The Beltway was jumping for joy over the news that Obama and Republicans were seen holding hands and going out on a dinner date. Hey, the wedding is still on, whispered the new wave of Broders.
However, the new Politico piece then veers off into a dark and dank place indeed, sooo----Say it ain't so.
A lull in the deadline-driven budget battles could soon give way to a fresh round of fiscal crises — from rising public pressure to lift the sequester to a looming summer deadline to increase the debt limit. If the president is to have any hope of resolving either fight to his liking, he’ll need more revenue. But Republicans won’t even consider it unless entitlement reforms are on the table.
So after more than two months in hiding, talk of a grand bargain has suddenly resurfaced in Washington.
Obama is doing things he’s never done — like dine out this week with a dozen Republican senators at a meal in which they talked fiscal issues, invite House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to the White House for lunch — and to re-engage with lawmakers after almost two years of campaigning against them.
“This week, we’ve gone 180,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday. “After being in office now for four years, he’s actually going to sit down and talk to members.”
To me, this piece is more Beltway gossip than fact. And the truth is that the Villagers are the biggest supporters for a Grand Bargain and never stop trying to slant their coverage accordingly. Last week the reports were that the Grand Bargain was dead. Now with a lull in the news after Rand-Paulvision ended comes the new news that the GB is back on table. Seriously, beltway media Gods?
I wrote for years that the President should have taken to the airwaves immediately after the stimulus was passed to explain to Americans the challenges we faced as a nation and set his own agenda, but his team chose to overstate the impact the stimulus would have and then moved on to join the deficit reduction choirboys.
What a long, strange trip it's been. Despite a decade of attempts by Pete Peterson and his accomplices to "re-educate" us about the necessity of slashing our social safety net, the public has politely refused to take the bait. So every time, they simply move the goalposts closer, never taking their eye off the prize. They will never give up.
Now we have the manufactured crisis of Taxmaggedon, and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Since most of the Republicans have promised Pope Grover they will never, ever, ever raise taxes, the Democrats have to give them something really big and shiny to make them stray from the One True Faith - and we all know what that will be, right? They're planning to do this during the lame duck session:
(Reuters) - Two respected former lawmakers whose names have become synonymous with bipartisan compromise in a highly divisive Congress are meeting with dozens of lawmakers to forestall a potential year-end fiscal crisis dubbed "taxmageddon."
Former Democratic White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles said he and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, are working with a bipartisan group of 47 Senators and as many House members to frame a compromise on $7 trillion in looming fiscal decisions, Bowles said on CNN's news program, "Fareed Zakaria GPS."
Their names have become synonomous with "bipartisan compromise" because both parties are captive to Wall Street and are eager to hand them our earned benefits programs on a silver platter. But hey, bygones.
Without a deal, the end of the year brings higher taxes for most Americans with the expiration of historically low income tax rates enjoyed by nearly every American and expiry of a payroll tax break, along with broad automatic spending cuts that most lawmakers in both parties want to avoid.
"I believe this group will come together during the lame duck," after the November 6 elections, said Bowles, in reference to the congressional session that occurs after an election but before the new members have been sworn in.
When millions of dollars are being pumped into Washington by anti-government and anti-tax ideologues, you're bound to find Democrats willing to play along. And when your Washington press corps can't be bothered to get even the smallest details right — well, that must mean the Bowles-Simpson Medicine Show is back in town.
It's here, folks. Journalists are still cooing over a failed proposal they're calling "moderate" and "centrist," based on the radical and unpopular plan put forward by two individuals named Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles.
Another budget, one that's both economically sound and more politically popular, was summarily dismissed by the same media as "partisan" and extreme.
I've discussed Social Security with President Obama at the White House and he assured us that he wouldn't hurt Social Security. I know many of us on the left have said this before, but I'll say it again: Why appoint somebody like Alan Simpson to his Catfood Commission if he's serious about saving and strengthening our social safety nets?
Alan Simpson’s cold relationship with AARP is no secret, but the former Republican Senator from Wyoming took it to a new level Friday. At an event hosted by the Investment Company Institute, Simpson delighted the finance industry audience members by aiming a rude gesture at the leading lobby for senior citizens.
Financial and investment interests have long been supportive of Simpson’s broad critique of Social Security, since privatizing the old-age and disability support program would be a tremendous boon for Wall Street’s financial managers. ICI represents mutual funds and other money managers who control more than $13 trillion in assets.
Simpson’s forceful gesture came after an extended diatribe against Social Security, which he said is a "Ponzi" scheme, "not a retirement program.”
Simpson argued that Social Security was originally intended more as a welfare program.
