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Tilting at Windmills

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November 15, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA AND THE CRISIS....Jonathan Singer asked Barack Obama on Wednesday about his use of the word "crisis" to define Social Security. Here's what he said:

I know that people, including you, are very sensitive to the concern that we repeat anything that sounds like George Bush. But I have been very clear in fighting privatization. I have been adamant about the fact that I am opposed to it. What I believe is that it is a long-term problem that we should deal with now. And the sooner the deal with it then the better off it's going to be.

So the notion that somehow because George Bush was trying to drum up fear in order to execute [his] agenda means that Democrats shouldn't talk about it at all I think is a mistake. This is part of what I meant when I said we're constantly reacting to the other side instead of setting our own terms for the debate, but also making sure we are honest and straight forward about the issues that we're concerned about.

This is clever rhetorical jujitsu. No, we bloggers don't like the Republican "crisis" framing, but we also hate the idea that Republicans often get to set the terms of debate in American politics. By casting his use of Republican language as a demonstration of independence from Republican language, Obama is demonstrating that he's really one of us even when he's supporting a policy we don't like. I'm impressed — even if I hope he doesn't make a habit of this.

But I'll add one thing. I'm on record (several hundred times, probably) saying that Social Security is basically fine and that the best thing we can do is just leave it alone and then revisit it in a decade or so. At the same time, I don't think any of us would (or should) have any serious problem with, say, a 1983-style commission that beavered away for a year and then recommended a basket of modest tax increases and benefit reductions to keep Social Security solvent for the rest of the century. In fact, if it were enough to get Tim Russert to shut up about the whole thing, it might even be worth it.

In other words, this is small potatoes, more a matter of style than substance. As with Hillary's tip or Edwards' house, it's the kind of thing we really shouldn't get too preoccupied with. We have bigger fish to fry.

Kevin Drum 11:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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We have bigger fish to fry.

That's right. We have some war crimes trials to get started.

Posted by: craigie on November 15, 2007 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Why wouldn't you want Obama or the others to make a habit out of throwing GOP framing to the mat?

(BTW, to be technical, jiu-jitsu isn't just using your adversary's weight and force against 'em, it's ALSO leverage and joint-locking: be good to add to the reportoire, and not just rhetoric.)

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 15, 2007 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

I think you're fighting the last war, Kevin. Privatization isn't going to happen -- it never got close to happening. Progressives won that fight.

What's wrong with making the most regressive tax in our system more progressive, as Obama suggests? What's wrong with preempting measures like raising the retirement age, which would hurt the working poor more since their work is physical? Should it really be taboo to transgress the orthodoxies of the last fight? That is too defensive, as Obama suggests.

Posted by: Wagster on November 15, 2007 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Thank you Kevin!
Thank you thank you thank you!

The progressive blogosphere has gone apesh*t over this, and for no good reason. I'm going to go bombard Atrios with this post.

Posted by: glasnost on November 15, 2007 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

Or going on witch hunts to see if any of Hillaries (or other candidates) donars might be tainted...

But, really we do need to deflate the myth about social security going bust. I don't know current poll numbers, but my anecdotal observations suggest a huge plurality believes this nonsense. Its not just a political distraction, I'm sure a lot of older Americans lose sleep worrying about this nonissue.

Posted by: bigTom on November 15, 2007 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

It's just naive to say that somehow we can "frame" the debate over SS exclusively in our own terms.

American politics is now and always has been about the dialectic between (at least) two sides. Everything a politician says must survive the "counterframing" of the opposed side, or it's self destructive.

Once a Democrat asserts that SS is in "crisis", the simple concept of crisis sticks to SS, most especially because he's a Democrat and is granted extra credibility in virtue of that, and can be manipulated easily by Republicans into a full fledged catastrophe that only a radical solution can correct.

Perhaps there are circumstances in which calling SS a crisis would be warranted nonetheless. But why is this the issue that Obama bringing up now?

Posted by: frankly0 on November 15, 2007 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Privatization was never approved and I don't thing it will ever be approved.It has caused to much of a problem already.Just look at what it has done for private prisons.This gives private citizens a place to hide criminal act.Who's going to look in a prison for criminal or a crime let drugs,guns and other things that are causing the public problems on the street.What is government should remain government cause when the public handle government businesses they think that they are a part of government and can do anything and get away with it.

