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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

 

 

 

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What ACA Repeal Means for Seniors

House Republicans have voted more than 50 times to rollback or fully repeal the Affordable Care Act.  They did it again yesterday. While it feels like Bill Murray’s movie “Groundhog Day” it’s not even close to funny for the millions of Americans this repeal would hurt.  

 

Seniors have probably been the most demagogued group when it comes to what the ACA actually means to their health care. Remember those fake “death panels” you were assured were a part of health care reform?  They weren’t.  The ACA also didn’t “destroy Medicare” as promised by opponents.  Quite to the contrary, seniors in Medicare have benefitted from a number of important improvements since its passage.  This success is exactly why the conservatives in Washington remain desperate to repeal health care reform before evidence of the ACA’s success can no longer be buried in a mountain of their false claims and political hysteria.

 

Medicare beneficiaries will save, on average, $5,000 over the next ten years thanks to health care reform provisions. Here are just a few of the real-life benefits millions of seniors in Medicare would lose immediately if Republicans have their way and repeal the Affordable Care Act.  You can see even more in our NCPSSM brief.  

 

  • No out-of-pocket costs for preventive services like colorectal and mammogram screenings and annual wellness visits 
  • 50% discount for brand name drugs purchased while in the Part D donut hole, leading to the closure of the donut hole entirely 
  • $700 in covered drug costs for the average senior would be lost and the sickest seniors would face $3,600 in additional out-of-pocket costs
  • Reduction of billions in overpayments to private insurers in Medicare and a new requirement that 85% of every dollar is spent on healthcare rather than costs/profits 
  • $200 per year in premiums and $200 in out-of-pocket costs to be saved by seniors by the year 2018 
  • $350 million in fraud-fighting investment 
  • Medicare Trust Fund will lose years of solvency

 

Of course, seniors in Medicare aren’t the only ones this repeal would hurt.  Here’s a list of what losing the Affordable Care Act means for Americans of every age.

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The President’s Budget Plan -Good News and Bad News for America’s Seniors

 Reaction from National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare President/CEO, Max Richtman on the President's Budget: 

“We’re glad to see President Obama respond to the GOP majority’s Social Security hostage-taking by including language in his 2016 budget allowing the routine rebalancing of the Trust Funds. Threatening people with disabilities with a 20% benefit cut unless there are broader Social Security benefit cuts plays politics with the livelihoods of 11 million Americans and their families rather than resolving this imminent funding issue. We applaud the President for taking a stand against this Social Security ploy.  The President also included increased funding for the Social Security Administration which is desperately needed by an agency that’s been forced to reduce local office hours, cut back on consumer services, and increase the wait time for disability hearings. We urge Congress to approve this Social Security Administration budget.

While the President’s budget thankfully no longer includes cuts to Social Security, through the Chained-CPI proposal, his 2016 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 as well.

Medicare has been means-tested since 2007 and the number of beneficiaries subject to higher premiums has been increasing.  If passed, the President’s means testing proposal will hurt middle-class individuals and flies in the face of his budget theme of ‘middle-class’ economics.  The economic realities facing America’s middle-class retirees are ignored by these provisions which shift even more costs onto seniors and exacerbate the retirement deficit gap millions of Americans face now and into the future. These Medicare proposals are especially worrisome given the fact that with the new GOP majority in Congress, passage of these cost-shifting plans can happen with a simple majority vote in the Senate posing a serious threat to millions of American seniors.” ...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

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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.

 

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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.

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