"It was never intended as a retirement program. It was set up in ‘37 and ‘38 to take care of people who were in distress -- ditch diggers, wage earners -- it was to give them 43 percent of the replacement rate of their wages. The [life expectancy] was 63. That’s why they set retirement age at 65” for Social Security, he said.
In 2010, President Obama appointed Simpson to a deficit commission that recommended cutting taxes and reducing entitlement spending. The commission's outline is being used as a framework for reform in Congress.
This is totally insane thinking and he's welcome to his twisted logic, but what he said and did with his Bras d'honneur was completely inappropriate as well, since he accepted a position on Obama's commission. Sir, if you could only see my hand now.
If he hates Social Security and Medicare that's fine. Start a PAC. But when you're in a position of trying to help the most beloved social programs America has ever had, at least show some respect. Oh, and stop lying about it.
Uhm no. This life expectancy misinformation is so widespread, I don't know if we'll ever be able to set it straight. But I might have expected that one of President Obama's Deficit commission appointees -- the co-chairman no less -- would not be among those who believe it. (Normally I would suggest that he was just a liar, but from this account it's pretty clear to me that he really doesn't understand it.)
This is a very important point and one that everyone needs to understand if they hope to beat back the social security assault:
HuffPost suggested to Simpson during a telephone interview that his claim about life expectancy was misleading because his data include people who died in childhood of diseases that are now largely preventable. Incorporating such early deaths skews the average life expectancy number downward, making it appear as if people live dramatically longer today than they did half a century ago. According to the Social Security Administration's actuaries, women who lived to 65 in 1940 had a life expectancy of 79.7 years and men were expected to live 77.7 years.
"If that is the case -- and I don’t think it is -- then that means they put in peanuts," said Simpson.
A rival for the McCrankypants moniker, former Senator Alan Simpson wants to know why we aren't jumping on his drastic spending cuts recommendations for Social Security and other social safety net programs. And of course, State of the Union host Candy Crowley laps it up, wringing her hands over the lack of desire of Americans to "sacrifice":
SIMPSON: If you don't do something with the ones that are on automatic pilot like Medicare, then it crushes out all the discretionary spending. It just wipes it out. I say to people, now what do you love? Well, I love education, I love whatever culture. Great. Don't do anything then and then it just crushed out.
And if you don't do anything with Social Security when you waddle up to get your check in the year 2037, you'll get 22 percent less. We're not balancing the budget on the backs of Social Security. We're trying to make it solvent for our children and grandchildren.
If they don't make the hard stuff on Medicare and Medicaid, and don't forget what we're doing with Social Security, we're taking care of the lowest 20 percent and taking care of people over 80, changes in the COLA, we're not talking about privatization.
These jerks who keep dragging that up are lying. We never suggested that. We're talking about doing a hideous thing, to change the retirement age to 68 by the year 2050. And hear people howl and bitch about that. Well, what do they care about their kids or their grandkids?
CROWLEY: Let me ask you, I was talking to a historian on the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex" speech. And he said that was a generation that understood sacrifice. And, you know, the historian said he got it and there are few people, you know, now on the public scene that understand the idea of sacrifice when it comes to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid because they had become -- especially Medicare and Social Security have become sacrosanct, as had, until recently, the defense budget.
Oh sweet Flying Spaghetti Monster on a stick. Remind me again, Candy and Mr. 300 Tits Milk Cow, what was the top marginal tax rate during Eisenhower's day? How about we ask those top income earners to sacrifice a little more instead of putting it on the backs of those who need Social Security and Medicare? How about lifting the income cap on Social Security? How about putting Social Security back in the lockbox as it was intended. None of those suggestions were in your Very. Serious. Report. And yet any one would fund fully those programs.
And raising the retirement age to 68 in 2050 *IS* putting the sacrifices on the backs of our children and grandchildren. How old will they have to be to retire.
I don't disagree with Simpson that there is massive waste and inefficiency in the Defense Department that could be cut without hurting the military, including paying all those sub-contractors in the Middle East.
But until he can start being honest about "sacrifices", I keep fiddling along to his plaintive wails that no one is listening to him.
Alan Simpson is feeling a little besieged these days. It seems people aren't taking too kindly to his proposals to cut a chunk out of their Social Security benefits, and they're saying so.
But Simpson said that while every interest group that testified before his committee agreed that the mounting federal debt is a national tragedy, they would then talk about why government funding to their area of interest shouldn't be touched.
"We had the greatest generation -- I think this is the greediest generation," he said.
All this hubbub isn't a surprise to Simpson, given how politically polarized the country is these days.
