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From the category archives: entitlement reform

Washington Fiction & Hollywood Fiction – More Political Lies about Social Security

Several years ago, we asked the question “What Will a Billion dollars Buy You?”  At that time, we were covering the billion dollar Wall Street campaign to cut Social Security and Medicare by those who want to protect tax breaks and the income inequality which has lined the pockets of America’s corporations and wealthy.  This week it appears the anti-Social Security propaganda favored by these Wall Street lobbyists has also now found a home in the popular political drama “House of Cards.”  Turns out that the show’s consultant runs one of the many groups funded by former Wall Streeter and anti-Social Security scold, Pete Peterson, who’s invested his own personal fortune to a national campaign to cut back benefits in Social Security and Medicare.

Richard Eskow at Campaign for America’s Future details the connection: 

“Episode One’s credits list Jim Kessler as a consultant. Kessler is, as his IMDB biography notes, the co-founder of Third Way. That’s a Wall Street-funded, so-called “centrist” Democratic organization with a mission: to promote neoliberal economics and make the world safe (at least financially) for its wealthy patrons.

Third Way has consistently misrepresented the financial condition of Social Security, misdirected the public debate about Medicare, and generally promoted the socially liberal but fiscally conservative worldview of its patrons.

Kessler and co-founder Jon Cowan carefully tiptoed their way through the minefield of public opinion for years, pretending to be technocrats rather than de facto lobbyists for powerful interests. They finally lost their balance last year. When confronted with the rise of Elizabeth Warren and the populist wing of the Democratic Party, they lashed out at Sen. Warren with an intemperate Wall Street Journal op-ed.”

We highly recommend you read Eskow’s entire post to see just how perfectly the Third Way, Pete Peterson propaganda is scripted into the characters of “House of Cards”.  Here’s just a sample:

“Underwood continues: “This (the number $32,781, displayed on a flip chart) is what the average senior gets in one year from entitlements …This money is a job we could be giving to a single mother or a student just out of school. Now at the moment, 44 cents of every tax dollar goes to pay for these programs. By 2030, it’ll be over half, 62 cents.”

“Entitlements are bankrupting us,” he concludes.

Except that they’re not. Social Security accounts for 24 percent of the federal budget, but it is forbidden by law from adding to the overall deficit. What’s more, its trust fund is currently holding $2.8 trillion dollars in reserves. The statement is meaningless.

In Episode Two, Underwood gives a “bold” speech outlining his plan. It begins:

“For too long, we in Washington have been lying to you. We say we’re here to serve you, when in fact, we’re serving ourselves. And why? We are driven by our own desire to get reelected …”

That’s another favored trope: that the corporate politicians are courageous (as if it’s brave to serve the wealthy and powerful!), while their opponents are cravenly pandering to the voters – by representing them.

“That ends tonight,” says Underwood. “Tonight, I give you the truth.”

There’s that idea again, that the corporate version of reality is “fact” or “truth.” We’re told that “the root of the problem” is “entitlements” – a favorite word in the corporate crowd because it has negative connotations. (We’ve written about that before.)

“Let me be clear,” adds Underwood. “You are entitled to nothing …”

Just like real-life Third Way types, Underwood is trying to cancel our nation’s social contract.

It’s easy enough to say “don’t worry, this is just fiction” but the problem is that a growing number of Americans don’t get their news from independent news sources anymore...they get it from everywhere else.  Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart continues to be among the nation’s most trusted “news sources” even as he hosts a comedy show.  It’s not that big of a stretch to believe that viewers hearing the fictional politician, Frank Underwood, recite the same propaganda they also hear constantly from the billion dollar anti-Social Security lobby and their real-world political allies on Capitol Hill only helps to validate this factually flawed view

This type of Wall Street messaging fits the very definition of propaganda and how best to use it in the real world of politics, not just the made-for-television variety:                        

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie.”...Joseph Goebbels

 

 

 

America’s Richest 1% Won’t Contribute Another Dime to Social Security All Year

This week America’s wealthiest will make their last contribution to the Social Security system for 2015. The rest of us...middle class and the working poor...will continue to pay 6.2% of every dollar we earn to keep Social Security strong.  How can this be?

