The Liberal Elite's Obama Derangement Syndrome: Social Security Edition

A couple of weekends ago, Daniel Marans of Social Security Works, a group ostensibly working to "protect" Social Security, and I had a debate on Take Action Radio's Take Action News with David Shuster (Marans is also Executive Producer of the show) on Social Security, mainly focusing on Chained CPI. You can see the debate clips here (part 1) and here (part 2). He and I will be on again at 1:45 pm ET this Saturday.

Marans has penned an op-ed in Professional Left's favorite corporate-sold link gatherer, the AOL-Huffington Post. In his piece, Daniel Marans goes back and re-litigates the issues we debated, and tries to tell me why I'm wrong. I'll go through the most important points, but let's start at the Professional alarmists' bold, new idea on the 'tactics' we need to follow to fix Social Security's long term funding shortfall: wait till there's a Republican president, perhaps in the mold of Ronald Regan.
But as I said during the debate, Spandan's assumptions were alarmist. Social Security has faced far more imminent shortfalls in the past, notably in 1983, and Congress has never failed to act to close them.
This is a little funny at least, since Daniel fails to note that as I said during the debate, what Congress and President Reagan, back in 1983, did to "act to close" the "imminent shortfalls" was something he and his organization would flatly consider a benefit cut, namely raising the Social Security retirement age. Yes, why don't we wait till there is a Republican president to fix Social Security? The fact that the most ardent self-proclaimed defenders of Social Security have to point to this deal in 1983 as the example of why we should wait now to implement reforms in the program should tell anyone honestly following the debate that they have no real argument.

In 1983, Congress and President Reagan also raised the Social Security payroll tax rate, in addition to increasing the retirement age. The payroll tax, as I have argued before, is the one flat tax the Left seems to be in love with, despite the fact that it affects those at the bottom of the economic ladder in the worst way, shifting the overall federal tax burden downward. On this though, Maran's organization is in agreement with Ronald Reagan. In an email to me a year ago, the organization's co-chairs noted that they would be open to increasing the payroll tax rate. Some 'progressives.'

Then Daniel follows up with a ludicrous lie about my argument, claiming that I was advocating for cutting Social Security now to avoid benefit cuts later. I don't have any problem with Marans himself terming something a cut, but when trying to restate my argument, it is intellectually and cynically dishonest not to note that this whole debate segment arose out of a piece I wrote arguing that the Chained CPI adjustment in fact was not a cut to Social Security benefits.

The cynicism of Professional Leftists like Marans, though, goes far deeper than simply lying about my position on Social Security. It seems to have come from a deep, abiding, and unrelenting contempt for the president who has expanded the social safety net more than at any time since Medicare:
I would not assume that a Democratic president ensures that we'll get a better deal. It was actually much easier to defeat Bush's privatization plan in 2005, than it has been to protect Social Security from cuts under President Obama. Republicans are more likely to overreach and unite Democratic opposition against them.
You see? Bush's privatization plan united Democrats against it, but Barack Obama's plan, supposedly just as nefarious, splinters Democrats and makes it easier to feed catfood to seniors. The idea that someone claiming to be a liberal - the Policy Director of a group purporting to defend Social Security no less - would compare President Bush's plan to dismantle Social Security and sell it off to Wall Street one beneficiary at a time with President Obama's openness to a more accurate measure of inflation to adjust Social Security cost of living adjustments is as reprehensible as it is irresponsible.

I understand that the Left's paid mouthpieces see a greater opportunity for themselves in generating outrage than solving problems, and it is entirely true that such outrage is easier to generate when a Republican president is in office, but to implicate President Obama a worse enemy of Social Security than George W. Bush is beyond the pale. Daniel Marans should be ashamed of himself, and so should the organization employing him, if the particular paragraph quoted above represents their stand also.

Keeping with exemplifying Reaganite "fixes" and discounting President Obama's solemn commitment to America's social safety net and investment in our future, Marans keeps up his fantasy from the debate that the Affordable Care Act is not a significant help to seniors whose cost of living is driven by medical costs.
Instead, Spandan argued that the Affordable Care Act's reduction in out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries sufficiently offset the chained CPI's relative inaccuracy for seniors enough to make the chained CPI an acceptable policy compromise.

