From the category archives: Budget
Attempts to reignite the intergenerational warfare campaign against Social Security -- led by the billion dollar austerity lobby -- seem to have hit a new high. Alternet highlights just a few of the recent instances:
A string of recent examples—rants  from MSNBC’s wealthy young commentator, a notorious elderly-attacking  House candidate, think tanks promoted  on NPR—generational warfare cheerleaders are proclaiming that America is heading toward an epic and immoral conflict as better-off seniors are robbing millennials of shrinking federal dollars because retirement programs cost too much. That’s simply false, as Social Security is solvent  through 2033, and spending on all mandatory programs as a percentage of GDP is close to  where it’s been since 1975, at 21 percent.
This line of attack isn’t in a political vacuum. It comes as some Democrats are reframing  the debate on Social Security and campaigning  for increased benefits. Nor is it a new argument, as a right-wing club of libertarians, Wall Street bankers and deficit hawks have tried for decades to undermine and privatize the program.
For MSNBC’s, Abby Hunstman, this is the second time in as many weeks that she’s taken to the airwaves with a monologue chock-full of errors and political rhetoric heavy of drama and light on the facts. NCPSSM’s Equal Time, joined the Los Angeles Times and others in pointing out just a few of those errors in her first attempt to “educate” millennials:
Millennials Face Big Problems – Abby Hunstman, MSNBC
“Here’s the reality, at the rate we’re spending, the system (Social Security) will be bankrupt by the time you and I are actually eligible to get these benefits.”
“We can’t afford it.”
“While we’re living two decades longer we haven’t made any changes.”
MSNBC anchor Abby Huntsman (daughter of GOP Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman) clearly misunderstands Social Security’s funding and twists both life expectancy data and worker ratios to the breaking point to build a false case for cutting Social Security benefits for millennials. Contrary to Huntsman’s claims, there is not a single scenario or economic projection in which Social Security goes bankrupt, most Americans aren’t living 20 years longer and there have been numerous reforms to Social Security in the past, including raising the retirement age.
If Washington does nothing at all by the time the Trust Fund is depleted in 2033, millennials and generations after them will receive a 25% benefit cut. Huntsman urges raising the retirement age to 70-75 on top of that which means an even larger benefit cut for our children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, rather than educating her fellow millennials with the facts, her “fix” for Social Security comes straight from the multi-billion dollar anti-entitlement lobby’s talking points. There are ways to fill the funding gap without hitting future generations with huge benefit cuts. Rather than gutting Social Security under the guise of “fixing it”, Congress should lift the payroll tax cap and enact other meaningful reforms to strengthen the program for future generations.
Inexplicably, rather than address her mistakes Huntsman then chose to double-down on them with a second error-laden missive. Michael Hiltzik with the Los Angeles Times tried, a second time, to help her with the “basic math” she claims to understand:
Huntsman complained that I called her out for asking how we're going to pay the rising costs of the health and social insurance programs, as though "even raising the question means you're automatically anti-Social Security or against the elderly."
No. I called her out for raising the question using bogus numbers, such as life-expectancy rates from birth, which have risen sharply since the '30s but aren't relevant to Social Security's fiscal health. Instead, the key figure is life expectancy from age 65, which hasn't risen very sharply. (Huntsman appears to accept this point.)
Huntsman offered several possible remedies for rising costs in these programs -- means-testing benefits, increasing the retirement age, raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65 -- and complained that we're not even debating these options.
That's where she really goes off the rails. We have been debating those options, for years. They've all been studied, measured, calculated and scored. The reason they haven't been implemented is that none of them is simple. None of those she listed would have an appreciable positive effect on the fiscal health of the programs, and some, such as raising the Medicare eligibility age, might make the overall federal budget picture worse.
Economist Dean Baker also gave it a try:
“The far greater risk to the living standards to the people of Huntsman's generation is the risk that we will continue to see the upward redistribution of income over the next three decades that we have seen over the last three decades. As a result of this upward redistribution of income, people like Ms. Huntsman's father have benefited enormously, while most workers have seen little or none of the gains from economic growth. If this pattern continues then most people in Ms. Huntsman's cohort will not fare well financially even if we eliminated their Social Security taxes altogether.”