Posted by: jamal on November 15, 2007 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

So, um, what happened to all that money that the Greenspan Commission (otherwise known as the "one fix for all time commission") recommended be collected and "saved"? Oh yeah: the Radical Right spent it all on war and contractor kickbacks. But Obama will be able to stop that for sure.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on November 15, 2007 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

While I agree with your view that social security is fine for now, that seems to me to miss the issue.

The federal budget is in essence subsidized by the excess social security tax collections. As the demands of social security increase, there will be less excess to siphon to the general budget. The real issue is how to we fund the budget in the next 10-20 years?

Posted by: George on November 15, 2007 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Privatization is good for companies that get the contracts, but bad for employees, taxpayers, and meeting goals. Look how disastrously it is playing out with our mercenaries in Iraq.

Social security does need adjustments, particularly to the retirement age, but it isn't in danger and "crisis" is an exaggeration no matter who uses is.

Health care funding is a much more immediate problem to deal with and much tougher to reform.

Posted by: freelunch on November 15, 2007 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

The real issue is how to we fund the budget in the next 10-20 years?

By collecting the taxes necessary to pay for the government you want and making absolutely certain that taxpayers know enough about economics that they never again vote for the massive deficit spending of the voodoo economics that Reagan and Bush pursued with gusto.

Posted by: freelunch on November 15, 2007 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

The blogosphere is absolutely proving his point. The fact that he is accused of "appropriating" their language just goes to show how successful they have been at locking us out of any meaningful discussions by artful propagandizing.

Posted by: Craig U. on November 15, 2007 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing needs to be done with SS right now not even a commission. SS is solvent for the foreseeable future. Any political capital the next President spends on entitlements should be spent on health care reform not SS. Once we have a universal health care system with cost containment in place for a decade or two, then we can worry about minor tax changes to improve SS's finances if there even seems to be a need.

Posted by: Ron on November 15, 2007 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is feeding into the Republican agenda, plain and simple. He got called on it, and sort of danced his way out.

Tell me again what this guy does other than talk pretty? Oh, right, he's not quite as bad as Hillary.

Posted by: alex on November 15, 2007 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

No more increases in regressive taxes until we stop using the surplus generated by them to enable cuts in progressive taxes.

Posted by: Dennis Doubleday on November 15, 2007 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

Obama says:

"So the notion that somehow because George Bush was trying to drum up fear in order to execute [his] agenda means that Democrats shouldn't talk about it at all I think is a mistake"

Disingenuous. Fallacy of the excluded middle. The complaint is that Obama said something that wasn't true. No one is saying that if George Bush lies about an issue, that Democratic politicians shouldn't "talk about it" at all, just that they shouldn't ALSO lie about it.

So he's a politician. Whatever. Our choices suck.

Posted by: luci on November 15, 2007 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

There is no crisis and Obama needs to drink a big ol can of shut the fuck regarding SS.

Posted by: DougMN on November 15, 2007 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Or to put it in a more pleasant way- since there is no crisis and we have, what, a thousand other things that are more important to talk about than SS, why is Obama bringing up SS? Sounds like he's buying into Republican (and Tim Russert) talking points. Sounds like he needs to focus on shit that needs fixed instead of shit that doesn't need fixed. This kind of stuff makes me think he's not ready for prime time.

Posted by: DougMN on November 15, 2007 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds to me like he's got polling data that shows this resonates with younger votes, and then he got 'em in a focus group and found that this language moves votes.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 15, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Aside from the War of Aggression in Iraq and the gutting of the Constitution, the mere mention of privatization of Social Security sends me right around the bend. I have written many letters to my jackass senators and to the editor of my local paper on this matter. Social Security MUST remain as it is.

Coincidentally, I applied for early retirement yesterday (my 68-year-old husband already draws SS and continues to work full-time at a very stressful job, the dear man) and will forever keep uppermost in my mind's eye the scene there: people who appeared to be ill, old, very infirm. People who obviously have been beaten up the the vagaries of a system stacked against them.

But let me add: the SS personnel handling all this were cheerful, knowledgeable, efficient. I was very impressed.