 


So, the payroll tax cap means the wealthy will never have to contribute on all of their income, just the first $118,500 (in 2015).  Because most Americans never earn that much in a year, many don’t even realize this unfair tax cap exists or the devastating effect it’s having on Social Security’s long-term fiscal outlook: 

“... the Social Security trust fund, which currently holds $2.8 trillion, is projected to be drawn down by about 2033 (according to the Social Security trustees). After that point, if no changes are made to the program, retirees will receive only about 75 percent of scheduled benefits. One of the main causes of this projected shortfall is the growth in inequality over the last 30 years. Back in the 1980s, the last time changes were made to Social Security, Congress and President Reagan decided to build up the trust fund with workers' payroll taxes in order to essentially pre-fund the coming retirement of the Baby Boom generation.

As a result, the trust fund has been steadily building up over the decades, but they weren't able to predict how much income gaps would widen over that time. So while the payroll tax cap has been adjusted for inflation every year, the income of the richest workers has increased faster, allowing more and more earnings to escape the tax, and causing the payroll tax to collect less than needed.”  Nicole Woo, Center for Economic and Policy Research

It’s no coincidence that conservatives who constantly clamor for cutting Social Security benefits never list raising or eliminating the payroll tax cap as an alternative solution to strengthening Social Security.   Once again, for America’s 1% and their supporters in Congress, middle-class benefits cuts are always the preferred solution.

“I found an even more glaring example of the vast inequity of the Social Security tax system a couple of years ago when I was reading a report issued by an association of CEO’s here in Washington.  The report made recommendation to “fix” Social Security by cutting benefits, cutting the Social Security cost of living adjustment, raising the retirement age…no mention of the payroll cap.  I was curious about the membership of this group and after a little research I did the math and discovered that one member of their executive committee reached the cap and stopped paying FICA tax after lunch on New Years Day.  Earning $54 million dollars a year allows you to do that…but doesn’t make it right.” Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

The National Committee proudly moderated a Capitol Hill event today with Senator Bernie Sanders (D-I), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition bringing attention to this Social Security payroll tax giveaway provide only to the richest people in America each year.

The Center for American Progress released a new report today analyzing what America’s income inequality has meant for Social Security’s funding. First, some historical background...when the 1983 Greenspan Commission passed its Social Security reforms 90% of American workers paid on all of their annual income.  In other words, only 10% were exempted from the payroll tax cap.  Since then, our nation has seen more and more income shifted to the wealthy meaning there are 6 times the number of millionaires and billionaires today compared to 1983 and more people above the tax cap. That’s means America no longer collects the Social Security payroll taxes from 90% of workers...today it’s only 83%. CAP reports that’s more than a trillion dollars lost.

“Had 90 percent of covered wages been taxed from 1983 to 2013, the OASDI trust funds would have been $1.1 trillion larger by 2013, shrinking the 75-year expected shortfall by 10.1 percent.

The simulation that we have modeled is retrospective; it addresses what would have happened had 90 percent of wages been taxed since 1983. In their annual report, the Social Security trustees answer a similar, but prospective, question: How would raising the cap to cover 90 percent of earnings starting in 2015 affect the trust funds’ shortfall? The trustees find that over the 75-year period, this change would close about 27 percent of the expected shortfall in the trust funds.”

 As Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director, Dean Baker, told the crowd today, “Social Security isn’t broke...America’s economy is.”  Contrary to the current GOP divide and conquer messaging, American seniors aren’t stealing money from children’s programs and the disabled aren’t bankrupting the Social Security retirement system.  Conservatives don’t want average Americans to see the truth -- our economic policies have shifted the nation’s wealth to the wealthy and away from everyone else.

