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Decades of Bad Social Security & Medicare Proposals Rolled into One – Courtesy of Governor Chris Christie

Hyperbole -- fact twisting and sheer omission -- false truths presented by “courageous truth-tellers.”  None of this is really new to American politics.  However, today New Jersey Governor Chris Christie deployed all of these time-worn propaganda techniques to unveil his plan to cut $1 trillion in benefits (that’s $1,000,000,000,000) from generations of Americans who will depend on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. 

He says it’s all about “fairness.”  However, he proposes not a single dime of new revenue and has no problem with average Americans paying payroll taxes on all of their income while the wealthy do not. 

Apparently, slashing pensions in New Jersey to preserve his no tax pledge simply isn’t enough.  Now he hopes to do the same nationwide.  In spite of his promise to offer the GOP Presidential primary race something new, today’s comments were merely a recitation and doubling-down on the same GOP claims that our nation can’t afford to honor its commitment to America’s workers and future retirees. 

NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, sums it up this way:

“The Governor’s plan to means-test Social Security, cutting off some Americans and transitioning the program from an earned benefit to welfare has long been the goal of those who oppose social insurance programs. It seems the Governor acknowledges that his flagging Presidential campaign needed a jolt because today’s speech was far more about burnishing Governor Christie’s conservative credentials than offering new proposals that could help America’s workers and retirees. He certainly isn’t showing bold leadership by claiming we must cut middle-class benefits, while protecting tax expenditures benefiting huge corporations and the wealthy.  That’s been the GOP position for a very long time. Today Governor Christie joins a long line of conservative politicians who hope to convince voters they are “courageous truth-tellers” when in truth their goal is to dismantle the very programs which have kept millions from poverty.

The majority of Americans – of all ages, no matter their political party -- opposes cutting already modest benefits and is willing to pay more to boost the program. They understand Social Security and Medicare are not welfare programs nor should they be.  Getting any GOP Presidential candidate to acknowledge that fact takes true political courage. But unfortunately that’s not the ‘red meat’ the GOP’s conservative base expects to hear nor the truth candidates like Governor Christie are willing to tell.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

While he claims “no one” will talk about cutting benefits like he will, the fact is, the past decade has seen numerous attacks on the programs from Presidents, Presidential commissions, Congressional “Gangs of 6” and too many legislative proposals to even list here.  Senate Governor Christie is merely the latest in a growing list of GOP Presidential candidates who all promote the same “strengthen = slash” approach.  They tout their protection of poorer seniors while proposing benefit cuts, cost sharing and means testing that will impact millions of poor and middle-class beneficiaries.  Each candidate also follows the conservative-crafted playbook which promises current retirees (who consistently vote) will be protected from cuts, instead targeting their children and grandchildren (who aren’t thinking about retirement yet) for even smaller benefits.

 Many GOP Candidates – Same Social Security & Medicare Approach
  • Senator Ted Cruz supports privatizing Social Security, turning Medicare into “Coupon Care”, raising the retirement age and Medicare eligibility age, and cutting Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs).  Each of these proposals would cut benefits well below the current $1,200 average monthly benefit
  •  Senator Rand Paul has called Social Security a Ponzi scheme and supports allowing people to opt out of the program.  He also supports raising the retirement age and Medicare eligibility age, Social Security privatization, and raising seniors’ Medicare premiums and copayments.
  • Senator Marco Rubio supports privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age and cutting Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs).  He considers current benefits “generous” and supports the GOP/Ryan budget which turns Medicare into “Coupon Care”.

None of these candidates have expressed support for lifting the payroll tax cap so that wealthy Americans pay the same rate as everyone else or proposals addressing income adequacy for millions of beneficiaries of all ages.

Now, that would be a true act of political courage.

 

 

Support for Expanding Social Security Grows & Right-Wingers Panic

This week has seen a wave of attacks by conservative columnists and think-tankers outraged that the call to Boost Social Security benefits is gaining traction on Capitol Hill (it’s already widely supported by Americans of all political persuasions nationwide). The shifting political tide was most recently apparent when an amendment to expand Social Security benefits was introduced by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Joe Manchin and supported by the majority of Senate Democrats.  That Congressional support mobilized a host of anti-Social Security writers, with libertarian Ann Ryand fan Megan McArdle leading the pack, to pen feverish anti-Social Security tomes.  Each of them following the same conservative talking points portraying Social Security as welfare, seniors as “greedy geezers” and demanding benefit cuts to pay for billionaire tax cuts they consider off-limits for reform. 

