Thursday, February 17, 2011

TIME GOES BY | Social Security and the President's Budget Proposal

By Ronni Bennett

Okay, we had a lot of fun yesterday discussing our disappearing derrieres. Now it's time to do some serious elder work. Stick around. This is crucial to you and to the future of your children and grandchildren.

President Obama released his 2012 budget proposal [full text here] on Monday. Pretty much nobody likes it. Predictably, Republicans object it on grounds that it is not draconian enough and doesn't cut "entitledments."
Others used words like “timid” and “it could be worse” and “falls short” and “flawed” and “unrealistic” - you get the idea.

Of course, it covers the entire federal government and I'm not qualified to comment on a lot of it. The Medicare section will take more study and thought (Saul Friedman, where are you now that I need you). But I do know a thing or two about Social Security.

In the overview, the budget states the president's overall position on the program:
“Although Social Security does not face an immediate crisis and is not driving our short-term deficits or long-term debt, it does face a long-term financing shortfall.

“Failing to strengthen Social Security will result in substantial benefit cuts for future retirees and will undermine the basic notion that a lifetime of hard work should be rewarded with dignity in retirement.

“If we address these long term challenges early, we can help ensure that Social Security’s compact remains strong and progressive for future generations.” [p. 26]
That is encouraging and I give the president a B+. But a few pages earlier, there is this in reference to wider issues including Social Security:
“Taking on many of these long-term funding issues will take months, if not years, of discussion and deliberation. The Fiscal Commission’s report opened a debate on many of these topics, such as tax reform and Social Security. The President hopes to build on the work they did to create space to discuss these issues...” [p. 23]
Hold on here. There is no official Fiscal Commission report, just some pages from a few of the Republicans on the Commission that couldn't get a majority of votes from the 18 members, and it decimates Social Security.

So that statement is worrisome. You gotta carefully watch every word of these politicians, including the president, all the time; they are good at leaving themselves loopholes to crawl through later.

This up-front portion of the budget also lists the president's “six principles” for Social Security reform. [pgs. 26/27]
  1. Any reform should strengthen Social Security for future generations and restore long-term solvency.

  2. The Administration will oppose any measures that privatize or weaken the Social Security system.

  3. While all measures to strengthen solvency should be on the table, the Administration will not accept an approach that slashes benefits for future generations.

  4. No current beneficiaries should see their basic benefits reduced.

  5. Reform should strengthen retirement security for the most vulnerable, including low-income seniors.

  6. Reform should maintain robust disability and survivors’ benefits.
I am most grateful for the unqualified number two and overall, I support these. But those “shoulds,” in the context of Washington politics, seem to leave a lot of wiggle room and number 3's “all measures...on the table” seems to counter the other statements.

In a later section on Social Security alone [pgs. 163-165], the president proposes

• Measures to reduce the backlog of disability claims
• New efforts to ensure payments are made to the right person in the correct amount to reduce waste
• A pilot program to improve outcomes for children
• And another pilot simplifying disability work rules that would no longer terminate benefits based solely on earnings.

Of course you know that the president's proposal is only the first salvo in what will be a long and brutal battle over the budget. There is no doubt that tea party and other Republicans (and a few Democrats) will do everything in their power to cut Social Security. Their real goal is to eliminate it.

The mainstream media, print and television, will be no help. Every time they mention the deficit – even those that are accused by the right of being leftwing - they lump in Social Security as one of the problems.

It is not. Social Security has never contributed one penny to the deficit. Over the coming weeks, I will be posting stories that in simple terms will give you the facts and the ammunition you need to do your part to hold the president to his principle to “oppose any measures to privatize or weaken the Social Security system.”

Personally, I want to change that “oppose” to “veto.”

You will find the entire budget here and there is a good interactive graphic of it from The New York Times.

TIME GOES BY | Social Security and the President's Budget Proposal

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