The waiting is the hardest part

David Corn points out that Social Security is a great big surprise package to be opened only after the election! Trust us!

While it is certainly true that a presidential contest tends to focus on silly frivolities (say, Paul Ryan’s workout schedule or Joe Biden’s photo with motorcyclists), and while it is undeniable that an election season tends to bring out the craziness in everyone, it is also true that those unfortunate realities are no justification to divorce the entire campaign from serious issues. Elections, after all, aren’t supposed to only be vapid exercises in bad reality TV. They are also supposed to be exercises in democratic participation, which means they are supposed to present We the People with a substantive policy discourse – one that helps us all cast informed votes.

This is a particularly important principle when it comes to Social Security – a program about which the Obama administration has been sending mixed signals.

The most recent signals, of course, came from the president himself, who has insisted that “what I’m not going to do, as a matter of principle, is to slash benefits or privatize Social Security.”

I’m just going to make sure you get less money!

Yet, during the first presidential debate in Denver, he nonetheless called for the program to be “tweaked” – a troubling reminder that last July, the Washington Post and CBS News ran stories headlined “In debt talks, Obama offers Social Security cuts” and “Obama proposes cuts to Social Security,” respectively, with both quoting unnamed Democratic officials leaking the prospect of big reductions in promised benefits. Likewise, at the Democratic National Convention this year, Vice President Biden criticized Republicans for not embracing the Social Security cuts championed by the Bowles-Simpson commission. Meanwhile, as some Democratic legislators have pushed to enact Obama’s own 2008 campaign proposal to raise the Social Security payroll tax cap, the White House has been noticeably absent in voicing its support for such legislation.

In light of these equivocations, the key questions should be ringing in every voter’s ear. If we can’t have a debate about Social Security before we make a presidential choice, at what point can we ever have such a debate in a way that honors our democratic ideals? In Hillel’s own words, if not now, when?

Corn’s right. It’s undemocratic. You can’t send out obscure smoke signals while you’re campaigning for no other reason than being able to claim, after you’re reelected, that “I told you I was going to do this!”

7 thoughts on “The waiting is the hardest part

  1. Romney wants to privatize it and Obama doesn’t. That’s a pretty big difference. Obama wants to “tweak” the system by raising the income ceiling that’s taxed and by means testing the payouts. Romney wants to hand the system over to Wall Street. Vote Obama/Biden.

  2. Obama has already said——time and fucking time again—–exactly what you have described, imhotep. I don’t yet understand why folks on this and other blogs are so much in the dark about what he plans to do on this isssue. Maybe some of these people have confused Obama for Romney. Obama, if re-elected, would never, ever want to be the first president to cut Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid, both of which are hallmark Democratic programs that have helped literally generations of Americans. I’ll dare say the same will be said about the Affordable Care Act vis-a-vis Obama once it’s fully implimented.

  3. Means testing payouts is a disaster. It completely changes the concept of SS from a universal insurance program to an entitlement program. If you want to see where entitlement programs are going, look at Clinton’s 96 welfare reform.

    Also, Obama will do whatever he has to do to get a “grand bargain.” He has used lots of weasel words around what he will and will not do, but clearly he will go along with increasing the retirement age and changing the formula for calculating cost of living increases. Both are
    “cuts” to promised social security benefits.

  4. Adams, means testing is already in place for SS. Take a look at line 20b of your 1040 tax form. The higher your income the more of your SS is taxed away. As for your fear of a “grand bargin.” It’s gonna happen. The deficit must be reduced. So you either tax it away, cut spending so it eventually goes away, or do a combination of both things. Nobody in their right mind wants a president Romney and a Republican House and Senate doing that “grand bargin.” What to do? Re-elect Obama and vote out every Republican in office.

  5. Means testing refers to benefits, not to premiums or taxes paid it.

    It’s the wrong time for a grand bargain. Increasing taxes and reducing benefits is a drag an the economy at a time when stimulus is needed to drive productive economic activity (as opposed to the financial manipulations we’re getting now.). Everyone acknowledges that the deficit has to be dealt with at some point. But SS is stable compared with Medicare. It can be fixed with very minor tweaks (e.g. increasing or removing the cap) that do not reduce promised benefits and do not turn it into welfare program.

    Obama had a golden opportunity at the first debate to take SS off the table by making a clear statement instead of the weasely ambiguous garbage he has been throwing around: “I will not ‘slash’ Social Security.” That instead he said he basically agreed with Romney is very telling.

    I’m not convinced that SS is more secure under a Dem than a Republican President. Also, dialectic. But that’s too complicated. I agree that the GB will happen either way, not sure Dems wouldn’t put up a better fight against a Republican initiative.

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