Saturday, March 05, 2005

Social Security

In this week's column, "Deficits and Deceits," New York Times columnist Paul Krugman talks about the bait-and-switch being carried out by President Bush and the Republican leaders of Congress. They're talking Social Security reform, but their real agenda seems to be strinking the government down to bathtub size by dismantling the New Deal and the Great Society. Bush and Congress have already worked their "reform" magic on Medicare - their prescription drug benefit plan has exacerbated the financial problems of that program while giving huge subsidies to HMOs, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies. Bush's tax cuts are another piece of the grand scheme. They were designed "to starve the beast" - to erase the surpluses of the Clinton years and justify spending cuts. In fact, in August, 2001, President Bush declared that the disappearing surplus was "incredibly positive news" because it would "put a straitjacket" on Congressional spending.

The good news is that the more the public hears about Bush's plans for Social Security "reform" and "private accounts" the less they like them. Bush has been touring the country for weeks trying to drum up support for his plan (with only a brief timeout for a jaunt to Europe) amid a media blitz of disinformation that puts the Harry and Louise health-care campaign to shame, and the natives are getting restless. According to the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, only 35% of Americans approve of Bush's handling of Social Security, down from 43% only three weeks ago. More Americans trust the Democratic Party to deal with Social Security (47%) than the Republican Party (37%). The latest New York Times poll finds only 31% have confidence in President Bush's ability to make the right decisions about Social Security. 51% think that private accounts are a bad idea. That number jumps to 69% when respondents were told that private accounts might lead to a reduction in benefits. Only 19% think that private accounts would make Social Security a better program. Only 15% could bring themselves to call the Social Security situation "a crisis," although 46% think it's in "serious trouble" and 32% think it's in "some trouble." Some solutions? 61% favor raising the amount of income subject to Social Security taxes, an idea proposed by Bush but shot down by Congressional leaders. 49% oppose raising the retirement age. 49% favor raising Social Security taxes, if necessary, to keep the program going.

Of course, Social Security is in "some," maybe even "serious" trouble. And it's disingenuous of some Democrats to act as if everything's copacetic. Mathematics and demographics are not on our side. The population is aging and living longer. The program relies on workers to pay the benefits of retirees, and as the baby-boom generation retires we will have fewer and fewer workers to pay into the system. And we're already racking up huge budget and trade deficits on top of a $7 trillion national debt. Pete Peterson's book, Running on Empty, makes clear the financial timebomb just up the road. Well, maybe not clear. He combines Social Security and Medicare together as if they were just one big program, lumping their problems together in the process. They are not. Social Security's problems are easy to fix, while Medicare's are not. Medicare is the real "crisis" in our social economic safety net.

But do we want this Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight working on Social Security reform. This is a party that's been against the program since it began, opposed every minute increase in benefits, and plotted (sometimes openly) for it to be abolished. What does it say when President Bush, the Republican Party, and right-wing organizations like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation have been pushing for privatization for decades yet can't offer up any specifics. Do they not have any or do they not want us to know what they are? And it's telling that the pro-privatization experts you're seeing on the news are being paid by some of these same right-wing groups. And what did Faux News's Neil Cavuto really mean when he said, "We're not getting the word out?" If the Bushies really want to fix the Social Security problem they should get the budget back into surplus. Or at least take the Social Security surplus out of the general funds? But then they wouldn't be able to hide the true size of the deficit as easily, would they? And, of course, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has jumped into the fray. A few years ago, Greenspan was gungo-ho about tax cuts, saying that it would be a bad idea to pay down the national debt too quickly. Now, he's talking about benefit cuts and a consumption tax -- the worst kind of tax there is.

If you want to know why Bush's privatization plans are a bad idea, or if you want to learn more so you can argue better with your conservative friends, several sites have talking points including Think Progress, the American Progress Action Fund, the Campaign for America's Future, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the AFL-CIO, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Concord Coalition. Several of the sites listed have suggestions for actions you can take to protect Social Security, including petitions and statements for your elected representatives. MoveOn is soliciting money to run their "Working Retirement" ad in key Congressional districts. MoveOn Pac is conducting a Flash contest called "Bush in 30 Years," inviting people to send in Macromedia Flash animations, games, etc. The winner gets an Apple Powerbook G4 and their winning Flash will run on major news websites.


At 12:29 AM, Blogger cvc said...

This is a great post, with some great links (some of which are familiar and some which are new!). I just came across an LA Times headline that read, "Social Security Overhaul Splinters GOP" and the article opens with the statement that the Social Security plan is "falling flat..." Bush has turned a blind eye to public opinion and proceeded with unpopular plans before (Iraq!), but one can only hope (hope hope) that, in this case, this SS deal really WILL fall flat and the proposal will die a horrible death in Washington...

At 5:12 AM, Blogger fdtate said...

Thanks for your kind words about my post. My fondest hope is that Bush keeps flogging this dead horse and that it get soundly defeated. That will hasten the moment when he gets that "lame duck" label attached to his presidency.


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