NCPSSM’s Equal Time details McArdle’s Bloomberg piece:    

The Left Gets It Wrong About Social Security

Megan McArdle, Columnist

McArdle’s disdain for Social Security is sprinkled throughout her error-laden story.  Here are just a few samples (emphasis is ours):

 

“no one, left or right, really wants to take on our vast army of retirees...”

 

“progressives who are ideologically opposed to shrinking the welfare state...”

 

“It is supremely irrelevant whether that money flows through the "trust fund" or Uncle Sam holds an annual ceremony in which the trustees are handed one of those giant checks they present to lottery winners...”

 

“Social Security's great political strength is the perception that beneficiaries have earned their benefits...”

 

 “The only reason that the system isn't in the red already is the net interest the government is paying itself on the bonds in the trust fund.” 

 

 

As a columnist, McArdle is paid to express her opinions.  However, as an employee of a “news organization” she should be expected to at least build her case based on facts.  As the Los Angeles Times correctly assessed, “It's rare to find so much sophistry, misunderstanding and misinformation about Social Security in one place.”  So much so, we can’t even begin to fact-check all of it; however, we’ll address the first four quotes listed above as classic examples of how conservatives consistently choose language describing Social Security as if it’s a “welfare state” where “vast army of retirees” are lucky enough to be “handed...giant checks” like lottery winners.  After all, it’s only a “perception that beneficiaries have earned their benefits.” Of course, the truth for millions of Americans who have actually worked and paid into Social Security for a lifetime (not just “perceived” that they did) does not resemble the political and verbal mythology created by conservatives like McArdle in any way. 

 

The claim that Social Security’s financing is actually worse than it appears because of some sort of accounting gimmick by which “the government is paying itself” shows either complete  ignorance of how the Trust Fund works or willful misrepresentation of the facts.  Simply put, the federal government pays interest on the money it borrows from American workers’ payroll tax contributions to Social Security.  That’s not the same as “paying itself.”  It’s a legal obligation we owe to all bond holders.  We also do this for the bonds in Warren Buffett and Pete Peterson’s portfolios, so why do conservatives never treat that as somehow suspect?  While defaulting on our debt to Pete Peterson or China would never be allowed (nor should it)...refusing to pay back America’s retirees is not only acceptable to conservatives but exactly the solution alleged “fiscal hawks” want Congress to adopt. 

Apparently, just one attack on the Boost Social Security movement wasn’t enough so Bloomberg posted a second piece, written by National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru on the very next day (followed by yet another McArdle article later that afternoon).  Sensing the panic here?

Here’s Richard Eskow’s Huffington Post analysis of Ponnuru’s version of the anti-Social Security playbook:

“...we're taken on a wild ride that includes misperceptions about the financing of social insurance, the mischaracterization of Social Security as an anti-poverty program, and the citation of a methodologically flawed study from the American Enterprise Institute which incorrectly ascribes all sorts of economic evils - including "reducing work, saving, and even birth rates" - to Social Security.

But then, the anti-Social Security crowd has been playing by the same rules for decades: Ignore the needs and wishes of the majority, mislead the public about the fiscal facts and your opponents' arguments, and stigmatize the elderly (a cohort which most of us will eventually join) as a morally flawed "special interest."

Not content to let Bloomberg News have all the fun, the Washington Post’s editorial board piled on today adding yet another “cut Social Security” oped to their long list of similar screeds, claiming support of the Boost movement is just “pandering to seniors.”

“Of course, there’s nothing particularly original about the progressives’ campaign, either politically or policy-wise. Pandering to the elderly may be especially urgent for Democrats now, given that the formerly reliably blue 65-and-older set has evolved into a Republican constituency in the past decade, according to Gallup . But buying votes with Social Security promises is a hoary ploy whose master practitioner was none other than President Richard M. Nixon.”

The Post then goes on to claim there is no retirement crisis, the rich can’t afford to be taxed so much and seniors are actually doing quite well, thank you very much.  According to the Washington Post, supporting Social Security means you’re pandering to seniors (conveniently ignoring the fact that millions of children and people with disabilities of all ages also receive benefits).  But why doesn’t the Washington Post ever describe those opposed to cutting even a penny from trillions of dollars in tax expenditures for corporations as pandering to the 1%? 

Why?  Because that’s definitely not in the anti-Social Security playbook. 

