Kevin Drum is a friend, so my concerns are not in dealing with some Third Way type of Democrat who is enabling conservatives as they undermine the American people and the left, but I think he's just not recognizing what we're truly dealing with when we discuss Social Security and what conservatives want to do with it. Digby wrote a post called "Good Liberal", about Gene Sperling, who is one of the leading voices out there demanding we fix Social Security.
I'll take Brad Delong's word for it that Gene Sperling really is a liberal and concur that in Woodward's book "The Agenda" he is portrayed as being the most liberal of the economic advisors.
But this worries me:
Both Summers and Sperling said there would not be consensus in today's session about how to fix the program. They also said the public was more receptive to the government making hard decisions necessary to keep SS from running out of money in the long run, because Americans are anxious about their private retirement savings and the value of their houses.
Sperling said: "I think there may be a lot more openness than we thought in the past for people to have an honest discussion about the shared sacrifice necessary to have Social Security solvency. That this would be a sure thing they could count on, and they could count on for the next 50 to 75 years."
At the end, Sperling also tried to cut through disagreement over whether the program was in a state of crisis. "I really hate the whole argument about, is this a crisis or is this not a crisis? Why do we not want to preempt a crisis. Why do we not want to do something early? It is a shame on our political system that there has never been entitlement reform without a gun to our head. . .Wouldn't it be a tremendous confidence-building thing to act early and smart?"
I know I've posted that too often and regular readers are sick of it. But it's terribly important, I think, to understand that the rationale for liberals in this thing is that they are doing a good thing for the program, taking it "off the table" for the next 50 years and "making it sound." Now, I don't know if they really believe it, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that in the current environment whatever changes they come up with will come at the expense of the elderly because there will be no deal that requires tax hikes...read on
Kevin Drum responded by saying that it couldn't hurt to try and fix Social Security now even if conservatives are operating in bad faith. First quoting Digby, he notes that Duncan is of the same view -- but he's not:
I don't know why some liberals think that there is some deal, good or bad, which can somehow take the Social Security issue off the table until the end of time. As Ben Bernanke said, that's where the money is and they'll be trying to steal it in perpetuity. Cutting granny's benefits a bit won't change that.
I just don't think this is true. It's possible that Republicans will never agree to a Social Security deal that increases taxes, but keep in mind that Republicans are mainly obsessed with taxes on the wealthy. A small increase in payroll taxes and/or an increase in the payroll tax cap wouldn't affect the millionaire class much and might get a fair amount of GOP support. In any case, the only way to find out is to try. If they won't do the deal, then they won't do the deal.
What Kevin seems to miss is that with the media power shifted so strongly in their favor, conservatives have made reflexive anti-taxation an even more pronounced plank in their platform than ever. There is no common sense attached to the conservative movement, only party building. They will never agree to any kind of tax hike, at least for the foreseeable future, so there's just a certain naivete in thinking that they would ever consider the types of small fixes that would indeed help Social Security that Kevin discusses. It's all about cutting spending, cutting regulations and cutting taxes, period. It's why we don't trust the push by the media for President Obama to become more bipartisan than he already has.
Remember, no one liked the tax deal more than the Beltway Villagers who are calling for Obama, not Republicans, to be the big compromisers.
And it's up to us to protect Social Security from any cut in services, since the Beltway media believe that working-class Americans should "eat their spinach" and share the pain of the national debt and willingly accept cuts to their benefits if they are "serious people". Wall Street should meanwhile continue on their path, gaming the system for unlimited profits at our expense.
President Obama told us that he was for raising the payroll tax cap, which would be a prudent way to collect more funds to Social Security without cutting benefits to a program that is not in any serious danger now or in the next decade, but when he included a payroll tax holiday it raised all of our eyes. Republican leaders are saying that they don't plan on trying to extend that tax holiday, but I don't really believe them. Either way, they will call the end of the holiday a tax increase and will run on that.
Lindsay Graham has already exposed himself as a lunatic by telling David Gregory that we should cut Social Security benefits if Obama wants the debt ceiling raised.
GRAHAM: Well to not raise the debt ceiling could be a default of the United States on bond and treasury obligations. That would be very bad for the position of the United States in the world at large but this is an opportunity to make sure that government is changing its spending ways.
I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase until I see a plan in place that will deal with our long term debt obligations starting with Social Security, a real bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means tests for benefits. On the spending side I'm not going to vote for a debt ceiling increase unless we go back to 2008 spending levels, cutting discretionary spending...
GREGORY: Let me stop you right there Senator. That's a big condition just on Social Security alone. Do you think Republicans are prepared to follow you in two things you said; raise the retirement age and means test benefits for older Americans?
GRAHAM: I would suggest that if we're serious about taking America in a new direction and you're not putting entitlement reform on the table, you've missed a great opportunity to change the course of America's future. And the last election was about change, change that really will make us something other than Greece. I think Pat Toomey, Rand Paul and the other candidates that are new to the Congress that said during the campaign, everything's on the table when it comes to making America fiscally sound. Let's see if we can find bipartisan reforms in Social Security before we raise the debt limit.
Hint, hint, Kevin. The debt ceiling was always pretty much an automated function of our government. Now Republicans are using it as a weapon. President Obama needs to stand firm against this type of hostage taking and let the GOP do what they threaten or else Social Security will be jeopardized as well as every other program that benefits the working class families across America.