In the midst of the quite excellent discussion of Social Security policy we’re having on DKos these days, there is one very simple question that I think isn’t getting adequate play. It’s almost like it’s so simple that people take it for granted rather than questioning it: Why is the federal government even debating Social Security cuts?
As Kossack NCPSSM reported in February of this year, a study released in January by the non-partisan National Academy of Social Insurance states that large majorities of Americans oppose benefits cuts of all kinds in Social Security. In fact, 71% of Americans want a benefits package that would:
Gradually eliminate the cap on earnings that are taxed for Social Security over a 10-year period. That change would affect the 5 percent of all workers who earn more than this year's cap ($113,700).Not only do Americans want these benefits, they are willing to pay for them—in astonishingly large majorities. NCPSSM reports that NASI’s study shows:
- Gradually raise the payroll tax rate on both employers and workers over a 20-year period to 7.2 percent from 6.2 percent.
- Bolster a special minimum benefit intended to keep very low-income workers above the federally defined poverty line.
- Set Social Security's annual inflation increase, using a measure of consumer prices that accurately reflects the higher prices older people pay for healthcare - effectively, the opposite of a chained CPI.
- Keep Social Security's full retirement age at 67 (already the age for beneficiaries born in 1960 or later), and do not means test the program.
88 percent of "Silent Generation" respondents, 86 percent of Baby Boomers (those greedy geezers Alan Simpson loves to chastise), 87 percent of Gen X-ers, and 85 percent of Gen Y-ers are willing to pay more in taxes to protect Social Security. Three out of four Republicans said they'd be willing to pay more to protect the program with 62 percent of the GOP willing to increase the program’s benefits. 86 percent of independents - and 91 percent of Democrats are willing to pay more to strengthen Social Security with 71 percent of independents and 84 percent of Democrats also interested in increasing benefits. While true bi-partisanship may be dead in Washington, step outside the Beltway and the bi-partisan support for preserving Social Security couldn’t be stronger.OK, so in one way, this couldn’t be simpler: the American people want a certain set of benefits, they’re willing to pay for them with their tax dollars, and they’re telling Congress that that’s what they want. Large majorities of both Republican and Democratic voters want these benefits and are willing to pay for them. So enact the policy, knock off early, and let’s all go get a beer. This should be a no-brainer for everybody except the Tea Party, who represent the only voters who seem to have any interest in cutting Social Security benefits.
follow me beneath the orange squiggle to enact the policy, knock off early, and get a beer...
So why is this happening? Why are the competing proposals in Washington either specific cuts (from the President) or non-specific cuts (from Paul Ryan)? Why this discussion?
At one level, it’s obvious why it’s happening; billionaires like Pete Peterson and others think there’s a great deal of money to be made on Wall St if a privatized retirement plan replaces Social Security and Medicare. They also appear to have a genuine, if somewhat nasty, ideological dislike of the idea of vast numbers of working people getting any benefit from the government. Admittedly, we’ve gotten to the point on this blog—and in this country—that evidence of graft and corruption in DC simply makes us sigh and nod, resigned to the fact that anyone with enough money can make the federal government jump as high as they want.
However, the influence of wealth on government isn’t new, and neither is Mr. Peterson’s rampage against Social Security and Medicare—he founded the Concord Coalition to “attack the deficit” in 1992. The position of these particular wealthy individuals about earned benefits hasn’t changed. Neither, interestingly has the position of the rest of America in support of Social Security. At ssa.gov, the Social Security Administration website, you can find an excellent and detailed summary of American attitudes to Social Security in the Social Security Bulletin, December 1989/Vol. 52, No. 12., which covers the period from its inception to the late 80s:
Income maintenance for the aged received overwhelming support, which increased steadily from 68 percent of the population in 1936 to a nearly unanimous 96 percent in 1944. This strong support was common to all age, income, regional, and occupational subgroups of the population.Although public confidence in the ability of the program to pay out benefits has changed over time, public belief that the program should exist and pay out benefits has not altered in any appreciable way, with strong support for the program varying between 60% and 90% over the decades:
Confidence in the future of the Social Security system declined considerably in the late 1970’s (table 2). In 1975, 63 percent of the American public had expressed confidence in the future of the program, and 37 percent had little or no confidence. By 1978, these proportions were virtually reversed, and the percentage who were “not at all confident” had doubled. However, the public remained largely committed to maintaining the major features of the program in its existing form. Towards the end of the decade, the weight of public opinion still supported the concept that the Government should spend more to help older people (table 3); that benefits should increase when the cost of living increases (table 4);and that benefits should be increased even if it means higher taxes (table 5-7). Opposition to a cut in payroll taxes remained solid if the cut was accompanied by a reduction in some benefits (table 8)… When they were asked to choose between continuing or ending the Social Security program, 67 percent strongly opposed ending the program; 10 percent were mildly opposed to such action. If given a choice, 77 percent of the American public would opt to stay in the program.Even in the 80s, when confidence in Social Security was at its lowest, surveys indicated a stubborn, unwavering support for the program:
About three-fourths of the population remained of the opinion that Social Security should provide enough for at least an adequate standard of living, according to polls in 1978, 1982, and 1984 (table 15). In spite of an occasional odd discrepancy between results from polls taken at about the same time, in nearly every case in the 1980’s, a majority said the Government should spend more on Social Security (table 16). There was firm and generally increasing opposition (76-95 percent) to a spending cut for Social Security (table 17).In a way, this isn’t news: Social Security was the Third Rail of American politics, it’s been the Third Rail consistently throughout its history, and it remains so today, everywhere except inside the Beltway and amongst the pundits. If you need more evidence that Americans still overwhelmingly support Social Security, and, if anything, think more resources should be put into it rather than less, here’s some more studies:
But if Social Security is still the Third Rail, shouldn’t we be talking, not about fiscal details and in-the-weeds wonkery, but about the survival of American democracy? The real story here is that Congress and the White House seem absolutely indifferent to the opinions of voters of all ages, parties, and ideological leanings. Unlike in the past, where voter rage and the influence of wealth constantly checked each other in a kind of dynamic balance, the only thing that counts in DC right now is money.
