Zombie ‘Reformers’

(Editor's Note: This was updated Dec. 4 with the Simpson-Bowles plan not meeting its deadline.)

Barack Obama really should be more careful about who he lets into the White House. But he set up the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform last January to identify “…policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run.” He named Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, as co-chairs.

Unfortunately, what Simpson and Bowles really wanted to do is cut Social Security benefits and extend the retirement age in order to finance more tax breaks for the wealthy. The fiscal commission has become popularly known as the Catfood Commission because its organizers appear determined to privatize Social Security and reduce retirement benefits for the elderly. Those cuts would force seniors to make tough budgetary choices — such as eating cat food and turning down the thermostat into teeth-chattering range — choices that the deficit commissioners, with their generous pensions from public and private treasuries, will never have to make.

The Simpson-Bowles plan also calls for job-killing austerity measures to begin in October 2011, even though most economic forecasters expect unemployment to remain high through next year. And some members of the 18-member commission see an opportunity to privatize Medicare.

Obama made a mistake in setting up the “bipartisan” commission. He should have repudiated Simpson and Bowles, particularly after they floated their proposal on Nov. 10 while he was on a trip to South Korea.

Simpson and Bowles were unable to line up support from 14 of the commissionŐs members by Dec. 1 in order to send their report to Congress. They might send the report to Congress anyway. But even if the conservatives donŐt produce a final report for a promised vote in the lame duck session, you can expect elements of the deficit reduction plan to turn up in next yearŐs House budget.

Strengthen Social Security (strengthensocialsecurity.org) is a coalition of progressive organizations, including the AFL-CIO, Democracy for America, Move-On.org, the NAACP and USAction, that is organizing a populist defense of the retirement program that stands on seven common-sense principles:

1) Social Security did not cause the federal deficit; its benefits should not be cut to reduce the deficit. (Social Security has a surplus of $2.6 trillion, which it has loaned to the federal government, and now the conservatives don’t want to pay it back. Social Security did not cause the federal deficit. Its benefits should not be cut to reduce the deficit.)

2) Social Security should not be privatized in whole or in part.

3) Social Security should not be means-tested. (Because workers pay for it, they should receive it regardless of their income or savings.)

4) Congress should act in the coming few years to close Social Security’s funding gap by requiring those who are most able to afford it to pay more. (Currently, high-wage earners only pay taxes only on the first $106,800 of their salaries. Doing away with that cap on taxable earnings would take care of long-term shortfalls. An election-day poll by SurveyUSA conducted for Democracy in America found that midterm voters support changing the Social Security tax caps over cutting benefits by 55% to 4%. Republicans, by a 2-to-1 margin, supported changing the tax cap over raising the retirement age.)

5) Social Security’s retirement age, already scheduled to increase from 65 to 67, should not be raised any further. (Raising the retirement age places the greatest hardship on older Americans who are in physically demanding jobs, or are otherwise unable to find or keep employment.)

6) Social Security, whose average benefit is $13,000 in 2010, provides vital protection against the loss of wages as the result of disability, death, or old age. Those benefits should not be reduced, including by changes to the cost of living adjustment or the benefit formula.

7) Social Security’s benefits should be increased for those who are most disadvantaged.

A conservative Democratic group, “Third Way,” has set up shop to assist in the Social Security bamboozle. It proposes to go even further than the Catfood Commission, with a proposal to increase the retirement age to 70, limit cost-of-living increases for retirees and provide subsidies to help young workers create private retirement accounts. Third Way “Honorary Co Chairs” include Sens. Thomas Carper (Del.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Claire McKaskill (Mo.) and Mark Udall (Colo.) as well as outgoing Sens. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.).

The “reformers” ignore the fact that Social Security is fully solvent until the year 2037, using conservative projections. After that, it is expected to be able to pay out at least 75% of benefits until 2084. Any “reporter” who writes about the Social Security “crisis” but omits those facts commits journalistic malpractice.

There is no crisis in the Social Security, but Wall Street operators won’t give up on their goal of carving out a piece of the action and there are plenty of accomplices in Congress.

The bamboozlers are trying to convince convince young voters that Social Security won’t be there for them, so their best hope is to cast their grandparents adrift and divert Social Security investments into the stock market. It helps to ignore what happened in the 2008 crash.

Unfortunately, journalists who should know better report the Social Security “crisis” propaganda uncritically and members of Congress and other officials who should know better repeat those lies. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association, even called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.”

Facing a $25 billion budget shortfall that amounts to one-fourth of the state budget, Perry has proposed, among other things, to eliminate Medicaid coverage for low-income and disabled Texans, many of whom paid taxes their whole lives until misfortune knocked them down. Now the skinflints in the state Capitol say they can’t help, and they don’t want the federal government to help, either. Talk about Ponzi schemes!

Chris Bowers, a progressive activist writing at DailyKos.com (11/30), notes that the Catfood CommissionŐs authority ends this year. But that doesnŐt mean that threat is dead. Call the US Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for one of your senatorsŐ offices.

When you call, introduce yourself by name and the city where you live. Say you are calling to voice your opinion on Social Security and read a short, succinct, pre-written statement that you wrote about Social Security. For example: “Social Security is funded 100% through 2037. Any problems it has after 2037 can be fixed by ending the high-income cap. That’s a popular solution, too.”

While you have them on the line, pass the word to the senator to show a little compassion and vote to extend unemployment benefits, even for those who have exhausted their 99 weeks. An austerity budget is the last thing a long-term unemployed person wants to see.

And if they want to bring down the per capita cost of Medicare, they should expand it to cover everybody. They’re already covering the most expensive patients.

Bowers advises: “Basically, stay on point, stay short, be polite, and be original.”

If the Senate doesn’t pass the deficit reduction proposals before the end of the year, the Catfood Commission is defeated. But the bamboozlement will rise again, like a zombie, with the cooperation of the corporate media. It’s up to to the rest of us to keep up the fight against the zombie “reformers.” — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2010


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