Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 25, 2009

SOCIAL SECURITY.... The president told Congress last night, "To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security." This, apparently, was not what Republicans wanted to hear.

The GOP liked a lot of what it heard in President Obama's address Tuesday night about deficit reduction and personal responsibility.

But Republicans didn't like what they didn't hear: talk about Social Security reform. Obama zipped past the issue with a one-line reference.... The way to kill an issue in Washington is to suggest we begin to talk about it. Republicans took notice.

After hoping that Obama might be open to some sort of bipartisan reform that would reduce benefits and raise the eligibility age -- and perhaps plant the seeds for private accounts -- Republicans are now less hopeful that he'll come their way.

"I was not happy," Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told the Huffington Post. "That was the one area of his speech I was not happy with. He appears to be backing away from what I thought was an earlier commitment to tackling Social Security reform."

It wasn't just McConnell. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Obama talked too much about healthcare and not enough about weakening Social Security. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said something similar. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said Republicans will work with the White House if the president is ready to embrace their ideas about Social Security.

Frankly, if these guys are "not happy," the rest of us should be rather pleased.

I'm not entirely sure what GOP lawmakers were expecting on this issue. Last month, pressed on entitlements, the president told Washington Post editors, "'Social Security, we can solve,' he said, waving his left hand. 'The big problem is Medicare, which is unsustainable....'" Obama made similar remarks throughout the campaign.

Given the kvetching, congressional Republicans make it sound as if they expected Obama to endorse an "ownership-society agenda" and embrace benefit cuts that aren't needed anyway. If that's what they're waiting for, they're going to be waiting a very long time.

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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Given the kvetching, congressional Republicans make it sound as if they expected Obama to endorse an "ownership-society agenda" and embrace benefit cuts that aren't needed anyway.
I'm just throwing this out there, but is it at all possible that no one has told the Republicans that they lost the elections? Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on February 25, 2009 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

A sensible first step in tweaking Social Security would be to keep its present tax rate but extend the annual wage cap to $250,000.

As for Medicare, it should be broadened to allow Americans of all ages to qualify for benefits. Those who prefer private health insurance would be free to opt for that. But at least everyone would then be covered for health-care expenses. It works in other countries, why not in the U.S.?

Posted by: HaroldinBuffalo on February 25, 2009 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

hoping that Obama might be open to some sort of bipartisan reform that would reduce benefits and raise the eligibility age-- and perhaps plant the seeds for private accounts -- Republicans are now less hopeful that he'll come their way.

Only rich people who think they're going to live forever have the audacity to hope for this kind of "reform."

Posted by: Winknandanod on February 25, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

"is it at all possible that no one has told the Republicans that they lost the elections?"
Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on February 25, 2009 at 3:34 PM

It's more than just possible - judging by who gets face-time on the mass media, it's clear that the media are bent on sending the message that the Rethugs did actually win.
it's been clear for a while that the Rethugs live in a completely different universe from the rest of us, so why should this issue be any different from all others?

The one that gets me is, why do they think anyone with a 3-digit IQ would want to have put more $ into the "private accounts" that everyone's just seen crater over the past 6 months, while their SS money is still safe?
The only explanation I can think of is that it's yet another example of Rethug projection: they must actually believe everyone else is as stupid-and/or-crazy as they are.

Posted by: smartalek on February 25, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Why do Republicans hate old people?

If they want to fix Social Security, I can do it in less than 30 seconds: Remove the income cap for SS taxes. Period.

That should keep it solvent until ... well, at least a century. Probably more.

Of course, the GOP cares more about rich people than, say, my grandmother whose pension was wiped out along with Enron and needs SS to simply survive. For them, she may as well not exist.

Assholes.

Posted by: Mark D on February 25, 2009 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

If you are right I'm happy. Any chance someone could do a piece on what he meant? It is worrying at least one person on the left (me). And from some of the post elsewhere I'm not the only one.

Posted by: Gar Lipow on February 25, 2009 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

The only fix needed for Social Security is to keep the greedy hands of politicians away from it. Put the money back stolen from the program and keep it the way it is except to increase benefits when possible. It is a great program.

Posted by: tiredofgreed on February 25, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP liked a lot of what it heard in President Obama's address Tuesday night about deficit reduction and personal responsibility.

Why would they like this? The GOP is the party of exploding budget deficits and an almost psycopathic lack of personal responsiblity. This is kind of like writing "prostitutes liked what they heard about reducing marital infidelity" or "Mafiosi liked what they heard about renewed focus on strengthening and enforcing RICO statutes."

Seriously, for any journalist to pen the above means he's internalized GOP spin in all ignorance of actual reality. A more honest sentence would have been "Despite their actual record of governance, the GOP claimed to like a lot of what it heard in President Obama's address Tuesday night about deficit reduction and personal responsibility."

Posted by: Stefan on February 25, 2009 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Obama probably shouldn't have raised SS in this context, as it feeds the concept that SS is in some kind of trouble and needs some radical "fixing". He may just be referring to raising the income cap, but even that doesn't really address the issue. SS already takes in more money than it pays out (the SS surplus); the problem is that the surplus has been spent on other things and will need to be repaid at some point (~9-10 years) in the future.

