years is a breakdown of responsible party government in the United States. Nobody gets their way legislatively, so nobody has to take the fall when things work out poorly.