Will the President Fight for Social Security & Medicare?

President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress next Tuesday should provide some desperately-needed insight into just how far this administration will go to defend and strengthen America’s two most successful income and health security programs. The new GOP Congress has made their intentions clear by attacking Social Security on Day One of the new session.  The White House; however, remains silent on the GOP’s latest move:

“TPM asked multiple times last week for the White House's position on the House action, but never received a formal response, a stark contrast to the loud public pronouncements of Brown, Warren, and others. It also invokes the uneasy relationship between the White House and Social Security advocates, who were dismayed by Obama's willingness to accept cuts to the program during the 2011 grand bargain talks with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).” 

{Update:  The White House did respond after our initial post . A spokesperson told TPM "Generally speaking, the Administration strongly opposes any efforts to undermine Congress’ ability to reallocate funds between the Social Security retirement and disability trust funds," a White House spokesperson told TPM, "as they have done with bipartisan support numerous times in the past in both directions."}

NCPSSM has urged the President to support reallocation, as has happened without controversy 11 previous times, to avoid a massive benefit cut Americans with disabilities simply cannot afford.

“We applaud you for making middle-class mobility and economic equality one of your top priorities.  Social Security helps to provide a lifetime of economic equality by insuring millions of Americans against the risks of retirement, disability and survivorship. 

For that reason, the National Committee urges you to support the reallocation from the OASI Trust Fund to the DI Trust Fund and oppose the House majority’s demand to cut benefits in exchange for addressing the Disability Insurance program’s financing.  Your State of the Union address would be an ideal opportunity to reaffirm your support for Social Security.”  Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

In truth, the White House could have invested an entire week just responding to all of the attacks launched by GOP Congress in its opening days (so much for working together) so it’s hard to read too much into this silence on Social Security.  However, Tuesday’s State of the Union address should change that.  President Obama must set the tone and make it clear to the House and Senate that cutting benefits to families who depend on Social Security and Medicare is simply not an option. 

While Republicans certainly didn’t campaign on cutting benefits to middle-class families, now that they’re elected, GOP leaders in the House have made it clear that’s exactly their intention.  President Obama’s State of the Union provides an important opportunity to set the record straight and push back on all of the falsehoods currently being used to justify cutting benefits to the middle class.

Here are just some of the more outrageous claims:

The new Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), went so far as to create his own set of Social Security numbers to justify the GOP attack by claiming Social Security:

 “is a program that right now on its current course will not be able to provide 75 or 80 percent of the benefits that individuals have paid into in a relatively short period of time …”

There’s nothing about this statement that is true.  Even if Congress does absolutely nothing to improve Social Security’s long-term solvency (and no one believes that will happen) the program would be forced to reduce benefits by about 25% two decades from now. Any benefit cut is unacceptable; however, it’s not too much to expect Congressional Committee Chairmen to stick to the facts. Another House Committee Chairman, the head of the Social Security subcommittee Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), led recent House the effort to hold the Disability program hostage in order to extract cuts program-wide.  He claims:

the program is “plagued by fraud” and that “the public is fast losing faith in Social Security, and I don’t blame them, because I have too.” 

Neither are true. 

The Government Accountability Office found that improper payments of Social Security benefits that include Disability Insurance had an error rate of just 0.6 percent.  SSA’s Inspector General reports less than 1% fraud in the disability program.  Any fraud is too much but what reasonable person would consider  less than 1% of anything a “plague.”