The only thing I couldn't handle were the photos above the clock of Little Boots and Darth Dick 'em leering out at us.

h


Posted by: h on November 15, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with your SS position, and the need to avoid the term "crisis," so I think Obama has not approached this the best way.

But I think it should be ONE of the things he runs on. It helps create some room between him and Clinton, and it's a serious bipartisan concern, whether it's a crisis or not.

And 10 years is obviously too long for any Democratic president elected in 2008 to wait.

As sherylynn said towards the end of that thread, "if Democrats happen to win the Presidency and greatly increase their majorities in Congress, seizing the moment to adjust the system in ways that Democrats prefer wouldn't be a bad idea."

I doubt any of the Dem candidates will let it go without tackling it on their watch. Yes, they could wait and have it to run on in 2012, but I think it's disingenuous for a candidate now NOT to have an approach ready, to say it's not really an issue. Each of them, if elected, will try to make it a lasting achievement of their administration.

Posted by: along on November 15, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

At the same time, I don't think any of us would (or should) have any serious problem with, say, a 1983-style commission that beavered away for a year and then recommended a basket of modest tax increases and benefit reductions to keep Social Security solvent for the rest of the century.

I wouldn't have any problem with such a commission -- in 1983. But it's not 1983, it's 2007, and any commission would be hopelessly hobbled by GOP sabotage, obstruction and propaganda. The notion that we could have any sort of substantive, meaningful policy reform involving Republicans is laughable on its face.

And moreover, Social Security is solvent for now and the foreseeable future. There is no need for an adjustment because there is no problem to adjust.

Posted by: Stefan on November 15, 2007 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think this is "small potatoes." "What I believe is that it is a long-term problem that we should deal with now. And the sooner the deal with it then the better off it's going to be." That simply isn't true. It's not a problem now, and we don't know that it ever will be. If it ever becomes a problem (i.e. entitlements actually outstripping funds) it will be easy enough to fix it then. Anyone talking about fixing a non-existent problem has another agenda.

Posted by: bobbo on November 15, 2007 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Regarding "benefit reductions...to get Tim Russert to shut up about the whole thing."

I'd rather have my full benefits.

I don't care that much about what Tim Russert says.

Posted by: Eric Jaffa on November 15, 2007 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

This is a lasting battle. Democrats don't have to do anything on their watch (before 2012 or however you want to put it). Even if they do do something, that doesn't mean that the next Republican administration (with Tim Russert's help) won't try to destroy the program. We will be fighting this fight until we all die - pretending that a Democrat will 'fix' the problem and then we won't have to deal with it again is naive.

Posted by: DougMN on November 15, 2007 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Any politician that mentions "a social security crisis" has no chance of getting my vote no matter what their stance is on other issues.

Posted by: Lew on November 15, 2007 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Eliminate the $100k cap on SSI taxes. There, problem solved.

Posted by: Jamey on November 15, 2007 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

hell-fucking-ooo??? Nine trillion in debt???

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on November 15, 2007 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

(I meant, "problem" solved.)

Posted by: Jamey on November 15, 2007 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

This is different from Edwards' house or Hillary's tip because it's an issue about which voters can make substantive judgment calls.

The two former issues were trivia and spin ginned up by a pathetic and broken press corps; this issue speaks directly to how Obama sees the state of our domestic finances.

Posted by: Tracer Hand on November 15, 2007 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

"At the same time, I don't think any of us would (or should) have any serious problem with, say, a 1983-style commission that beavered away for a year and then recommended a basket of modest tax increases and benefit reductions to keep Social Security solvent for the rest of the century."

I have a problem. My bet is lots of folks over at EPI have a problem. It is this, as I understand it (perhaps wrongly). That magic date, now about 2042, I think, when SS outgo exceeds income keeps moving out in front of us. If immigration and productivity keep up, it may keep going forever. So, I would reach a deal that when that point is 20 years away, we all agree to do something about it. Whatever. I plan on being dead by then, so you can handle it. It ain't gonna happen soon.

We got suckered into an incredibly regressive tax increase in 1983, Kevin. You and Obama want another one?

Posted by: David in NY on November 15, 2007 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

So the notion that somehow because George Bush was trying to drum up fear in order to execute [his] agenda means that Democrats shouldn't talk about it at all I think is a mistake.

