September 16, 2005
Make Them Eat Their Words
Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math
Ezra's finishing up college this week, so the weekend crew is coming in a bit early. And just in time for Tom Reynolds (R-NY) to suggest that the GOP give up on Social Security. Reynolds runs the NRCC, the body responsible for coordinating recruiting and campaigning for all the House Republicans. And he has no interest in forcing increasingly vulnerable House Republicans to go into re-election having voted to tear Social Security into pieces.
Without a vote, it's time to dig through all the public statements from Bush's winter and spring tour where he kept touting privatization. Anyone who stood on a podium with Bush and shilled for his plans, anyone who said they supported tweaking Social Security, anyone who suggested we haved a "gender adjustment" to benefits, needs to have his or her statments crammed down his or her throat from August to November of 2006. So start combing through Nexis searches now, so that we're ready when the bell rings.
The bill may be dead, but now it's time to extract maximum political pain for even thinking up the idea, so no one ever takes it seriously again.
July 24, 2005
Social Security Privatization: Still a Bad Idea
Posted by Nick Beaudrot
I know it feels like beating a dead horse, but it's worth remembering that there are people out there still trying to pass "free lunch" proposals to privatize Social Security and/or cut benefits. There's a large message machine out there to promote the idea. And that idea must be rebutted until it's drummed from of every prominent Republican circle.
Thankfully I can outsource this intellectual garbage pickup to Angry Bear's Pro-Growth Liberal. And remember, folks, garbage men get paid pretty well.
Just say no to fuzzy math.
July 11, 2005
Looking For Love in All The Wrong Places
RedState.org thinks they've found the group who'll revive Social Security privatization:
Social Security reform garners major support from young Americans, who know that the system is tilted against them. Personal accounts are supported by 2/3rds of young Americans and almost universally by Young Republicans. Since the over 55 crowd will not be affected by any reforms, the face of reform should be young Americans. YRs have an opportunity to fill that void alongside groups such as Students for Saving Social Security.
Gee-willickers, Social Security is really in trouble! I didn't know 2/3rds of young folks believed in anything! But it seems I was wrong. Not only do they believe private accounts are a good idea, but they believe Bush is a lying scumbag who can't be trusted. Here are more results from the 18-29 demographic in the exact same poll:
• 26% approve of Bush's handling on Social Security, 51% disapprove;
• 39% mostly trust what Bush says about Social Security, 54% think he's mostly lying;
• 42% think Republicans are generally truthful on the issue, 50% think they're liars;
• 50% think Democrats are honest about Social Security, 41% think otherwise;
So here's the Republican's great hope, the demographic clear-eyed enough to lance through liberal lies and mass behind the President's proposals: they disapprove of Bush 2:1, more than half think he's a liar, most think his party lies, and most think Democrats are telling the truth.
Huh. Maybe my generation's smarter than I thought.
June 29, 2005
Social Security: Round 2?
Well this is fairly surprising. House Republicans are vowing to vote on Social Security before the year is through:
House Republican leaders pledged to seek a vote this year on legislation creating a scaled back version of President Bush's call for personal retirement accounts under Social Security.
Republicans said the measure would create personal accounts for younger workers, and some of the funds would be used to replace part of their traditional benefit. At the same time, they added, the accounts could be inherited under some circumstances.
The program would also raise the government's official deficit estimates by as much as $1 trillion over a decade, a development that could increase pressure on lawmakers to cut spending or raise taxes in the future.
The strategy here is a bit surprising, House Republicans, so far as I can tell, are self-BTU'ing themselves. The Senate's not likely to pass this bill, and if they don't, each and every Republican congressperson voting "aye" has to go and explain it to their districts in 2006, and do so with no program to show for their troubles. Peculiar.
Nevertheless, this argues powerfully against defunding and disbanding Americans United to Protect Social Security. If the Republicans don't think the fight's over, then it's not. And if the fight's not over, we shouldn't be disarming.
June 27, 2005
What a fitting epitaph to the Social Security fight:
"I had hoped there would be, after four months, a firestorm of support for accounts, especially among young people," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). "It's not there. I'm very disappointed."
Back in March, I argued that the Republican reliance on the young was a stupid mistake. My demographic doesn't care about Social Security. If you don't give a damn, private accounts sound fine, but you're not going to lay down in traffic, or even get up from the couch, in support of them. Not to mention that young folks were the only age groups easily carried by Senator Kerry. If we'd had our way, there'd be no Bush offering Social Security change, instead, there'd be a Democrat changing our health care system. If right wing luminaries like Grassley really were counting on a firestorm of twenty-something support, privatization was dead from the start.
