One of the most successful anti-poverty programs ever created in the U.S. is the Social Security program. Despite that, conservatives and Republicans, primarily for ideological reasons, have attempted to dismantle the program–if not in one fell swoop, then incrementally.
One of the tactics that conservatives have used is to try to convince people that Social Security “won’t be there” when they retire. To do this, they gin up the notion that Social Security is in crisis, even though that is simply not true. The reason for this is that, as mandated by law, the Social Security Trustees are required to report three estimates of the future state of the program. All three estimates use an effective rate of growth in GDP that is much lower than has occurred over the last thirty to forty years; the ‘medium’ and ‘low’ estimates use a rate of growth that is substantially lower. The Trustees’ summary report–the figure everyone discusses–focuses on the ‘medium’ estimate. Consequently, Social Security is predicted to become ‘insolvent’ about 34 years out every year the report is released: I’ve dubbed this unit of time, the Samuelson unit, after columnist Robert Samuelson, who clearly doesn’t know how to read bar graphs.
Yet Senator Obama, at least in front of some audiences, is claiming that there is a Social Security crisis:
Barack Obama sounding better on Social Security during the MSNBC presidential debate late last month.
I absolutely agree that Social Security is not in crisis.
Barack Obama sounding a lot worse during an interview with National Journal from Tuesday posted yesterday on the magazine’s website.
Q: So, welcome to Senator Barack Obama. Welcome to “National Journal On Air.” Let me start right away by asking you about the contrasts that you are drawing between yourself and Hillary Clinton. Her campaign people, the people who support her, say by calling her somebody whose word can’t be trusted, by suggesting that she’s disingenuous, that that’s really a character attack — that that’s the very thing that you said you weren’t going to do in this campaign.
Obama: Well, I strongly disagree. Look we are offering our plans for the future on health care, on education, on energy, and the American people have a right to judge how clear and how consistent have the candidates been in their positions. Because if they’re not clear and consistent, then it’s pretty hard to gage how much they’re going to fight on these issues. You know, Senator Clinton says that she’s concerned about Social Security but is not willing to say how she would solve the Social Security crisis, then I think voters aren’t going to feel real confident that this is a priority for her. And that’s the kind of leadership I think that the Democratic Party has to offer in the years to come. [emphasis added]
Why Obama is adopting Republican talking points escapes me. I realize he’s trying to position himself as a practitioner of ‘New Politics’ or some other marketing hoohah, but Social Security doesn’t need new politics, because there is no crisis requiring them. Atrios has mentioned that Obama’s claims are “like the bat signal for people like me.” And he’s right that all Obama is doing is opening the door for people who are not concerned with providing a minimal income for the elderly, the disabled, the widowed, and the orphaned to fuck up the program.
But not only is this dreadful policy, it’s bad politics. As a Democrat, I’m used to the spectacle of Democrats who slink away from every confrontation with Republicans–even when the public supports them. But one of the saving graces of being a Democrat and a liberal is that Social Security is our ideological flagship. And it is ours. Modern conservatives despise this program, and their intellectual progenitors tried to prevent it from ever being created. Most importantly, it is a program that works superbly. When Obama threatens the status of Social Security through lies and mendacity*, he is launching a full-out assault on what it means to be a Democrat.
Ironically, Republicans understand this. As was the case with S-CHIP, they know Social Security strengthens liberal policies and politics, and weakens conservative policies and politics. Yet Obama regurgitates Republican talking points.
*The alternatives are that Obama is either a fucking moron or amazingly ignorant, neither of which I believe.
Obama’s point was that Clinton is not being clear and consistent. “Because if they’re not clear and consistent, then it’s pretty hard to gage how much they’re going to fight on these issues.”
He then provides an example of a policy topic that *she* has presented, Social Security.
“You know, Senator Clinton says that she’s concerned about Social Security but is not willing to say how she would solve the Social Security crisis, then I think voters aren’t going to feel real confident that this is a priority for her.”
Her talking points and actions do not inspire confidence that the issue is really a priority. In no way did he say anything about social security being in trouble. He was using that as an example.
re: “Her talking points and actions do not inspire confidence that the issue is really a priority.”
She’s already said it’s not a priority for her. She doesn’t believe SS is in crisis and will first “re-lock the lockbox.”