That's some nice straw my Senator is burning.

The issue isn't that we shouldn't talk about it because GWB did. The issue is that Obama is using alarmist rhetoric ("crisis") to talk about SS when in reality it MIGHT need only modest reforms (if any)

Way to go Senator, attack that straw man head on.

Posted by: ChicagoTom on November 15, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

This is an opening for Hillary to cold cock Obama tonight.

She just has to say "Barack, listen carefully so I only have to explain this once. Social Security does not have a crisis, the regular budget has a problem. When Social Security stops subsidizing the deficit and begins adding to it in 2042, the general fund will need to find the money. If we run a good economy and get the budget deficit down, we will be fine. Now can we talk about something important?"

Posted by: Carl on November 15, 2007 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, it is clever rhetorical jujitsu, which our candidate will need next year. I thought part of the knock on Obama was that he would not be able to respond to attacks, that it was Hillary's specialty. This is the part of Obama that others unfamiliar with his history miss. He can turn a phrase, even turn it around if he needs to.

Posted by: RollaMO on November 15, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Defining Social Security as in “crises” just distracts attention from the program that is in crises, Medicare. A candidate who places the social security “crises” in front of the Medicare crises is suffering from misplaced priorities.

Posted by: fafner1 on November 15, 2007 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

kevin, there you go again - the 'solvent' word. Don't you realize what you are doing? Even when you are defending the current system and saying there is no problem, you are arguing for efforts to keep it 'solvent'.

No, social Security will never be not 'solvent'. We don't need any comission to figure out how to keep it 'solvent'.

Stop re-inforcing the bankruptcy theme with references to solvency.

Please.

Posted by: cynic on November 15, 2007 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

At the same time, I don't think any of us would (or should) have any serious problem with, say, a 1983-style commission that beavered away for a year and then recommended a basket of modest tax increases and benefit reductions to keep Social Security solvent for the rest of the century.

I would. What part of "surplus" do you not understand? We already collect more money than we need to fund SS, and have done so for more than 20 years. If someone like Bush claims he can spend it and not pay it back, that is the "crisis". Any commission would have to focus on the overall budget, not Social Security. Eliminating the earnings ceiling on SS taxes would be a good idea only if it was balanced by an overall reduction in the tax rate to make it revenue neutral; otherwise it would only be another massive tax increase on the poor to middle class.

Posted by: AJ on November 15, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

The real issue is how to we fund the budget in the next 10-20 years?

Simple, tax the loving crap out of the top 1% of wage earners and corporations. Bring their tax rates back to pre-Reagan levels.

Posted by: AnotherBruce on November 15, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think any of us would (or should) have any serious problem with, say, a 1983-style commission that beavered away for a year and then recommended a basket of modest tax increases and benefit reductions to keep Social Security solvent for the rest of the century.

Except that 1983 commission beavered us into THE SINGLE LARGEST AND MOST REGRESSIVE TAX INCREASE IN OUR HISTORY! You know, the one that created the "surplus" that Bush & company "gave back" to our wealthiest citizens and corporations because it was "their" money.

I can't believe I'm reading this shit here.

Posted by: R. Porrofatto on November 15, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Obama won't get my vote now. Not even in the general if he's the nominee. I'm not saying this out of spite, but out of my own self-interest because like millions of other Americans I'm going to be needing Social Security when I retire and it's clear that I can't trust Obama to fight and protect what is THE signature Democratic program that FDR founded. I'll take my chances on Democrats in Congress stopping any moves towards the sort of hikes in regressive taxes on wages and cuts in benefits that will gradually reduce them to a pittance.

Frankly, it won't be me who suffers the most either. It'll be those retiring 30 years from now who find themselves getting the short end of the stick after they've paid in more and get a lot less in return.

Posted by: David W. on November 15, 2007 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'd object to benefit reductions. There's no need for them. I'd be for modest tax increases and major benefit expansion.

Posted by: Mike M. on November 15, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

To the people who say it would be better to deal with it now, keep in mind that the alleged problem we will start to see in 2041 is based on a projection that for a considerable time has been adjusted backward, on average, one year for every elapsed year. In 1994, it was going to be 2029, now it's 12 years later when the sky will fall.