In a frightening moment from the Pete Peterson-inspired 2012 Fiscal Responsibility Summit, CNN reporter Erin Burnett asked Speaker Boehner:
"Do you think that democracy is part of the problem? That in a democracy people are always going to vote for more things, they are never going to vote to take them away. Now the payroll tax is down; good luck ever having it go back to the way it was. Good luck with a lot of these things. Is democracy going to be what sends us over the cliff?"
Although Burnett is wrong about Americans’ willingness to pay for what they get through taxes (they are absolutely willing to do so), her willingness to sacrifice democracy because the people refuse to give her and Pete Peterson the cuts they want is horrifying. What’s worse is that Congress and the White House appear to agree with her. The shape of the Social Security debate in Washington demonstrates the callous indifference of the White House and Congress to what the will of the American people truly is. The economic debates in Washington have become impermeable, hermetically sealed against the American people, who have been locked out of the conversation by politicians and pundits who characterize the American voters as self-indulgent children who don’t know what’s good for them. Under this set of political assumptions, democracy itself is the danger, and politicians, pundits and billionaires like Pete Peterson are in loco parentis to the American people, whose appetites for “more things” would otherwise wreck the nation—a particularly amazing hypocrisy, given the 16 trillion, 770 billion dollars of bailout money DC was happy to extend to those same billionaires a few years ago.
Thus, the fight over Social Security is about far more than Social Security. It’s about the assumptions that underlie our Republic, and make it possible. We must fight not only because we refuse to allow millions to be thrown into poverty. We must fight because the basic principle of representative government is being discarded before our eyes.
DailyKos Blogathon -- Week of April 8th
(All times are Eastern, diaries published by the Pushing back at the Grand Bargain group)
Monday, April 8
10:00 a.m. Roger Fox
12:00 noon eXtina
2:00 p.m. Guest crosspost by Yves Smith
3:00 p.m. poopdogcomedy
4:00 p.m. Horace Boothroyd III
6:00 p.m. slinkerwink
8:00 p.m. joedemocrat
Tuesday, April 9
Wednesday, April 10
Thursday, April 11
Friday April 12
1. Call your senators and representatives and tell them "Hell No!" with a priority on contacting senators. U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. You can find email contact information here
2. Contact the White House and tell them "Hell No!". Switchboard: 202-456-1414. Email contact page is here.
3. Petitions. There are a number of petitions available. Choose from the following or preferably sign them all.
a. White House petition calling for no cuts to Social Security.
4. Social Media. Share this diary and promote this blogathon on Facebook and Google+ using the buttons at the top of the diary. Send this out on Twitter and add the hashtags #HellNo and #NoGrandBargain.
Blogathon diaries you might have missedMonday:
Hell No! #NoGrandBargain: "Pushing back at the Grand Bargain" by Roger Fox
Hell No! Chained CPI will reduce eligability for EITC #noChainedCPI by Roger Fox
Hell No! Dan Pfeiffer: "The President's Budget Shows That He is Serious About Solving Deficits" by eXtina
Guest Crosspost, Yves Smith: Obama Wants to Be the President Who Rolled Back the New Deal by Yves Smith via joanneleon
IA-Sen: Tom Harkin (D) Needs Our Help Telling Obama Hell No To The Chained CPI by poopdogcomedy
Hell No! Stop crushing the poor by Horace Boothroyd III
Hell, No! Social Security Contributes Nothing To Deficit by slinkerwink
Hell No! No Grand Bargain: Chained CPI: Social Security Means So Much To So Many by joedemocrat