Far from losing faith in Social Security, the American people of all ages and political parties continue to show unparalleled support for the program in spite of Congressional conservatives’ campaign to undermine it. Not only do they support Social Security in its current form, by large margins they’re willing to pay more to improve it and boost benefits. The latest National Academy of Social Insurance survey of Americans found:

Seven out of 10 participants prefer a package that would eliminate Social Security’s long-term financing gap without cutting benefits. The preferred package would:

  • Gradually, over 10 years, eliminate the cap on earnings taxed for Social Security. With this change, the 6% of workers who earn more than the cap would pay into Social Security all year, as other workers do. In return, they would get somewhat higher benefits.
  • Gradually, over 20 years, raise the Social Security tax rate that workers and employers each pay from 6.2% of earnings to 7.2%. A worker earning $50,000 a year would pay about 50 cents a week more each year, matched by the employer.
  • Increase Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment to reflect the inflation experienced by seniors.
  • Raise Social Security’s minimum benefit so that a worker who pays into Social Security for 30 years or more can retire at 62 or later and have benefits above the federal poverty line.

With this State of the Union, President Obama has an opportunity to provide some truth-telling on Social Security and Medicare while also sending a clear message that the White House will not aide and abet conservatives who intend to cut middle-class benefits to pay for tax cuts for huge corporations and the wealthy.  

We hope the President will join the American people and be bold in the defense and expansion of Social Security and Medicare rather than leave the door open to continued hostage-taking and deal-making designed to unravel the economic security so many Americans depend on.

 

Conservatives Claim We Can’t Afford Social Security & Medicare While Passing Billions in Corporate Tax Breaks...Again

Virtually the first order of business for Congress after November’s Congressional election was to pass $42 billion in tax breaks going largely to corporations.  The House has already approved these giveaways (without providing the “pay fors” they’ve demanded for bills to help average Americans like unemployment extensions or even disaster relief) and the Senate is expected to follow suit this week.  Incredibly, it could have been much worse as the House originally wanted ten times more in corporate giveaways.  A veto threat from President Obama is all that derailed that plan.  Bill Moyers detailed the original package

“The 10-year, $444 billion package includes a few provisions that were popular with Democrats, but would phase out existing tax credits for clean energy development. Mostly, it’s a boon for some of the top corporate tax-avoiders in America. Some 90 percent of the cuts would benefit their bottom lines. One of the biggest beneficiaries would be GE, which, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, claimed tax refunds of $3.1 billion on $27.5 billion in profits between 2008 and 2012. That means the company had a negative tax rate of 11 percent. Other big winners would include Wall Street financial firms, pharmaceutical companies and computer and Internet businesses.” 

Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, highlights one especially outrageous provision in this legislation: 

“The most disturbing part of this legislation is it provides $6.2 billion in tax breaks to companies that ship profits offshore. One of these loopholes – the Active Financing exception, otherwise known as the GE Loophole – benefits General Electric and big Wall Street banks. Congress should be closing offshore tax loopholes, not continuing them.” 

Citizens for Tax Justice offered this analysis: 

Here are just a few of the problems with H.R. 5771: 

Most of the tax breaks fail to achieve any desirable policy goals. For example, they include bonus depreciation breaks for investments in equipment that the Congressional Research Service have found to be a “relatively ineffective tool for stimulating the economy,[1] a tax credit for research defined so loosely that it includes the work soft drink companies put into developing new flavors,[2] and a tax break that allows General Electric to do financial business offshore without paying U.S. taxes on the profits.

The tax breaks cannot possibly be effective in encouraging businesses to do anything because they are almost entirely retroactive. The tax breaks actually expired at the end of 2013 and this bill will extend them (almost entirely retroactively) through 2014. These tax provisions are supposedly justified as incentives for companies to do things Congress thinks are desirable, like investing in equipment or research, but that justification makes no sense when tax breaks are provided to businesses for things they have done in the past.

The bill increases the deficit by $42 billion to provide tax breaks that mostly benefit businesses, even after members of Congress have refused to enact any measure that helps working people unless the costs are offset. The measures that Congress refused to enact without offsets include everything from creating jobs by funding highway projects[3] to extending emergency unemployment benefits.[4] 

As we’ve said before, budgeting is all about priorities.  Did you cast your vote in November supporting candidates who promised to drain billions of dollars from federal revenues for America’s largest corporations, while simultaneously claiming our nation can’t afford programs benefiting average Americans like Social Security and Medicare? 