It's also several years later than projected earlier when we would even have to start using the surplus, which means the current revenues even without the excess for building the Baby Boom surplus are more than was expected back then.

Also keep in mind that, as we push out the projected surplus exhaustion date further and further, we are also extending the use of that surplus further and further past what it was intended for. Baby Boomer retirements will start dropping off precipitously sometime around 2030. Also remember that even in the 2041 scenario, only about 25% of the sky will fall: that is, current projections of revenues in 2041 will cover only about 75% of projected benefits figured out the same way they are now. What that means is what we will have to do is get revenues in line with benefits after 2041. (A great over-under bet is that the projection will move out at least 5 years further [to 2046 or later] over the next 34 years.) This means that, theoretically, we don't have to tinker with the withholding/revenue model until 2041 (or later), although a 25% increase would be a pretty big hit in one year. (Another decent bet is that the 75% of benefits coverage at the surplus exhaustion date will increase a lot over the next 34 years, too, maybe even all the way to 100%.)

That's your crisis. The short, correct answer is that "it is a right-wing manufactured crisis for the purpose of fooling Americans into accepting their privatization scheme. The projections have been changed almost every year, so it would actually be irresponsible to extract more money from anyone on the mere possibility that it might come in handy someday."

There, was that so hard? If Obama wants to transition out of the corner he's backed himself into and save face, he can start saying that the real crisis is that so many young Americans have been wrongly convinced that it "won't be there" for them.

A commission? Not until a Democrat is in office, please.

Posted by: urbanlegend on November 15, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who talks about increasing payroll taxes is a dupe or a crook. It will just enable income tax cuts. The point of the '83 commission, allegedly, was for the income taxes (i.e. via the general fund) to payback the payroll tax investment in the SS Trust Fund. The shrieking from the right is from those who want to renege on the entire deal. Obama is enabling those who want to want to gut it despite what he thinks.

Posted by: Nat on November 15, 2007 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on November 15, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Better yet:

“Republicans want to let Wall Street play with your Social Security money. Others want to take money from more middle class Americans on the THEORY that it might come in handy some day. WELL, WE...WON”T...LET...THEM!!!”

Has a nice populist, Huey Long kind of ring to it, eh? Hell, I even get Archie Bunker’s vote with this.

Posted by: urbanlegend on November 15, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK
At the same time, I don't think any of us would (or should) have any serious problem with, say, a 1983-style commission that beavered away for a year and then recommended a basket of modest tax increases and benefit reductions to keep Social Security solvent for the rest of the century.

That depends on what particular tax increases and benefit reductions were recommended. No different than if a candidate today were proposing the exact same thing.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 15, 2007 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

yes, I must admit that Obama, acts like an intellectual but isn’t, and has a very bad habit of beating around the bush and while saying absolutely nothing at all. Its all so very irritating and I share the bloggers disappointment of Obama as he has shown himself to be quite the novice. And I think Americans have pick up on his embarrassing lack of understanding of current issues.

Incidentally, over at Atrios, there is a link to a Resolution for Impeachment of Bush. The first truly serious one I've ever seen.

So speaking of how "anti-politics upholds a self-righteous ideal of purity that somehow political conflict can be transcended on angels' wings. it would be nice to if the US legal force could correct the abused of the Bush administraion that believe only impeachment can safeguard.

The Lawyer's Guild has turned in letter to congress, it's about time toO, to start seriously consider impeachment for Bush and Cheney and stop taking off the table what needs to be on the table.

Whereas failing to hold Bush and Cheney accountable not only condones their crimes but facilitates a future president committing similar or greater crimes:

I don't believe the Marc Rich pardon held any kind of grace at all. So I want Hillary bound by that which Bush and Chenery were not bound by, the rule of law. I think the nation MUST deal with Bush and Cheney in the only way it can, to protect the US Constitution with an impeachment, the shore up the massive damage those two did this nation.

Posted by: Me_again on November 15, 2007 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Who thought you would end a post about Obama and the "Crisis" with HRC's position? C'mon, 'fess up.

Posted by: TJM on November 15, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is demonstrating that he's really one of us even when he's supporting a policy we don't like.