Posted by: qwerty on February 25, 2009 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans want to "reform" Social Security by changing it from a government program that benefits ordinary working Americans into a scam that enriches the Republicans' ultra-rich cronies and financial backers on Wall Street at the expense of ordinary working Americans.

No one should be surprised that the Republicans continue to press for exactly the same policies that they have consistently advocated for decades.

This is what the Republican Party is all about: using the power of government to wage ruthless, rapacious, relentless class warfare of, by and for America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. against everyone else.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 25, 2009 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

If there is a class war going on, this issue makes it pretty clear who the aggressor is. It is particularly bizarre that Republicans would be pushing for reducing benefits or raising the eligibiliby age, since the efficiencies of our economy only make it more difficult for the elderly to get employment, even in good times.

As for raising the cap to $250K, that won't happen. Obama said he wasn't going to raise taxes on people making less than 250K. During the campaign, however, he did talk about a donut hole, where people making over 250K would have to start paying on some of their extra income.

I suspect what Obama will do is to suggest a bill that would allow people to have the equivalent of a private social security account like what Bush suggested, except that it would not be instead of paying the first 13% (whatever). It would be after that - more like a bonus IRA.

Posted by: Danp on February 25, 2009 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Stock tip: Buy Pepto-Bismo. I think the Republicans will be using a lot of it over Obama's term.

Posted by: sparrow on February 25, 2009 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is going to "fix" Medicare by trimming Medicare spending and limiting the cost to upper income people. Read your newspaper

Posted by: impartial on February 25, 2009 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

"I was not happy," Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told the Huffington Post. "That was the one area of his speech I was not happy with. He appears to be backing away from what I thought was an earlier commitment to tackling Social Security reform."
Repubs ought to get their talking points straightened out amongst themselves. Because, some of them are saying that Obama *had* yanked the Social Security from us in his last night's speech and *replaced it* with the personal savings accounts. This is what someone has posted on the "Preemptive" thread earlier today:


"We might hear that Obama is selling the old folk down the river--which he is--with his wonderful savings accounts in lieu of social security. Savings account interest rates haven't varied in fifty years. What an improvement over Bush's investment of the funds in the stock market! More of same!
Posted by: impartial on February 25, 2009 at 1:48 PM"

I take it that "impartial", in this particular instance, stands for "impaired, partially"

Posted by: exlibra on February 25, 2009 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

If President Obama wants to take on rising health costs he should take a long hard look at drug prices and re-consider importing drugs from Europe and Canada. The drug companies are killing the middle class. As for private accounts, the GOP is delusional. It is going to take years and years of much stronger regulation before people will have faith in the stock market again. Any attempt to touch Social Security will make the very popular Mr. Obama the one term President Obama. Folks are not going to drink that koolaid.

Posted by: aline on February 25, 2009 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

Please Republicans: continue to push for diverting part of Social Security funs into private accounts in the middle of a recession that has seen stock prices tumble and supposedly safe bank accounts and bonds look much less safe. I can't think of anything more likely to cost them additional seats in 2010 and 2012.

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 25, 2009 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

"Republicans want to "reform" Social Security by changing it from a [hugely successful and incredibly efficient] government program that benefits ordinary working Americans into a scam that enriches the Republicans' ultra-rich cronies and financial backers on Wall Street at the expense of ordinary working Americans."
SecularAnimist at 4:11 PM

Just thought it needed repeatin'. At the heart of it, it's so very easy to understand (as SA points out). DC ain't the synecdoche for America, it's Vegas. Revenue stream > skim, revenue stream > skim. Fleece the rubes for all they got. Suck the life's blood from the American animal, but like good parasites don't...quite...kill it. Methinks, however, that modern conservatives might have lost the touch. Keep it up, boys. Keep it up.

Posted by: Conrads Ghost on February 25, 2009 at 11:16 PM | PERMALINK

A sensible first step in tweaking Social Security would be to keep its present tax rate but extend the annual wage cap to $250,000.

What, no dount? Are donuts so 2008? Just out of curiosity, would you pay higher benefits to those who would then be paying higher taxes? That's why it's called the contribution and benefit base. Also, where'd you come up with $250K? Just... pulled it out of thin air?

Those who prefer private health insurance would be free to opt for that.

But still pay really high taxes to fund Medicare, right?

The one that gets me is, why do they think anyone with a 3-digit IQ would want to have put more $ into the "private accounts" that everyone's just seen crater over the past 6 months, while their SS money is still safe?

Because over the past 40 years, the S&P 500 has average a 5.24% real return, including the "cratering" of the past 6 months. Furthermore, there is no concept of "their SS money". Social Security is a wealth transfer program. The government can unilaterally decide to alter that program at any time. It's not your money or my money. They take money from workers and give it to retirees. End of story.

On the other hand, comparing Social Security to some kind of investment plan is equally disappointing. According to data from the CBO's most recent report on Social Security, the median worker can only expect to get back about 87% of his Social Security taxes. That's a negative real return. Would you choose a guaranteed negative return or an positive expected return?

Why do Republicans hate old people?

Why do Democrats hate workers?

Posted by: Bill Woessner on February 26, 2009 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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