While it is true that Medicare beneficiaries' absolute costs may be projected to decline under the Affordable Care Act, health care as a share of seniors' expenses would remain high relative to the rest of the population. Thus, even if absolute health care costs were lower, seniors would still have trouble substituting for cheaper medical goods and services as the chained CPI expects them to.
The argument I specifically made was the expansion of benefits under Medicare specifically made by health care reform - changes that, during the debate, I might add, Maran referred to as "mouse sized bites" out of the health care cost, while pretending that sky would fall should benefits be increased at a rate slightly lower under a more accurate measure of inflation. I don't know how to tell Daniel this, but the no-copay checkups and preventive services, along with the agreements hospitals and drug manufacturers made under the ACA will take a substantial bite out of future increases in seniors' health care costs. It already is. In fact, Medicare Advantage premiums were down 7% just last year.

Daniel thinks that health care reform is about "substituting cheaper medical goods and services." It isn't. It is about arresting the growth of costs of medical goods and services, and reforming the system to pay for quality rather than quantity of service. That is what the ACA is beginning to do. What is preposterous is the idea that throwing a 0.3 percentage point increase (in comparison to CPI) in Social Security COLA will suddenly solve medical cost problems. Medical costs have to be addressed on their own, and the pretension that they can be addressed through COLA is not just ridiculous, but dangerous.

You cannot ask the government to have different measures of inflation to use on different populations. It will make the calculations too cumbersome, and the benefits unworkable. It is not practical to have urban seniors' benefits go up faster than rural seniors, although urban seniors have a higher cost of living. And what happens when an urban senior moves to a rural area. Are we going to cut her benefits? If so, do tell us which members of Congress will vote for this.

No argument of the liberal elite would be complete, of course, without lecturing the rest of us about how they are the tactical geniuses, and how waiting to solve problems will be teh awesomeness.
Finally, if we wait a few years, we will likely be able to reform Social Security in a more progressive way. As we get further away from the Great Recession, the strength of the austerity hawks will diminish, and the potential for a new progressive coalition to take hold will grow stronger. In the 2008 and 2012 elections, we saw the political awakening of the millennial generation, a cohort more politically liberal than any since the 1960s and more ethnically diverse than any in our country's history. It will not be easy, but if millennials can build an intergenerational bridge with enough of the aging Baby Boomers in a fight for the future of Social Security and Medicare, we will be glad we waited.
Aging baby boomers... yes, those are the people that will help us reduce the power of austerity hawks, sure. The same aging baby boomers and older generations that not only gave us a Tea Party House but overwhelmingly voted for Mitt Romney for president. Yes, I am for increasing the cap for the level of income up to which Social Security taxes are collected. But even raising that to FDR levels would solve less than a third of Social Security's long term funding problems. We have to be able to do more than one thing at a time.

Be that as it may, I suppose it's always nice to hear a member of the white, male, DC-based liberal establishment telling those of us who inject this ethnic diversity in the Democratic party just what this diversity really wants and really is going to serve. But let me remind us of what this awakening, ethnically diverse millennial generations voted for in the two elections Marans refers to. Or rather, who we voted for: We voted for President Obama.

We voted for him despite the Left's professional alarmists like Marans, not because of them. We voted for President Obama because we trust his judgment, and we don't think that he's a greater threat to Social Security than George W. Bush. We voted for President Obama to solve and address big challenges now, unafraid of political extremes of either side. Millennials, and an ethnically diverse coalition elected this president twice because we believe this is our moment to do big things, and because we support President Obama.

Millennials care more about reducing the deficit more than any other age group, 50% of us believe that absent reforms, there will not be enough money in to support the Social Safety net that we strongly support.

So please, spare me the lecture from the white male establishment about how the emerging, diverse political coalition that President Obama put together will behave at a future date. Spare me the lecture about the Left's tactical genius after their howling partially kept Democrats home in 2010. Spare me the platitudes comparing President Obama's serious attempt at reducing our long term debt with George W. Bush's blatant wish to steal the Social Security trust fund. And please, please, spare me the condescension of extolling the virtues of the 2008 and 2012 progressive-moderate coalitions without crediting the man that put it together and the man it elected: President Barack Obama.

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