That would be my impression of Obama, too. The other impression is he is very patrician about why he is siding with the wrong policy, being unwilling to discuss rather than just lecture about how he knows better than the rest of us do.

Posted by: Brojo on November 15, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

The comment crowd is jumping the shark on this. Tax increases to fund the Social Security program could easily be progressive. There's nothing wrong with raising the cap on payroll taxes.

Privatization and "gutting" is D, E, A, D, dead. Putting more revenue into the system would just make Republican claims of a 'crisis' even less credible than they already are.

As it is right now, there's enough smoke for genuine economists to apparently disagree, although everyone agrees that 'crisis' is overblown.

Posted by: glasnost on November 15, 2007 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Social Security, like it or not, is the nation's retirement bond industry. To say it does not need updating is ludicrous. It should be updated yearly by small amounts, and it should attempt to track the mathematically exact formula for a retirement bond industry.

Where did this idea of Kevin's come from? Ever since the retirement bond industry was invented in the industrial revolution, it was always update to reflect both investment demands and demographics, it is updating of large industries is the hall mark of the industrial revolution, it is the thing that lets you own a car, a home or anything else.

Now, Kevin, says this very important industry can be treated like an aging dinosaur and nothing happens. Wrong wrong wrong. Probably 10% of the economy's turbulence is due to Kevin and his fellows forgetting that being socialist does not imply deliberately bad management.

Posted by: Matt on November 15, 2007 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

OK, here's what I REALLY don't get:

Under the most cautious (most dire) projections, the magical importance of 2041 is that's when the trust fund is depleted and the payroll taxes coming in (i.e., from the couple of hundred million working-age Americans in 2041, many of whom haven't even been born yet) will not be sufficient (assuming no change in present law) to make promised payments to retirees.

So remind me what happens when the U.S. government doesn't have enough cash on hand to meet its cash outlay requirements: does it declare bankruptcy and default on those obligations? No, rather, as it's done for over 200 years (although at a recordsetting pace for the last 6 years), the government has the ability to borrow to make up the shortfall.

It's certainly a legitimate view that long-run budget deficits pose a real threat to the health of the economy (in fact, it's a view I tend to share) -- but if that's true, and if it's therefore right to be concerned about the looming threat of having to (*gasp*) BORROW MONEY starting in 2041 to pay social security to retirees --

well, OK, but isn't that sort of like someone standing on the sickeningly-tilted deck of the Titanic, shouting to anyone who will listen that the builders didn't use the right kind of rust-resistant paint on the hull and therefore we REALLY need to be concerned about the CRISIS that after 40 years of constantly sailing back and forth between Europe and North America, the hull is going to be very nearly rusted through and thus this fine ship is in real danger of sinking sometime in the early 1950s?

I mean, if social security is in CRISIS because 30 years from now it's going to start contributing to (rather than masking) our long-term budget deficits, then isn't our current huge budget deficit, a fortiori, an even bigger crisis deserving of even more attention?

Posted by: Packerland Progressive on November 15, 2007 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Packerland Progressive: isn't that sort of like someone standing on the sickeningly-tilted deck of the Titanic, shouting to anyone who will listen that the builders didn't use the right kind of rust-resistant paint on the hull and therefore we REALLY need to be concerned about the CRISIS that after 40 years ...

Great analogy.

Anything other than "there is no crisis" is just eating Republican dog food (no offense to Canine-Americans).

Victory goes to those who take the offensive.

Posted by: alex on November 15, 2007 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

I think this is one where Kevin owes his commenters an explanation. Pretty much everybody here undestands that there's no problem, certainly no "crisis," for another couple of decades, if that. Why does Kevin think we need to talk about this rather than, say, the incredible federal deficit that Bush has run up? The latter may be worth talking about now (though maybe not), as may the medical programs, but certainly not SS.

Posted by: David in NY on November 15, 2007 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, wait! I've got the answer to my question! If you don't think that something is a crisis, when the Republicans and media say it is, you're JUST NOT SERIOUS! Even if they're totally wrong.

Posted by: David in NY on November 15, 2007 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

'[Clinton] just has to say "Barack, listen carefully so I only have to explain this once. Social Security does not have a crisis, the regular budget has a problem. When Social Security stops subsidizing the deficit and begins adding to it in 2042, the general fund will need to find the money. If we run a good economy and get the budget deficit down, we will be fine. Now can we talk about something important?"'

