Monday, August 16, 2010

But As For Cuts....

On Saturday, a Daily Kos blogger applauded President Obama for stoutly defending Social Security against privatization schemes of the Repub Party. She noted that he had said earlier at that morning at his weekly radio address (transcript here)

That agenda is wrong for seniors, it’s wrong for America, and I won’t let it happen. Not while I’m President. I’ll fight with everything I’ve got to stop those who would gamble your Social Security on Wall Street. Because you shouldn’t be worried that a sudden downturn in the stock market will put all you’ve worked so hard for – all you’ve earned – at risk. You should have the peace of mind of knowing that after meeting your responsibilities and paying into the system all your lives, you’ll get the benefits you deserve....

But some Republican leaders in Congress don’t seem to have learned any lessons from the past few years. They’re pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda if they win a majority in Congress this fall. It’s right up there on their to-do list with repealing some of the Medicare benefits and reforms that are adding at least a dozen years to the fiscal health of Medicare – the single longest extension in history.

The President concluded, the blogger argued, with "a promise progressives everywhere should mark and pressure him to keep":

Seventy-five years ago today, Franklin Roosevelt made a promise. He promised that from that day forward, we’d offer – quote – “some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against…poverty-stricken old age.” That’s a promise each generation of Americans has kept. And it’s a promise America will continue to keep so long as I have the honor of serving as President. Thanks for listening. Thanks for watching. And have a nice weekend.

That is a moving and eloquent defense of Social Security, which is coming under attack by conservatives and the mainstream media alike. Dave Johnson, blogging at his site Seeing The Forest, notes these misleading headlines following the recent release of the annual report of the Social Security and Medicare Trustees:

Heritage Foundation: Once Again, the Social Security Trust Fund Has No Money in It

Washington Times: Social Security in the red for first time ever

FOX News: Social Security 2010 Outlays to Exceed Receipts

CNN: Social Security: More going out than coming in

NPR: 2010 Social Security Outlook: Not Great

CNBC: Social Security 2010 outlays to exceed receipts

And following the president's speech on Saturday, the New York Times' Jackie Calmes claimed "for the first time, because of high unemployment, the program this year will pay out more in benefits than it collects in payroll revenues. Such annual deficits will become routine in several years as more baby boomers retire, the trustees said..."

Calmes' assessment, as well as the Fox News headline, present a distorted picture of a report which found "the combined trust funds will continue to grow because projected inters earnings of $118 billion will substantially exceed $41 billion." The CNN headline, "Social Security: More going out than coming in," is worse, given that the Trustees reported that social security payments are projected to exceed revenues in 2010 specifically because of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The Heritage Foundation headline would be stunning, except that it introduced a blog post by that right-wing think tank. But it is nevertheless grossly disingenuos, given that, as Johnson has noted, "The Trust Fund is all T-Bills. I would worry that the Chinese, Japanese and other major T-Bill holders are very, very nervous about talk like this. The Social Security T-Bills are the same T-Bills as theirs."

The trust fund is solid and secure but the support for maintaining the value of Social Security is unstable. In his radio address, the President maintained

Now, we’ve been talking for a long time about how to do that; about how to make sure Social Security is healthy enough to cover the higher costs that are kicking in now that baby boomers are retiring. And I’m committed to working with anyone, Democrat or Republican, who wants to strengthen Social Security. I’m also encouraged by the reports of serious bipartisan work being done on this and other issues in the fiscal commission that I set up several months ago.

One thing we can’t afford to do though is privatize Social Security – an ill-conceived idea that would add trillions of dollars to our budget deficit while tying your benefits to the whims of Wall Street traders and the ups and downs of the stock market.

One thing we can't afford to do. Obama appears determined not to do this "one thing"- privatize Social Security. But not only did he not preclude the possibility of cutting benefits, he almost promised it, specifiying one thing.

President Obama's suggested support for cutting benefits also by admitting that he is "encouraged" by the "work being done" by the fiscal commission he established. With commission meetings conducted in private- never a good sign- we have limited knowledge of its deliberations. But Jane Hamsher has determined the views, as far as possible, of the eighteen members pertaining toward cutting Social Security benefits. She observes that the opinions of two are unknown; of four, "likely;" of of ten, "yes;" and of only two, "no." It's not surprising, then, that The Washington Post would report yesterday

a coalition of 60 liberal groups and advocates for the elderly, including the AFL-CIO and, are predicting a different threat to Social Security: the possibility that a bipartisan deficit commission created by Obama will propose slashing benefits to help dig the nation out of debt.

Nor would it be surprising if President Obama, an admirer of former President Reagan's drive to transform the United States, ultimately gives tacit approval to an effort to undermine a successful, popular program which reminds the American people that government can work.

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