"You don't want to listen to the right and the left -- the extremes," he said. "You don't want to listen to Keith Olbermann and Rush Babe [Limbaugh] and Rachel Minnow [sic] or whatever that is, and Glenn Beck. They're entertainers. They couldn't govern their way out of a paper sack -- from the right or the left. But they get paid a lot of money from you and advertisers -- thirty, fifty million a year -- to work you over and get you juiced up with emotion, fear, guilt, and racism. Emotion, fear, guilt, and racism.
"Time to go for facts. Everybody's entitled to their own opinion, but nobody's entitled to their own facts," Simpson said, paraphrasing former U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Here's another fact: Simpson, at age 79, received his Social Security benefits right on schedule at age 65. He also received his government pension at age 65. Both of those were financed by contributions the Baby Boomer generation made through their work which boosted the economy. Without our contributions, his generation wouldn't have enjoyed their retirement years in relatively good health with a decent financial safety net.
More facts: People Simpson's age working in the private sector were more likely to be covered by a pension plan in their early working years and later by 401(k) plans. They were also more likely to remain with one employer for a longer period of time, allowing them to accumulate a decent pension before they reached age 65. All of that was done on the taxpayers' dime. Pension contributions are deductible by corporations; 401k contributions in the early years were exempt from ALL taxes (later that changed to exemption from income tax only), and funds are accumulated on a tax-free basis.
In plain terms, the Greatest Generation's comfortable retirement has been bought and paid for by those members of the generation Simpson describes as "selfish", and his generation enjoys a far more comfortable retirement than we can expect to receive.
Meanwhile, that so-called "selfish" generation is the one now most likely to have lost significant portions of their 401(k) savings to the market crash, lost their homes or a large portion of their home's value, lost their jobs and are not likely to be employed any time soon. When employers have the option to hire younger, less experienced workers who will work for less money and cost less in benefit dollars, they exercise it, leaving older workers (and particularly women) out in the cold.
Selfishness is as selfishness does, Mr. Simpson. We've paid for you without complaint. Now it's time to step up and really identify who is selfish. Start with the companies listed on the Dow Jones index and work from there.
So I've been perusing the Catfood Commissioners' minority report (keep in mind, this was never approved by the full panel), and I can't see this pile of steaming excrement as anything other than a cynical political ploy. I mean, just look at the content: It's a draconian collection of third-rail issues that will never, ever be passed by Congress.
It lays out options for overhauling the tax code that include limiting or eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. It envisions cutting Pentagon weapons programs and paring back almost all domestic programs.
The plan would reduce cost-of-living increases for all federal programs, including Social Security. It would reduce projected Social Security benefits to most retirees in later decades, though low-income people would get higher benefits. The retirement age for full benefits would be slowly raised to 69 from 67 by 2075, with a “hardship exemption” for people who physically cannot work past 62. And higher levels of income would be subject to payroll taxes.
But the plan would not count Social Security savings toward the overall deficit-reduction goal that Mr. Obama set for fiscal year 2015, reflecting the chairmen’s sensitivity to liberal critics who have complained that Social Security should be fixed only for its own sake, not to help balance the nation’s books.
The Villagers (the same people who hate Pelosi), of course, love it. But then again, they love anything that allows them to look Serious and for us to be punished yet again. They know the game: They praise this, knowing it's politically DOA, because they know it will grease the skids for the real austerity.
If I had to pick the real serious proposals from the final package, it would include raising the retirement age.
I know, I know. Sounds reasonable, right? "People are living longer."
Let's be clear now. "People" are not living longer -- rich people are living longer. Working class people who can't afford quality medical care are falling behind on longevity. As Paul Krugman wrote today, "So you’re going to tell janitors to work until they’re 70 because lawyers are living longer than ever."
I've written about this before: Raising the retirement age is a de facto benefit cut for all Social Security recipients. It's also a tax increase, because you'll have to work longer and pay into FICA longer.
The thing that's fascinating is, they were supposed to come up with political solutions to the deficit. Yet this proposal would phase out the mortgage interest deduction without any attempt to address what that would do to the already-shaky housing market, and eliminates the employer-tax exclusion for health care coverage while kind of blithely ignoring the resulting chaos. Is this supposed to be a serious proposal?
I really don't have an explanation for why Alan Simpson is one of the co-chairs of President Obama's deficit commission, beyond this: Every time the man opens his mouth, he makes the right wing look stupider than they did the day before. And more evil.
If I were running the world, Alan Simpson would not be anywhere near a commission of any kind, particularly one that is looking at Social Security in relation to the federal budget deficit. But he does provide an entertaining look at how utterly bankrupt right-wing policies are. If the idea was to have a court jester near the White House, Alan Simpson just might fill the role nicely.