Both true and elegant.

Beyond inflation indexing, I'm against raising the $102K cap. The upper middle class gets some relief above the cap, when marginal rates go down before they go back up (AMT).

Plus there's the social compact: it may be fair for the wealthy to pay more than the poor, but not many times more.

Posted by: Bill Brock - Chcago on November 15, 2007 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK
Plus there's the social compact: it may be fair for the wealthy to pay more than the poor, but not many times more.

How so? Poverty is easy, even in the absence of organized society. Wealth is hardly possible in its absence. The wealthy derive many times more (proportionately to what they have, or to what they gain in any time period) benefit from organized society, so how is not fair for them to pay a many-times-greater fraction of that total (either wealth or income) to support the continuation of organized society?

Posted by: cmdicely on November 15, 2007 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

I was always surprised that Max Sawicky, no mealy-mouthed DLC type (actually no liberal at all, but a leftover leftist), thought doing away with the cap on the SS tax would be a bad idea. I believe the argument is that it's safer for the future of SS not to have it look like a welfare program, and ending the cap would have that tendency. That is, if I remember this all correctly.

Posted by: David in NY on November 15, 2007 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

Many times more than the poor, when it refers to the income tax, is a Jethro Bodine equation: nought times nought is nought.

Posted by: TJM on November 15, 2007 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

I remember increases in payroll taxes as a result of the 1983 commission as being quite hefty. The net result was that under Reagan the income tax was cut and the payroll tax increased – a good way to make the overall taxation more regressive.

Posted by: fafner1 on November 15, 2007 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

There is a big conceit among the American middle class retiree that they are not being supported by the government. It is ridiculous of course, and getting more ridiculous by the minute as the debt grows.


Posted by: jefff on November 15, 2007 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK
Many times more than the poor, when it refers to the income tax, is a Jethro Bodine equation: nought times nought is nought.

Considering the distributional effects of components of tax system in isolation doesn't make a lot of sense, and particularly considering componetns of the federal system of taxation on income (which includes the income tax, payroll taxes, capital gains taxes, and estate and gift taxes) in isolation from each other.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 15, 2007 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

Considering the distributional effects of components of tax system in isolation doesn't make a lot of sense,

Don't be ridiculous, of course it does. How else to determine what policy prescriptions have the best effect. Altering the federal income tax, whether at the Pauline extreme or a return to the marginal rates of 90% has an effect best analyzed as a component of the broader policy goal of raising federal revenue.

Posted by: TJM on November 15, 2007 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is demonstrating that he's really one of us even when he's supporting a policy we don't like

I'm confused. As I understand it, Obama is proposing either additional raising or elimination of (I'm not clear which) the income ceiling on SS taxes.

What part of that is "a policy we don't like?" Or it is that mentioning SS at all, for whimpering fear of what the GOPpers might say, is the problem?

Posted by: LarryE on November 15, 2007 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

Something like one-tenth of one percent a year hike in payroll tax until sometime around 2040 (after which S.S. outgo forever flattens) would cover the baby boomers -- as average income increases an average of two whole percent a year: a crisis?

Under the current setup an equivalent amount of income tax will go to cash in Trust Fund bonds to cover the payroll tax shortfall -- beginning sometime around 2017. If we are back in Clinton style surplus mode by then no one will notice. If we are in deficit we will face the choice of either raising the income tax (or some other on-budget tax -- tarrifs? :-]) just a mite or selling just a few more bonds to cover the TF bonds we are cashing -- some crisis.

By 2040, by current projections, we will be paying S.S. retirement about three-quarters out of payroll tax and one-quarter out of income tax -- clunky but, hey, this is government. At whatever point the TF bonds are all cashed in we can decide whether to go on with the same clunky setup or whether to add a few points to payroll tax (at a point in time when average income will have doubled) while making an equivalent chop in the income tax (who cares).

Cutting benefits to avoid doing either will be about as sane a possibility then as would be today (less so -- there will be relatively more seniors). What a crisis.

Posted by: Denis Drew on November 16, 2007 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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