So Huntsman continues to take her cues directly from the billion dollar Wall Street campaign to paint Social Security & Medicare as the biggest threat to future generations while ignoring the income inequality which will curse millennials for a lifetime.
2015 Budget Reaction from National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare President/CEO, Max Richtman
“While the President’s budget thankfully no longer includes cuts to Social Security, his 2015 plan unfortunately still targets seniors by shifting more costs to Medicare beneficiaries through increased means-testing, premium hikes and co-pays. While some tout increasing means testing in Medicare as a way to insure ‘rich’ seniors pay their share, the truth is, the middle-class will take this hit too.
Medicare has already been means-tested since 2007 and the number of beneficiaries subject to higher premiums has been increasing. If passed, this means testing proposal targets even middle-class individuals with the equivalent income of just $45,600 – these are not ‘wealthy’ seniors by any measure. Shifting even more costs to seniors ignores the economic challenges many face just getting by day-to-day. It also exacerbates the retirement deficit gap millions of Americans face now and into the future.
Our nation faces a retirement security crisis. Shifting even more costs to seniors worsens that crisis rather than addressing it head-on. While acknowledging this crisis with proposals such as myRA and automatic IRA’s, this budget focuses attention on the private sector rather than strengthening the number one source of income for many seniors, Social Security. As a nation we should be looking for ways to boost Social Security’s benefits.” Max Richtman, NCPSSM President and CEO
We have to admit that is a headline we love to see!
For so many years now, the well-financed anti-Social Security lobby in Washington has owned the nation’s economic debate. They had a billion dollars invested to persuade Washington to pass benefit cuts for middle-class Americans to reduce deficits that Social Security and Medicare did not create.
The problem with their strategy is the American people never bought it. They didn’t then and they still don’t today. Americans of all ages and political parties simply don’t support cutting Social Security benefits to reduce the deficit. They know there are other ways to be fiscally responsible that don’t target Americans who’ve already suffered the most in this economy. Ultimately members of Congress urged the President—and he’s agreed -- to take the cost of living formula change called the Chained CPI out of his budget. The truth is, deficits are coming down and we didn’t have to target Social Security to do it.
The National Journal summed it up this way:
“After a three-year obsession with closing America's gaping budget hole, Washington, it seems, has moved on. Last month's budget deal, which put a momentary end to the cliffs and crises that have dominated fiscal policymaking since the tea party came to Congress, coupled with a rapidly shrinking short-term deficit, has driven the nation's budget imbalances quickly and quietly from the agenda.”
The Los Angeles Times says “Bye-Bye Chained CPI”
“...the chained CPI has lived on for years in Washington as a potential sop to conservatives in negotiations over a fiscal ‘grand bargain.’ The White House now indicates that it has finally given up hope on reaching that bargain with Republicans. (What took them so long?) So the chained CPI, which was part of President Obama's budget proposal as recently as last year, is out of the budget to be unveiled on March 4.
Social Security advocates are calling that a victory, because it effectively takes the chained CPI out of the mainstream of "entitlement reform." It's a significant victory, but the danger is that it might not be lasting. Recent history shows that the dream of forcing low-income seniors to pay for budget cuts so that wealthy Americans aren't burdened with a tax increase never really dies; it just goes into hibernation.”
Probably so, but supporters of Social Security are rightfully taking a victory lap now to celebrate the protection of our nation’s most successful program. Next step is to direct the conversation to where it should be...Boost Social Security now.
In briefings by the White House today reporters were given advance looks at the President's 2015 budget. In it are some pleasant surprises for seniors, veterans and the disabled who've been targeted with budget cuts in previous budgets.
"Last year’s Budget included policies like chained CPI - the number one policy change that Republicans had asked for in previous fiscal negotiations. However, over the course of last year, Republicans consistently showed a lack of willingness to negotiate on a deficit reduction deal, refusing to identify even one unfair tax loophole they would be willing to close, despite the President’s willingness to put tough things on the table. The offer to Speaker Boehner remains on the table for whenever the Republicans decide they want to engage in a serious discussion about a balanced plan to deal with our long-term fiscal challenges that includes closing loopholes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, but the chained CPI provision will not be included in this year’s budget." White House budget preview memo
“Reports that President Obama will not include cuts to Social Security through adoption of the Chained CPI in his 2015 budget is welcome news for millions of seniors, veterans and people with disabilities who are tired of their modest benefits being used as deficit reduction bargaining chips. While it appears the White House has, for now, listened to the vast majority of Americans, of all ages and political parties, the President has still left the door open for more “let’s make a deal” bargaining with seniors’ benefits. He’s taking one step forward by keeping the Chained CPI out of his budget. We hope he won’t end up taking one step back by offering it up again later during any budget talks.
