Friday, April 15, 2016

Benefits Which Should Not Be Negotiable

"The irony," William Conrad dramatically and weekly asserted some 45 years ago: "Richard Kimble is innocent."  However, the irony of the summary of last night's Democratic debate (transcript here and here) by David A. Graham is that he applauded Bernie Sanders' performance while neglecting to mention the most significant point the Senator made. Graham believes

Sanders’s problem is that though he delivered a sparkling performance and out-debated Clinton at nearly every turn, it’s not enough. He trails Clinton in popular votes and pledged delegates, to say nothing of superdelegates. The tied national polls he cites are meaningless, since there’s no national primary. Sanders needs a knock-out—though even that probably wouldn’t give him the nomination—and tonight, he won the bout on points.

If Sanders "delivered a sparkling performance"- a highly debatable notion- it was never so important as when he directly confronted the former Secretary of State on Social Security funding.

Wolf Blitzer asked Secretary Clinton "Are you prepared to lift the cap on taxable income, which currently stands at $118,500? Yes or no, would you lift the cap?" (shades of Adlai Stevenson at the United Nations).

During her decades in government or politics, Hillary Clinton has learned a lot, enough to know not to respond to that question but instead to what came immediately before: "Senator Sanders has challenged you to give a clear answer when it comes to extending the life of Social Security and expanding benefits."

That one was easy.  Clinton asserted "it's time that we provide more benefits for widows, divorcees, for caregivers, for women who deserve more from" Social Security.   (No one ever has opposed the "widows and orphans" fund of yore.)   "Extending the life of Social Security" was even easier, simple even for Republicans, who speak of a desire to "preserve and protect Social Security," a threat which should prompt the elderly, the near-elderly, and individuals who want to be elderly to hold on to their wallets.

Clinton recognizes a softball when she get one and stated "we are going to protect Social Security." Moreover, four times- four times!- she assured the audience she would extend the Social Security system: "in addition to extending the Trust Fund, which I am absolutely determined to do"; " "we're having a discussion about" how "to extend the Social Security Trust Fund"; "we are going to extend the Social Security Trust Fund"; and "we are going to extend the Social Security Trust Fund" (the latter a nod to the value of repetition).

If not paying close attention- as with myself at first- one might not realize "extending" the Social Security Trust Fund is at best meaningless, at worst what any conservative pol would applaud. Without a Social Security Trust Fund, there can be no benefits. How to make sure it endures is at issue: cutting benefits or removing the cap on taxation.

The Vermont senator knows.  After all this (virtually all; before the last "we are going to extend" blah, blah, blah), Sanders honed in with "Maybe I'm a little bit confused. Are you or are you not supporting legislation to lift he cap on taxable income and expand Social Security for 58 years and increase benefits."

After Clinton began "I am," Sanders (a little like Stevenson, himself) interjected "yes or no?"  In an answer which should reverberate throughout the remaining Democratic primaries (though probably won't), Clinton replied "I have said yes, we are going to pick the best way or combination..."

The audience responded with a smattering of knowing boos, after which Clinton continued "or combination of ways" and after more boos started to change the subject.

It's a pity the exchange did not continue, given that it revealed a fundamental difference of opinon. Heretofore, Secretary Clinton had relatively successfully- if disingenuously- navigated the waters separating her centrist perspective with the increasing realization that the economic needs of people go beyond their racial, gender, or sexual preference status. Yet here she was, unmasked as yet another pol who will not commit herself, and is not committed, to maintaining earned benefits as they must be for the elderly.

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