Her ten top priorities are on her website.
is not willing to say how she would solve the Social Security crisis,
“In no way did he say anything about social security being in trouble . . . “? So it’s not “in trouble,” it’s only in “crisis”? Are you really that obtuse?
But how can Hillary solve the Social Security crisis if there ISNT A CRISIS??
you missed the entire point of this posting
Welp, when Obama wins the nomination I expect your endorsement to be for Obama. If you can’t then please just don’t for Mitt.
(no need to abandon the party over a candidate saying 1 word)
You cannot be serious — calling Obama no better than Republicans because he suggests raising taxes to support Social Security? What planet are you on?
Denying that there is a financial risk to Social Security is the progressive’s answer to the global warming deniers. As they always say on financial advertisments, “past performance is no prediction of future results.” Expecting that the US GDP will grow to past averages shows an optimisim that belies our angst about the financial that is the Bush administration. You only have to look at the local gas station to realize the critical flaw in your whole argument — what looks like a reasonable yearly benefit today isn’t going to pay for groceries in ten years. When I retired not too long ago, $100,000/year was what the fat cats made, now it is middle income. Keep in mind that the money I paid in was based on a $60,000/year salary which put me in the upper income brackets.
(no need to abandon the party over a candidate saying 1 word)
Exactly. When does a raided lock box become a “crisis”?We are all going to have to pay for our financial irresponsibility eventually. Social security is one part of that.
According to his web site: “As president, Obama will preserve Social Security by stopping any efforts to privatize it. Obama will work in a bipartisan way to maintain Social Security’s solvency for future generations.”
What’s the problem again?
Social Security may not be in ‘crisis’ but if you leave it alone it WILL run out of money to pay out benefits. The main factors behind this are the number of baby boomers and increased life expectancy due to improved medicine and technology.
Obama is being prudent by suggesting that the current system needs a ‘fix’ – he’s not regurgitating Republican talking points.
Right now, people making below the taxable wage base (currently around 90k) pay a greater percentage of their wages into SS than those making more than the taxable wage base. Obama wants to raise that limit, so high-income workers will pay a fair share into the system, and make it more progressive.
Also – after working as a pension actuary for over 4 years, I’m qualified to speak on this subject.
Social Security is in a crisis, by any standard, because the federal budget is in crisis, and because the Republicans are intent on destroying it. That may or may not be what Obama was talking about, but it’s short-sighted to try to talk about SS without talking about the entire range of fiscal problem caused by the irresponsible behavior of politicians of both parties.
It sure seems like he never had your vote because the tone of this post reminds me of Timmy playing “gotchya” with Hil at the debate.
Ha Ha – you said “crisis”.
You should know where Obama stands on S.S. If you don’t, then you should do some research, if you do, then you are deliberately making hay on behalf of the Hilary campaign.
But its actually worse for Obama than just his statement that there is a SS “crisis”.
If you look at his “plan”, what he is opting into is the Reich Wing plan of “private accounts”.
If you are under 58, you will be able to save a portion of your salary, (I forget which %), which the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT will match at a rate of around 160%.
That money would become available to the individual once they reach retirement age, and on the day of their retirement, they would be able to withdraw ALL of it as a LUMP SUM!
This “savings” plan would be in addition to payroll taxes (w/o benefits?).
According to Obama’s plan, as people are able to spend/save this money, it will result in additional revenues to the treasury. This money would be used to plug the hole in the SS trustfund as it pays out benefits to the “over 58s.
Now, where do you start? A plan that allows people to spend their retirement savings on a round-the-world vacation, then come home to NO benefits? A plan that would essentially replace 401ks and IRA as the vehicle of choice for retirement savings (what employer matches at 160% nowadays?) A plan that, in effect, would allow employers to dump any plan they may have and let the Feds take on that burden for additional retirement savings?
Obama HAS recognized that there is a societal problem with the evaporation of employer-financed pension plans, and I agree, but THIS is NOT the answer.
Sometimes I think only Richardson has a clue what the Lost Boys and the RNC are doing to the Dems in their media strategy. Though I think Mike is correct – anyone who can be co-opted into using RNC talking points in their campaign is to be looked at with a jaundiced eye.
Obama is teetering for me – especially with his opposition to the bill to reform the 1872 public lands mining act. Right now companies can mine federal lands virtually free of charge – OBama is opposing a 4-8% royalty fee, claiming that jobs are at stake. If mining companies can’t operate and employ miners for 92% profits, they are in trouble anyway.