The chained CPI was a flawed idea from the start targeting both current and future retirees. It would cut benefits by 3% for workers retired for ten years and 6% for workers retired for twenty years. Three years after enactment, this translates to a benefit cut of $130 per year in Social Security benefits for a typical 65 year-old. The cumulative cut for that individual would be $4,631 or more than three months of benefits by age 75. We applaud the President for listening to members of Congress and Americans nationwide who have made the case repeatedly that cutting benefits to middle-class families is not the way to balance our books.
Unfortunately, it appears the White House will keep its plan to further means test Medicare in its 2015 budget proposal. Further means-testing Medicare continues to undermine the social insurance nature of Medicare and ultimately raises costs for middle and lower-income seniors who depend on it.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President & CEO
You can read more coverage of the President's 2015 budget in this Associated Press story.
Just a year and a half after it’s much ballyhooed launch, with dancing cans and supposedly serious politicos doing the Harlem Shake, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson’s “The Can Kicks Back” astroturf group is running out of funds.
Politico broke the story this week.
“The Can Kicks Back — which targets millennials and was conceived as a partner and affiliate of the group Fix the Debt — is running low on cash, according to emails and documents reviewed by POLITICO.
The group left a history of documents, including financial statements and internal deliberations over policy decisions, online in a Google Group that was open to public view but was recently closed. Those documents provide a peek into the day-to-day planning and operation of a modern public affairs campaign, one that publicly presented itself as driven by grass-roots energy but largely relied on big donors and wealthy Wall Street types for funding.”
“One fundraising problem The Can Kicks Back has faced is the entirely accurate perception that it is not actually a grassroots organization of young people deeply concerned with reckless entitlement spending and unsustainable long-term debt, but rather yet another front group — and in this case a particularly ineffective one — for the small network of billionaires who have spent decades advocating tax cuts and the rolling back of Social Security and Medicare benefits, in the name of fiscal responsibility.” Salon
For true grassroots organizations, tough economic times usually mean you turn to your grassroots membership for support. What is especially telling in The Can Kicks Back’s case is that according to internal emails obtained by Politico TCKB turned –not to the millennials they claim to represent – but to their true base, America’s 1%.
“According to emails, it also took meetings or made fundraising asks of former oil and gas executive T. Boone Pickens, aerospace magnate Norman R. Augustine and First Pacific CEO Bob Rodriguez, among others, since 2012.
The group has also approached Fix the Debt for additional financial resources and brainstormed a list of donors to be set up with that included former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Blackrock CEO Larry Fink, salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, venture capitalist Reid Hoffman, eBay CEO John Donahoe and others.”
TCKB is suffering from more than just a lack of finances. It also suffers from a lack of a true identity, since the public never quite bought their claims of being an independent grassroots supported movement.
“In response to a 2012 Slate piece by reporter Dave Weigel linking The Can Kicks Back with the billionaire anti-debt activist Peter Peterson, Eisenstadt argued that the group should request a correction — saying that the perception that they are Peterson-funded was hurting their credibility, according to an email thread.
‘Technically one can make an argument that we are…” (THCKB organizer) Parent wrote back in an email. ‘We receive most of our money from [Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget], which has received large amounts of funding from Peterson.’ Slate never appended a correction to the piece.”
You might be tempted to write off this story as just one example of a financially troubled Washington advocacy group trying to stay afloat. But as the New York Times’ Paul Krugman reports, it’s much more than that. The Can Kicks Back story gives us all a seldom seen glimpse inside Washington’s web of astrotruf advocacy groups posing as representatives for a constituency with which they have virtually no contact. All the while they’re actually doing the business of America’s corporate and Wall Street backed interests.
“they show how much of what passes for genuine expression of public concern is really just a bought and paid-for (or, in the case of The Can, not sufficiently paid-for) front for plutocratic priorities.”
Lastly, the Huffington Post provides the most detailed description of the internal emails showing just how phony, this astroturf group truly is.
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