Probably not. However, that’s exactly the course currently being charted in the lame duck and beyond to the 114th Congress.

Same As It Ever Was: The GOP's Post-Election Plans for Social Security and Medicare

This article was originally posted on Huffington Post.


Max Richtman, President and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

The 114th Congress will see many new faces after the 2014 midterms; however, the face of our nation's middle class remains largely unchanged - they're poorer, more diverse, getting older and facing a retirement crisis which threatens millions. How will this new Congress address this old reality? Not one of the newly-elected Members of Congress campaigned on promises to cut benefits to Social Security and Medicare, yet it's already clear the new GOP majority considers lowering corporate tax rates and cutting benefits to middle-class seniors a priority. Same as it ever was.

The disconnect between many in Congress and average Americans on Social Security and Medicare is certainly nothing new. In poll after poll, the American people clearly do not support cutting middle-class benefits in these programs to balance the budget or bankroll tax cuts for the wealthy or large corporations already dodging billions in taxes each year. Contrary to the current political mythology that the American people aren't willing to be "grownups" and make the "tough choices" for our nation, the fact is, they simply don't support the benefit-cutting strategy preferred by many Washington politicians. Not only do they oppose cutting benefits, most Americans support boosting benefits.

A new report by the National Academy of Social Insurance, "Americans Make Hard Choices on Social Security" shows that Americans' support for Social Security is unparalleled and they are willing to pay more in taxes to stabilize the system's finances and improve benefits. NASI reported:

Seven out of 10 participants prefer a package that would eliminate Social Security's long-term financing gap without cutting benefits. The preferred package would:

• Gradually, over 10 years, eliminate the cap on earnings taxed for Social Security. With this change, the 6 percent of workers who earn more than the cap would pay into Social Security all year, as other workers do. In return, they would get somewhat higher benefits.
• Gradually, over 20 years, raise the Social Security tax rate that workers and employers each pay from 6.2 percent of earnings to 7.2 percent. A worker earning $50,000 a year would pay about 50 cents a week more each year, matched by the employer.
• Increase Social Security's cost-of-living adjustment to reflect the inflation experienced by seniors.
• Raise Social Security's minimum benefit so that a worker who pays into Social Security for 30 years or more can retire at 62 or later and have benefits above the federal poverty line.

Exit polling after the midterm election, even in Republican-leaning states, mirrored the findings in the NASI report. Public Policy Polling found 86 percent opposition to allowing any cuts to Social Security and Medicare with 79 percent opposition among Republicans. Voters say they are also less likely to vote for a candidate who supports making cuts to Social Security and Medicare by 70 points. Of course, this isn't really a surprise to political candidates. It's why you will rarely hear politicians telling voters they plan to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits for the millions of middle-class families who depend on them. Instead, candidates have successfully deployed a dodge-and-deflect strategy built on Orwellian language in which they say they'll "preserve" these programs when they actually mean privatize, "strengthen" when they mean slash, or "give you choices" when they mean you're on your own. While that strategy has certainly worked on the campaign trail, what remains to be seen is if the new Republican majority can successfully govern using the same approach.

Congress' new leadership may want to give former President George Bush a call. Not so many years ago, he believed his "voter mandate" cleared the way to privatize Social Security - cutting benefits and putting workers' guaranteed benefits at risk on Wall Street. That didn't turn out so well for the President simply because the American people understood then, as they do today, the abiding value of America's retirement and health security programs. Outside Washington, Social Security and Medicare aren't regarded as political or partisan because they are synonymous with economic survival for millions of workers, retirees, people with disabilities and their families.

The difference between campaigning and governing is vast -- something the members of the 114th Congress will discover first hand if cuts to Social Security and Medicare remain on their legislative agenda.

Follow Max Richtman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/maxrichtman

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