If you haven't seen this video yet, you should. Jane Hamsher's put it up at FDL, Dave Johnson's got it up at Our Future, and I've shown it on The Huffington Post. Alan Simpson of Wyoming sounds a lot more like Bart Simpson of Springfield in it - except without the humor. It's worth watching for sheer outrageousness, but remember: Simpson's one of two chairs of a bipartisan commission created by President Obama to study the Federal deficit.
His co-chair, the Democratic "counterweight" to Simpson's radical hostility toward the social safety net, is Erskine Bowles. Bowles was finalizing a deal with New Gingrich to cut Social Security when the Monica Lewinsky scandal derailed their agreement.
Here's what Simpson's comments reveal, besides an irascible personality: That he wants to create a sense of crisis around Social Security, that raiding Social Security to pay for other government expenditures is perfectly fine with him ... even though he's supposedly a "small government" conservative, that he's entered an Orwellian world where cutting Social Security isn't really "cutting" it, and that he'll use absurd rhetorical games to defend his position.
As you watch it, you'll see that Alex Lawson, Simpson's questioner, is well-informed, unfailingly polite, and a nice guy. Simpson, on the other hand, is raving like your drunken right-wing uncle at a Thanksgiving dinner gone wrong. What's he really saying here?
SIMPSON (regarding Social Security): It'll go broke in 2037.
LAWSON: What do you mean by 'broke'? Do you mean the surplus will go out and then it will only be able to pay 75% of its benefits?
SIMPSON: Just listen to me instead of babbling ...
Simpson then goes on to affirm Lawson's statement (without apology, of course.) But he resumes the fearmongering a minute later:
SIMPSON: ... There is not enough in the system by the month ... to pay out what comes in. In other words there is more going out than coming in. That happened 3 or 4 weeks ago.
LAWSON: ... Social Security is separate, though, from the general budget, right? It's totally in the green.
SIMPSON: But it wasn't. Just four weeks ago, there wasn't as much coming in as going out.
LAWSON: Except you're not calculating the interest paid on the bonds, because, if you do include that, it's still in the green this year.
SIMPSON: Well you can go through all the sophistry of babbling that you want to.
LAWSON: It's not sophistry. It's just what the SSA says. So I'm just going on the numbers.
Alex is absolutely right, and Simpson's the one engaging in sophistry - if by "sophistry" you mean, to use Simpson's word, "bulls**t." And it's fascinating to watch Simpson suddenly defend big government expenditures, even when (make that only when) people's own insurance payments - money they've paid to cover their retirement is borrowed and then left unpaid:
LAWSON: ... (W)hat about the $180 billion in surplus that (Social Security) brings in every year?
SIMPSON: There is no surplus in there. It's a bunch of IOUs.
LAWSON: That's what I wanted to actually get at.
SIMPSON: Listen. Listen. It's 2.5 trillion bucks in IOUs which have been used to build the interstate highway system and all of the things people have enjoyed since it has been setup.
LAWSON: Two wars, tax cuts for the wealthy.
SIMPSON: Whatever, whatever. You pick your crap and I'll pick the real stuff. It has to do with the highway system, it was to run America. And those are IOUs in there. And now there is not enough coming in every month ...
Simpson asserts that Social Security wasn't originally intended to pay for people so far into retirement because life expectancy was low in 1935, when SSI was created. That's true ... but the program's been modified since then to adjust for increased life expectancy. That leads to this whopper:
LAWSON: ---(I)t's my understanding from actually looking at the 1983 commission (which revamped Social Security), they actually started prefunding the retirement of the baby boom by building up that huge surplus.
SIMPSON: They never knew there was a baby boom in '83.
Really? They didn't there was a baby boom ... in 1983?? They didn't know how many babies had been born in the years 1948-1964? Here's the real reason Alan Simpson says outrageously false things like that:
Here's the bottom line. Simpson doesn't want to force the government to pay those bonds back, because it will probably require new taxes to pay for them. The Commission's likely to recommend some new taxes, but the Simpson crowd wants those increases to be a small as possible. Here's an example of that ideology in action:
LAWSON: The government doesn't actually own the bonds, it's the government owing...
SIMPSON: Let me say things in a way so your fans will understand this, so you can go and be a hero. There is not enough in the system ... So, what do they do? They go to that trust fund and say, 'We need the IOUs out of it.' And they say, 'You can have them, but you have to pay for them' ...
Paying for them ... which means more taxes ... is exactly what Simpson and his comrades don't want.
There's more - you can read the entire transcript at Jane's place or read a longer version of this post here. But you get the idea. Alan Simpson isn't just a cranky old man ... he's a cranky old man gunning for the financial security of older Americans.
And we're all going to be older Americans, if we're lucky enough to live that long.