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The Cat Food Commission is strategic default by the rich

Kevin Drum (and how good it is to see an access blogger pointing this out under a Democratic adminstration*):

From a purely fiscal point of view, the Social Security trust fund is a fiction. But while this is true as a bare fact, the implications of this argument are pernicious and need to be vigorously confronted whenever they rear their head in public. Here's why, in the simplest possible terms.

Back in 1983, we made a deal. The deal was this: for 30 years poor people would overpay their taxes, building up the trust fund and helping lower the taxes of the rich. For the next 30 years, rich people would overpay their taxes, drawing down the trust fund and helping lower the taxes of the poor.1

Well, the first 30 years are about up. And now the rich are complaining about the deal that Alan Greenspan cut back in 1983. As it happens, I agree that it was a bad deal. If it were up to me, I'd fund Social Security out of current taxes and leave it at that. But it doesn't matter. Once the deal is made, you can't stop halfway through and toss it out. The rich got their subsidy for 30 years, and soon it's going to be time to raise their taxes and use it to subsidize the poor. Any other option would be an unconscionable fraud.

So what's your point, Kevin? Can you point me to some aspeect of our current political economy that isn't an unconscionable fraud?

1For a slightly more detailed version of this explanation, see here. Note that "poor" is actually shorthand for both the poor and the middle class, while "rich" actually means both the rich and the upper middle class. This distinction comes into play because payroll taxes, which have built up the trust fund for the past 30 years, are primarily paid by the poor and the middle class, while income taxes, which were kept artificially low over that same period and will soon need to raised in order to pay off the trust fund debt, are primarily paid by the rich and the upper middle class.

As so often, the killer detail is in the footnotes.

NOTE * Because when Bush wanted to gut Social Security, what we then laughingly called the "left" was all over it: WKJM, everybody; a daily drumbeat of coverage. Now, not so much, even though, from a policy perspective, it's all being driven by Pete Peterson and his ilk, no matter which legacy party appears to hold power.

UPDATE To his credit, Atrios weighs in. Now, every day please. First question: Why did Obama let Pete Peterson select the staffers for the Cat Food Commission, after first stacking it with wingers?

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Submitted by Lex on

When Bush wanted to do it it was bad, because Bush is a Republican. But Obama is a Democrat - and the most amazing, brilliant, caring and all around wonderfullest president ever - so there must be a very good reason for it.

Same argument applies for torture; stupid imperial adventures; civil liberties; environmental despoiling; and oh my does the list go on and on.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Shorter MoveOn:

We used your donations to cram down your throat a president who put Social Security "in play," and now that he's planning to raid Social Security, please send us more donations.

The longer version...

Dear MoveOn member,

It sounds like something Glenn Beck would cook up: a powerful cabal of right-wing ideologues hatches a secret plan to force cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and they're on the verge of succeeding. But it's true.

Right now, the stars are aligned for conservatives who've spent decades trying to cut Social Security—the heart of the New Deal. They're focusing public anxiety over the economy on the deficit—and even though the deficit is almost entirely a result of Bush cutting taxes for the rich while waging two wars, the "deficit hawks" want us to cut the programs vulnerable Americans rely on to survive—Social Security and Medicare.

And instead of articulating a progressive response, Democrats seem frozen, like deer in the headlights.

Against this backdrop, the President has appointed a "deficit commission" stacked with deficit hawks. Right after the election Congress will vote on the commission's recommendations.

Right now, this threat isn't even on most of our radar screens. So we have a special request: will you help us fund a major campaign to keep this from happening? We'll use every tool at our disposal, and the combined voices of 5 million MoveOn members, to demand that Congress deal with the deficit the right way—by helping the middle class get back on their feet and making Wall Street pay its fair share. And we'll show wavering politicians that cutting Social Security will cost them at home.

Why does the deficit commission pose such a threat? Because almost all of its members have interests in seeing cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other safety net programs.

Here's an introduction to some of the folks on the Commission that we're up against:

* Erskine Bowles, Co-Chair: An investment-banking millionaire who now sits on the Board of Directors for Morgan Stanley and General Motors. Bowles was Chief of Staff for Bill Clinton, where he was called "Corporate America's Friend in the White House" as he negotiated with Newt Gingrich for how best to cut safety net programs.
* Alan Simpson, Co-Chair: A GOP power player during the Conservative movement's heyday, he led Clinton-era attacks on Social Security and is already crusading publicly for cuts to Social Security and Medicare to address the deficit.
* David M. Cote: CEO of Honeywell, a defense contractor making millions from the Department of Defense and responsible for costing us millions of dollars in misconduct—including failing to test bulletproof vests sent to US troops.

And they're just the tip of the iceberg.

We're planning a full-court press. Washington has to hear the stories of the real people who will be hurt by cuts. We'll run ads and organize in home districts of members of Congress considering cuts, work with progressive policy experts to push real solutions, and respond to the conservative propaganda wherever we can.

But we need to get started. Can you chip in $5 to make it crystal clear to lawmakers how the American people feel about Social Security cuts?

Thanks for all you do.

–Nita, Daniel, Duncan, Amy, Stephen, and the rest of the team

The sidebar's pretty twisty, presenting an entirely different narrative:

Social Security is under attack again—and the Democrats aren't doing enough to save it. We're starting a campaign to defend Social Security and create a progressive economy. We need 3 donations from [your town]. Can you chip in $5?

Obama's stacked the Cat Food Commission full of "deficit hawks," yet the problem is that the Dems aren't doing enough to save Social Security. If the Democrats whacked you in the knee with a lead pipe, MoveOn would say they weren't doing enough to protect your legs.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

The deal that was made in 1983 needs to be mentioned over and over and over and over again. A deal *was* made and now Obama and the Democrats are trying to go back on the deal. Explain the deal to middle and lower class folks and what the cat food commission is now trying to do. I doubt you'll have very many folks who won't be angry. Can we translate that anger into NOTA or some third party? I think so.

Back in the day I remember focusing on this aspect of the S.S. debate even more than the fact that SS long term "optimistic" predictions showed that it was fiscally stable. This is stealing from the poor and giving to the rich, just like the Wall Street bailout. This is a clear pattern perpetuated by Obama, Democrats, and Progressives and I think people will be able to see this clearly.

tarheel-leftist85's picture
Submitted by tarheel-leftist85 on

Tip O'Neill and Ronnie Raygun? I wasn't alive at the time, but isn't that why O'Neill is remembered so fondly in Versailles? Hooray for legacy party bi-partisanship!