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As I saw every talking head, editorial columnist and pundit inside the Beltway continue to hammer home this idea that Social Security must be "fixed" on the backs of those of us who will retire in the next 15 years or so, I wondered if I missed the Frank Luntz memo on Social Security. As it turns out, I did. The reason I missed it is because it was written in 2005 during the privatization debate, a time I desperately tried to forget.
As with Luntz' health care reform memo, there are several required themes which Luntz has instructed conservatives to hammer home. He must have refreshed it and sent it out again to the Washington Post and cable outlets this week.
In my post yesterday, I pointed to Samuelson and Gerson editorials in the Washington Post which said, in essence, Boomers have to take the hit because it's just the right thing to do. Here's a quote from Luntz' 2005 memo:
3. To achieve “generation fairness,” we have a responsibility to save Social Security RIGHT NOW so that our children and generations to come receive the same benefits we have enjoyed.
4. It would be easier to turn away and leave the tough decisions to others down the road. But we do things in life not because they are easy but because they are necessary — no matter how hard they are. And delay just makes the solution more difficult and costly.
Here's the language Samuelson used:
We have a fairness dilemma: Having avoided these problems for decades, we must now be unfair to someone.
The trouble is that hardly anyone admits that accomplishing these goals must include making significant cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits for baby boomers.
Another Luntz talking point:
5. Social Security is a financially broken system; it will start going bankrupt in 13 years and will be completely bankrupt in a matter of decades. For the tens of millions of Americans who depend on Social Security, this is simply unacceptable.
6. Washington has done a terrible job managing the Social Security Trust Fund. A 1.6% return on your Social Security dollars is unacceptable. It’s time to give the American people a say in how THEIR money is invested and the opportunity to do better.
Obama's liberal base contends that the Social Security trust fund is not in immediate trouble. But this argument depends on an elaborate accounting trick. The trust fund is not filled with assets - gold bullion and Apple stock. It is filled with debt issued by the government to itself. The surpluses of the trust fund are in fact liabilities for the government as a whole. And these illusory surpluses are regularly used to subsidize the rest of the budget. The scheme begins to collapse in 2037, when promised benefits for Social Security recipients will suddenly drop by about 25 percent - unless the system is reformed.
This is how Frank Luntz turns the full faith and credit of the US Government into a negative. On the one hand, the argument goes like this: Debt (aka treasury bonds) must be paid off, and Social Security obligations hamper that effort. On the other hand, Social Security trust funds have been raided to pay for government activities and exchanged for bonds. In other words, twist it up and scare people by telling them the US government might not be able to meet its obligations while arguing for privatized accounts which invest in Wall Street securities.
But wait! There's an answer for the Wall Street investment problem too. And never forget, this was written in 2005, pre-meltdown:
For the people to trust Wall Street, Wall Street -- and Washington -- must be put in their place. “Wall Street” is America, and Washington will just spend it all. Amidst all the scandal and corruption within the Financial Services industry, it is important that Wall Street be seen as the driving force of the American economy, and as far removed from scandal as possible.
If you must address these scandals, then bring Washington into the mix, Make it a choice: Wall Street or Washington. Neither should control our money. We should make the choice ourselves. And any new system should enforce the principle of accountability.
Oh, the twists and turns. I'll leave you with this quote from the memo under a header that says it all:
DICK CHENEY WORDS THAT WORK
The Social Security system is in trouble. It’s been a fantastic program. It’s been there for 65 years. It has provided benefits for senior citizens over that period —for my parents. And it means a great deal to millions of Americans. I want to make absolutely certain that the first thing we do is guarantee the continuation of those benefits and keep those promises that were made.
But I have two daughters, and they seriously question whether or not there will be any system left for them. And that’s because of the demographics at work.
We know how many people are going to reach retirement age. We know when that Baby Boom generation is coming along. We know its going to drive .the system into bankruptcy unless we reform it.
Every single time they parrot these talking points, I'm going to point it out. I just need a catchy category title.
Luntz Lies? Pundit Panderings? Help me out here.
(h/t to Michael (paxromana5777 on Twitter) for finding the Luntz memo)