"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

They're Going To Try Again

"They" being the Republicans, all giddy over their control of both House and Senate, and "Try Again" relates specifically to taking down Social Security, which they've been wanting to do for eighty years. The latest move is to force a crisis in funding. Well, OK, it's an old move, but this time they want to force a real crisis, instead of just making shit up.

Republicans are seizing a once-every-20-years opportunity to force a crisis in the Social Security disability program and use it as leverage to push through reforms, a long game that they have been quietly laying groundwork for since taking control of the House in 2010.

In less than two years, the Social Social disability insurance program will start being unable to pay its full benefits and House Republicans said this week that they aren't going to simply give it more revenue from the retirement side, as has been done historically. It's the latest episode in a protracted campaign over the disability program -- and it raises the question of what exactly Republicans plan to do now.

It's a rules change, so there's no chance for a veto. (And "reforms" in that quote should really be in sarcasm quotes.) However, not everyone is confident that Obama would veto any such legislation that crossed his desk.

But notably silent on the Republican stance, which prevents what has been a routine transfer of revenue between the retirement and disability funds, upping the chances of a crisis for the latter in late 2016, was the Democratic official who might actually be at the table if conservatives succeed in forcing negotiations in the next Congress: President Barack Obama.

TPM asked multiple times last week for the White House's position on the House action, but never received a formal response, a stark contrast to the loud public pronouncements of Brown, Warren, and others. It also invokes the uneasy relationship between the White House and Social Security advocates, who were dismayed by Obama's willingness to accept cuts to the program during the 2011 grand bargain talks with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

"Advocates do not trust the president on Social Security," Monique Morrissey, an economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, told TPM last week.

Frankly, I don't trust Obama on much of anything, especially not Social Security. He's been too willing to "compromise" on it in the past, and he's no less a corporate Democrat than anyone else in office. (I keep remembering that our current mayor, Rahm "Privatize Chicago" Emanuel, was his chief of staff.) Why don't I trust him?

During the 2012 election, Obama's campaign said that he is "committed to keeping the promise of guaranteed Social Security benefits for current and future generations."

After the election, Obama's FY 2014 budget proposal would have cut Social Security in exchange for tax revenues, a plan that Dan Adcock, policy director of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, told TPM had "troubled" his group.

That was is a give-away to Republicans on its face: Social Security is not part of the federal budget; it has a separate revenue stream and is set up as a trust fund. The only connection is that the trust holds about $2.7 trillion in Treasury notes (as of last year), money that the general fund has borrowed. They're bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury, which means they are the most secure investment in the world.

And notice that he didn't commit to "guaranteed Social Security benefits" at any particular level.

But back to the Republican "plan." As usual, there is none, except that they're trying to get Social Security on the negotiating table again. Why? Well, they've always hated it -- it's the prime example of Big Government, and it works -- so there's an ideological component. I don't doubt that the eventual goal is privatization. Since that proved so popular last time it was broached -- the backlash was so bad the Bush administration dropped it like a hot potato -- they'll try to sneak it through, because that's what they do.

Digby has a good comment on this, which is what sparked this post. It's short, and about half of it is the quote I used above, but her summation is worth reading.

There's also a good summary of the situation at Mahablog with the added benefit of a Republican Congressman letting the cat out of the bag on privatization.

And TPM has a history of the Republican war on Social Security.

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