Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Threat To Social Security Is Real

Having some time to discuss the current state of politics with friends and family over the holidays, one thing stood out above the rest. When our conversations would turn to Obama and his plans for the next two years, almost no one thought it was possible that Obama would actually be willing to cut social security.

Some reasons I was given for why he won't do it, and why I don't believe them:

It's Political Suicide!

Yes, that's true. Cutting social security would be a horrific political move and could very well end the Democratic coalition as we know it. But don't think that will stop him from doing it. Keep in mind that one of the worst aspects of Obama's presidency so far has been his desperate attempts to please the mindless "centrist" and conservative pundits. David Broder, David Brooks and all the other morons would fall over themselves trying to applaud him for realizing that he needed to make the "tough decisions" and cut an unbelievably popular program like social security. If you don't think these people are that insane, remember how Broder talked about how escalating the war in Iraq would make Bush popular again or how Obama should start a war with Iran to fix the economy? Yeah.

He's A Democrat and Wouldn't Cut Social Security!

Maybe, but if he does, he's got a funny way of showing it. When the Senate rejected the idea for the Catfood Commission, Obama not only created it himself, but then stacked it with people who believe in cutting social security. He uses right wing austerity rhetoric as often as most Republicans do, and unlike many Democrats who do the same he goes out of his way to include cutting "entitlements" as part of the needed medicine. It's rumored to be part of his State of the Union speech. Not that all these reports can't be wrong, and he could be just saying some of this stuff to "sound serious" (that would still be fucking stupid) but I don't think we should blindly assume that he won't attack social security just because he has a D next to his name.

Social Security is Solvent till 2037, and It Doesn't Even Impact The Deficit!

Both true, but facts rarely matter, especially when Obama has been leading the charge of the need to "preserve" or "fix" Social Security. We were able to stop Bush's efforts in 2005 because of a solid front of Democrats saying the "crisis" talk was 100% bullshit. Now we have a Democratic president leading that charge.

For All The Reasons You Just Mentioned, It Won't Actually Be Cut

Maybe, but the people in the know on this issue are worried. Like, really worried:
Maria Freese of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare said she thinks Social Security is "more at risk than it was in 2005,” when President George W. Bush proposed far-reaching changes to the program, including personal accounts. The plan was vigorously opposed by Democrats and liberal groups and never came up for a vote in Congress.

Now, with Social Security coming to the forefront once again, liberal groups are preparing a campaign to oppose any “backroom” deals on retirement benefits.

“What I am really afraid of is another deal behind closed doors,” said Nancy Altman, the co-director of Social Security Works. “At least with President Bush, he went around the country on a tour and presented his plan, and people didn’t like it.”

Both Altman and Freese said that it is unlikely there will be changes to Medicare and Medicaid this year, given the lingering polarization from last year's healthcare debate. They said Social Security is easier to tamper with and more likely to be targeted.

Freese and Altman’s groups already feel betrayed by Obama for backing a cut to the Social Security payroll tax that was approved during the lame-duck session. They worry that the cut will be extended indefinitely and erode Social Security's solvency.
As with many things that happen in DC, you need to suspend disbelief at how mindblowingly stupid this would be and come to terms with the possibility that it could very well happen.

Once we've done that, we can figure out how best to stop this madness.


  1. I agree: it would be a crazy move for all the reasons you've stated, but the austerity talk is unmistakable and social security is the next logical target.

    FYI, if you want to get a sense of just how tremendously fiscal irresponsible it would be to cut social security, check out this analysis of the additional amount that retirees would have to save to make up the difference.

    Basically the author argues that the average American's social security is roughly equivalent to an annuity that pays $14,000 annually and adds 3% per year to that payment. With current rates, that would cost something like $250,000. And of course, it wouldn't keep up with inflation as well as social security, and insurance agencies are less financially stable and predictable than the federal government.

    Any substantial social security cut would set every American's retirement plan back by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since most people in America are way behind in their retirement savings already, a loss like that could force millions potential retirees to stay in the workforce for decades longer than they otherwise would. In addition to the decrease in quality of life, that's a great recipe for a massive clusterfuck of fiscal problems.

  2. Thanks for an idea, you sparked at thought from a angle I hadn’t given thoguht to yet. Now lets see if I can do something with it.