June 19, 2005
You Trust Me? Really? Why?
Powerful article in the Times today about the real-world impacts, effects, and uses of Social Security. The piece profiles a set of seniors in Grand Rapids, digging into how Social Security affects, and in some cases, dictates their lives. One quote in particular stood out:
But others, like James Townsend, who worked as a forklift operator, defend the traditional program. "If they hadn't had Social Security, I wouldn't have saved that money," he said. "If I'd had extra money, I'd have spent it. I wouldn't have anything at all."
Generally, that strikes me as the primary divide between those in philosophical solidarity with private investment and those ideologically opposed. Putting aside clawbacks and phase-out and everything else, would you support a competently structured privatization program? Republicans answering the question usually say yes because they "trust people with their own money". That always struck me as hopelessly naive. In a society where the average man on the street is packing $5,800 of credit card debt, the idea that we're all competent financial planners managing our money with an eye towards retirement savings is giggle-inducing.
Over time, Bush came to understand this. Moreover, he realized that Americans, like James Townsend, are less confident in their money-managing abilities than Bush was. Guess that's difference between seeing an unabalanced checkbook every month and making generalizations based off a political philosophy. So Bush changed his own nonexistent plan into a scheduled set of investments, no control, little risk. At that point, all we were dealing with was a reduction in benefits, but Bush kept up the same refrain, the "I trust Americans with their money" chorus. But Bush really didn't. I don't. And neither, it turns out, do Americans. Having something come on a guaranteed schedule, protected from human error as surely as from market turmoil, offers an important psychological security net. And that's why the alternative plan for Social Security is Social Security. Yes yes, I know, it was created back in the prehistoric 1930's. But while our economy might have transformed since then, it turns out Americans haven't much changed -- they still like a sure thing.
June 16, 2005
Cut and Run
I'm enormously disturbed to hear that the GOP is looking for an exit strategy on Social Security. This sort of abandonment of Social Security could let it fall to AARP. Indeed, a reverse domino effect could take place, as liberal pressure groups sense weakness, judge the administration a paper tiger unwilling to take electoral casualties, and begin pushing for a massive expansion of the welfare state.
First Social Security, tomorrow the minimum wage, Monday universal day care, and next month, single-payer. The thought makes me shudder. Moreover, this essential willingness to abandon our nation's pension programs to those who seek to perpetuate our way of life proves the essential lack of seriousness conservatives bring to domestic policy. All of us who understand that Social Security is, as President Bush said, the foremost threat to our national economy realize that his absence of leadership on the issue betrays a willingness to abandon the country's best interest in pursuit of partisan gain.
The seniors, it seems, have already won.
June 14, 2005
Eat The Old
You know what? I want to work forever.
No, I mean it.
I want to be 93, with big coke-bottle glasses and an out of style suit (because, come age 93, I don't expect to give a fuck), striding into my office. Okay -- at 93, I probably won't stride much, but I'll do the best I can. And I want to greet my many young colleagues, make old Jewish guy jokes as I wind my way to my desk, sit down at my holographic laptop (which will now be a hopeless relic compared to the Cornea Computers others will use), and blog for a bit. Then I'll work the phones for awhile, trying to figure out what my next column will be. Then I'll blog a bit more. Work phones. Have lunch with somebody interesting. Go out with my wife to dinner. Etc.
Yes, I want to work forever because what I want to do sounds like it'll be fun forever. Maybe it won't be, of course, but David Broder is nearing 130 and he's still at it, so there seems to be a chance. Now. I would really not like to work forever if I was a tailor. I wouldn't not enjoy trudging into the office each morning and, at 93, bending down to hem pants. I would not enjoy standing up all day to adjust the merchandise. I would much rather be sitting at home, acting the dirty old man towards my wife.
John Tierney, because he does the first job, has written a column addressed to all those lazy asses doing the second. Those malingerers and loiterers who're checking out at 62, collecting reduced Social Security benefits, and hanging out with the grandkids. And John Tierney, as with all the columnists who offer this suggestion, is tough for doing it. He's taking on a sacred cow, saying what pols fear to say, going where lesser men wilt, speaking the hard truths to AARP's power.