Congress Targets Social Security with Fast-Track Commission Plan

"Reps. Tom Cole (R-OK) and John Delaney (D-MD) plan to introduce a bill this Congress that would create a Social Security commission to propose changes to the program, Cole's office confirmed to TPM on Monday." - Talking Points Memo.

“The commission would probably gradually raise retirement age, it would probably look at chained CPI, would probably look at means-testing and probably look at some sort of revenue, or reduce benefits for upper-income people,” Cole said. “Then you have to vote.”  - The Hill.

 “We are troubled that H.R. 1578 takes several steps to circumvent a deliberative public process, limiting the participation of Social Security stakeholders and advocates. For example, the Committees of jurisdiction over the Social Security program — the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Ways and Means — would have limited input in the development of the Commission’s recommendations. Under “fast track” procedural rules in your bill, the legislation embodying the Commission’s recommendations would be considered by Congress on an expedited, “take-it-or-leave-it” basis.  No amendments to the Commission’s bill could be offered and it could be passed in both the House and Senate by a simple majority vote. Normally, Section 310(g) of the Budget Act and the Senate’s “Byrd rule” require 60 votes in the Senate to approve legislation which changes Social Security." - Max Richtman.

 

Women on 20’s and the Social Security Connection

 “A woman’s place is on the money” is the catchy tagline of a growing national movement to put an American woman trail blazer on the $20 bill.  It’s pretty fitting timing given that it’s Women’s History month and a long overdue improvement if you consider that the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea dollars (when’s the last time you used one of those?) are the only places women are represented on our currency. 

Reading through the list of women candidates is a walk through America’s history and a reminder of how many strong, smart and brave women have impacted our nation.  We couldn’t help but take note of two nominees who played vital roles in the creation of Social Security – First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the first female U.S. Cabinet member, and the longest-serving labor secretary in history, Frances Perkins.  Both women played critical roles in ensuring America’s retirees would have an income security lifeline as they age. Eleanor Roosevelt is also the inspiration for our “Eleanor’s Hope” initiative which is raising awareness, recruiting and training new Social Security activists while also bolstering Congressional leaders who are making a difference on women’s health and retirement security issues.  We’re also advocating for legislation that addresses the inequities threatening millions of retired women and working to elect lawmakers who share our vision of retirement equity for women. 

Without Social Security, over half of all older Americans would fall into poverty. More than many other federal programs, Social Security does exactly what it was designed to do - it gives retired people a secure, basic income for as long as they live.  We think that’s a really great reason to cast our Women on 20’s vote for Eleanor and Frances (plus you get to pick one more too!)

 

Congress Trades Bad Deal for Doctors for Bad Deal for Seniors in Medicare

The House has passed the so-called "doc fix" legislation replacing the flawed reimbursement formula Congress itself created years ago to cut pay to doctors in Medicare.  The formula has never worked and Congress has had to vote to replace it year after year.  We've supported the permanent replacement of this flawed formula and still do.  Unfortunately, the legislation that passed the House today merely trades one bad deal for another.  And this time it's seniors who take the hit. 

 “Contrary to claims by supporters, on both sides of the aisle, this ‘doc fix’ does not impact only ‘wealthy seniors’. Millions of beneficiaries who depend on a Medigap plan to help pay their health care bills – no matter their income -- will be hit with higher costs. Given that 46% of all Medigap policy holders had incomes of $30,000 or less, it’s clear this deal impacts far more than the wealthy, as the bill’s proponents have claimed.  What’s more, Medicare beneficiaries will be forced to contribute nearly $60 billion in premiums over the next decade to replace the SGR.

No doubt, we’ll hear today that this ‘compromise’ Medicare doc-fix plan must be a success because there are concessions from all sides.  Unfortunately, that political trope is just as flawed as the SGR itself because it ignores the financial reality facing Medicare beneficiaries just as the SGR ignored the reality facing doctors. Trading a bad deal for doctors for a bad deal for seniors is not a legislative victory and it is a surprising move from some in Congress who have previously vowed to protect Medicare from cuts and seniors from cost-shifting.

 It’s no surprise that anti-“entitlement” lobbyists on Capitol Hill and their allies in Congress are celebrating this deal for the benefit cuts they know will ‘grow like an avalanche over time’.  That avalanche will be headed straight for American retirees, current and future, as Congress continues to push Medicare down the slippery slope of means testing, raising costs for more and more seniors, including the middle-class.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

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