We Are Being Bamboozled About Biden and Social Security

Similar to actual shooting wars, one casualty of political campaigns is nuance–things end up being portrayed as black and white. Are you good or bad? When it comes to the attempts to defend Biden’s record on Social Security–and it is not good–he suffers from the same problem. As some asshole with a blog noted recently about a long Senate speech in which he called for a Social Security spending freeze (we’ll return to what a freeze meant in the context of the 1990s in a bit; boldface added):

For perspective, Biden obviously wasn’t a liberal Democrat in the 1980s and 1990s, but, importantly, he wasn’t a conservative either. One example of this is a Senate speech he gave when he opposed the balanced budget amendment–which was a good policy…

Again, he was better than the Republicans at the time (as well as too many Democrats), in that he also argued that ‘capital investments’ should not be counted towards deficit spending because states with balanced budget amendments used the same dodge to deficit spend without calling it deficit spending. So, for his era, he wasn’t a conservative at all.

But as the sages noted when asked why Noah–who was called a ‘righteous man in his generation’–wasn’t lauded, [they responded] his generation wasn’t very righteous. It’s not 1995 anymore, but it’s not clear at all that Biden has changed–and saying you’ll ‘protect’ Social Security, when spoken by New Democrats has meant that they will cut it to ‘save it.’

The Gingrich Republicans, who are now the dominant faction in the Republican Party, want(ed) to destroy Social Security. Biden certainly doesn’t want to do that, and to claim that he does is false. But, throughout his long career, he has supported efforts to cut benefits, both through means testing and through a freeze in benefits. Means testing doesn’t work unless enough people are hit hard (i.e., not just the one percent), at which point the program is no longer a universal program–and that is an existential threat to its survival. Spending freezes, along with things like chained CPI, are even worse, in that this policy erodes the spending power of Social Security. In the 1990s, inflation averaged around three percent. A five year benefits freeze at that time would have decreased the relative spending power of a monthly Social Security check by twelve percent–and for people who depend on that check as their primary or sole source of income, that means ‘Cat food, it’s what’s for dinner.’

It’s all the worse because plenty of Democrats opposed spending freezes, means testing, and cuts: doing so was hardly a far-out lefty position (in fairness, expanding benefits was). One option that was taken seriously was removing the income cap on Social Security payroll taxes. The key point is, while Biden wasn’t horrible (Republicans were horrible), he wasn’t good at all. Trying to reinvent him as a savior of Social Security, when throughout his career–not just one speech in 1995–he has called for various types of cuts is gaslighting. He wasn’t the devil, but he wasn’t close to the angels either. It’s not 1995 anymore either. We can do better.

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