To: Majority Whip, Dick Durbin, US Senate
From: Your pal, Cliff
I must have been a bit hard of hearing while watching you this past week on FoxNews Sunday—the hard of hearing being the key Fox demographic, after all—but I think I heard you say that Social Security in the United States "is going to run out of money in 20 years," so you want to "fix it now." I couldn't have heard that right, could I have? Let me try "The Google," as wily former President W. Bush once counseled.
Ok, Dick, I just consulted the transcript, and, sadly, I didn't hear it wrong. So it seems we need to have a bit of an awkward conversation.
First, my friend (I still like to think of you this way, as you're usually such a staunch supporter of common-sense positions on key issues), surely you must be aware that you misspoke?
In fact, upon completing an online search on the Internet machine, you'll see that if we do nothing, Social Security is solvent through 2037, 2033 worst-case scenario, or 20 years, just as you said! But here's the problem. In 20-24 years, Social Security will not, "run out of money." In fact, at that point, it will still pay 78 percent of its benefits, or roughly 78 percent more than you calculated. Not a small difference, no?
So why, either on a policy or political level, would you even think of cutting Social Security right now?
Let's begin on the policy side.
As we've discussed, Social Security (as my friends I've worked with at Social Security Works can show you in detail), pays full benefits for at least 20 years. The way forward would be to raise, or even completely eliminate the regressive cap (Scrap The Cap! Say it with me, Dick!) on the amount of income subject to Social Security payroll taxes. Currently, it's at $113,700 a year, also known as approximately 1percent of Mitt Romney's income, or the cost of two Mitt-sized car elevators. If you were to scrap this cap, Social Security would continue ad infinitum, or at least until our ape overlords rule the planet.
In fact, as a refresher, your colleague Senator Tom Harken of Iowa proposed just such legislation, The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013. It would phase out this cap, and provide increased benefits, not cut them!
Pretty groovy, huh?
Hell, let's just say you didn't want to completely scrap it, but apply it to 90 percent of income (currently it covers about 84 percent) like it did in the days of St. Reagan, King of The Welfare Queens. Raise the cap to $200,000, and poof, we get $100 billion more by 2030!
Or roughly the amount of money that fell out the back of your average Blackwater-piloted Humvee in Fallujah.
Another option: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont proposed that we apply the payroll tax to all income north of $250,000. That takes care of any shortfall for 75 years! As you can imagine, these are universally the most popular choices in any poll on this subject, but we'll get to politics in a minute.
First, let's talk about how Social Security is one of the most successful anti-poverty programs since at least the Cretaceous Period.Social Security lifts over 21 million people out of poverty, including 35 percent of "older Americans." Without it 48 percent of women, yes, almost half, would fall below the poverty line.
Now, I know you're not talking about eliminating it, but some of those bankers you've lined up with on "reforming Social Security" are the very same ones who a smart Senator named Dick Durbin once described as "owning the place." "The Place" not being The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but Congress. What do you think they're after?
Also apropos here, most people don't know, as Paul Krugman has pointed out, that deficits are now shrinking faster than any time since World War II. And if you're still convinced we need to cut something, there may just be a bit of extra dough—according to your friendly debt fixer/banker mogul Pete Peterson—going to our nation's defense. I know we need to spend a lot to protect ourselves, but as much as: China, Russia, UK, France, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Brazil, Italy, South Korea, Australia and Canada combined? Count me a bit skeptical. Also remind me how the Washington metropolitan area became the wealthiest in the country over the past decade (hint: it includes the words "defense" and "contractors").
Finally, some politics. To put this delicately, right now the Republican Party "brand" is roughly equal to that of, oh, syphilis. Clearly, shutting down the government was not one of their more lucid moments. Scarier thought, maybe it was! In fact, You, Dick, let us know that one of the negotiators during this crisis told the President he "couldn't even stand to look at him."
You continued, offering the opinion, "what are the chances of having an honest conversation with someone who just said something so disrespectful?" I agree! In fact, I'd say the chances of that are roughly on par with the likelihood of Miley Cyrus being invited to perform at children's parties.
So after your recent victory against Tea Party economic treason, you are going to give into them on a signature Democratic program? On a program that even 74 percent of their supporters (and 82 percent of Americans overall) don't think should be touched? Putting this further in perspective, just a few short days after your comment on FoxNews, Credo Action amassed 100,000 signatures telling you not to do this.
Here's something else to think about. Every poll says the Democrats have a good shot at taking back the House of Representatives in 2014, restoring some sanity to Washington. Do you want to hand this issue on a silver platter to the gun fondling gold bugs, so they can cynically exploit it to protect their own venal, tea-soaked hides?
Many progressives still believe in you Dick. So please don't do this.
But if you do: Make sure to say hi when you run into House Speaker Louie Gohmert in January, 2015.
This piece was first published at AJE
Follow me on Twitter @cliffschecter