Raising the retirement age is the most offensive serious public policy suggestion in American life. What it says about us as a culture, what it says about our chattering class -- it's just embarassing. It'd be one thing if Social Security really were bankrupting this country, if its costs stretched into the stratosphere and the poor American economy was being crushed under its weight, an Atlas without the quads. But it's just not so. What's needed to keep Social Security safe and solvent is so minor as to be laughable. Indeed, it's so minor that, with some good productivity growth, we'll never need to do it at all. But rather than advocate that, our chattering classes immediately reach for the nearest blunt object and begin clubbing the working class. So what if they need to work 8 more years at an unpleasant job? Why're they being so lazy? I'm going to be working when I'm 75, what's wrong with them!?
Well, nothing. It's not what's wrong with them, it's what's different about our chattering class. The folks retiring at 62 aren't Times op-ed columnists. Neither are they my father, a mathematician with a deep and abiding affection for hanging out at his office. Nor are they Senators (as Bob Dole said, "Inside work, no heavy lifting", or as Strom Thurmond noted, "What? Speak up, I can't hear you!"). They're folks who've worked at jobs they don't like for 45 years and want to stop. Prioritizing the repeal of the estate tax above letting the working class escape little-liked occupations while they still have healthy years to enjoy the time off wouldn't just be bad policy, it'd be wholly immoral. And so John Tierney, no matter how many "truth to power" points he gets for calling retirees lazy and indigent, should be punished for this column. He thinks Americans aren't getting more lazy, they're just being tricked into it by a pension system that encourages sloth and lolling. Next time he tries to write it, we should make him prove it. For each year he wants to raise the retirement age by, he has to spend 365 days as a short-order cook. On the last day, we can ask him if he'd like to retire from the profession despite his young age.
What do you think he'll say?
June 08, 2005
Ding-Dong, The Plan is Dead
Looks like Social Security is safe:
President Bush has all but conceded his plan for private accounts for Social Security is dead, admitting privatization won't save the federal retirement system.
"You can solve the solvency issue without personal accounts," Bush said in an interview with the Radio-Television News Directors Association.
According to the article, Bush is still going to push on solvency measures (funny, I remember predicting the same thing four months ago...), trying to squeeze a public relations victory out of an ideological loss. Democrats shouldn't let him. Back in 1994, Bill Clinton did a very stupid thing and dramatically swore to veto any health care bill that didn't ensure universal coverage. Thus, after all the bills providing universal coverage were buried in a deep, dark place in Newt Gingrich's secret underground lair, Clinton was unable to support any of the many minor, incremental bills that Republicans had cosponsored and that would've allowed him to enter the midterm elections having pushed through a tangible improvement on health care. It was, as Newt admitted, Clinton's worst mistake of the battle as it would've allowed him to regain the momentum before the midterms.
Bush isn't going to make it. He'll try and address the program's perceived solvency issues so he can strut into 2006 bragging about his courageous confrontation with the "third rail of politics" that had left America with a healthier pension program. Democrats, of course, can't stop him from pulling this pivot, but if they're smart, they could change the subject before it ever becomes legislation. There's broad agreement that Social Security isn't the problem, health care is. Demanding that attention be paid to Medicare and the uninsured will make further moves on Social Security seem like a puzzling diversion from the work at hand and hopefully cut off further maneuvers by the president. As an issue, health care is even stronger for Democrats than Social Security was (the American people did support investment accounts, on health care, their support is for single-payer and further government involvement), and they should press the advantage as the election looms closer, not let the president regain ground on a battle he lost.
May 31, 2005
A Plan for Social Security
Among left-wing bloggers, there's a general consensus that Democrats would be foolish to offer a competing plan for restructuring Social Security. This consensus is right (I refer the unconvinced to the Gospel of Matthew), but it leaves open the question of what to say when we're asked what our plan is, or why we don't have a plan.
There's a simple plan we can lay out here: Balance the budget, and no matter what happens with Social Security over the next 40 years, we'll be able to take care of it. Balancing the budget will put America into a sufficiently good financial position that we'll be able to shore up Social Security no matter what goes wrong. If Social Security needs a little extra money to keep going, we'll be able to come up with that.
The best thing about this strategy is that it allows us to segue immediately into talk about Republican fiscal incompetence. Here's where you start talking about tax cuts for the rich, or if you're in an anti-spending environment, big corporate giveaways like the ban on negotiating lower prices for Medicare prescription drugs. It's probably an especially good thing to say to people like Russert, since earnest talk about deficit reduction makes you look all principled and bipartisan in centrist environments.