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Hullabaloo


Thursday, October 04, 2012

 
Tweaking our lives

by digby

All I can say about the debate last night is that Romney looked like he accidentally drank President Obama's double espresso. But I think what was really surprising about it was the fact that Romney lied so much to make himself appear moderate, yet did it in a way that was so aggressive his bloodthirsty base won't mind. It's a pretty savvy strategy.

Unfortunately, President Obama's strategy seemed to be based on the bizarre idea that people are yearning for him to agree with Mitt Romney.

For instance, this:

LEHRER: All right? All right. This is segment three, the economy. Entitlements. First — first answer goes to you, two minutes, Mr. President. Do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?

OBAMA: You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound. It’s going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker — Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill. But it is — the basic structure is sound.

(I guess Joe Biden was just speaking out of turn again...)

Let's examine that "tweak" shall we? First of all, the tweak is commonly (although perhaps erroneously) said to be based upon the recommendations of what's known as the Greenspan Commission. (That's right, the man who just a few years before had written a letter to the New York Times literally decrying "parasites" and saying they should perish, headed a commission to "save" Social Security.)

If the proposed fix follows the same logic as 1983, it will raise the payroll tax on everyone and raise the retirement age. The hike in the payroll tax was sold as necessary to shore up a short term shortfall in the system and then have the baby boomers pre-pay into the system for their own retirement (as well as pay for their parents and grandparents as had always been done.) The higher retirement age came about because the congress eventually decided that they needed to deal with a possible shortfall far into the future and couldn't get any consensus to raise the cap. Any of this sound familiar?

Now they are talking about "tweaking" the way benefits are calculated, which will probably hit the baby boomers, mostly women, who manage to live the longest, the hardest. Of course, if they don't fix that once they see the misery they've caused among the oldest and most vulnerable part of the population, the oldest Americans of the next generation will suffer just as much.

These "tweaks" always look unexceptional on paper. But if you are one of the millions of people who are looking at a very meager income in your elder years, barely enough to survive really, a "tweak" becomes a life-threatening blow.

The problem with this entire conversation is that Social Security is already inadequate. It's barely enough to keep the elderly out of grinding poverty and compared to other industrialized nations it's a joke. Benefits need to be raised not cut. But the grand success of the relentless fear mongering from deficit fetishists like Alan Greenspan and Pete Peterson over the years is that the entire conversation revolves around the idea that the system is so unstable that the only possible "compromise" is to agree to "tweak" benefits and pare them back over time --- until the system loses its essential value to the American people and they can finally turn it into an investment vehicle.

The president says he's ready to "tweak." And we know that Mitt Romney can hardly wait to take a meat ax to it. If he were to win, I'm guessing the conservative Democrats in congress would rush to jump on his bandwagon. (They certainly always have before.) So, it would appear that your best chance is to vote for progressives who will stand up to either Romney or Obama when it comes to Social Security.

You can contribute here to our Blue America 12 House candidates and here to our Senate 2012 page, for Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin and Bernie Sanders.


Update: After being chastised for failing to recognize that president Obama has always talked up bipartisanship, let me put back in a line I initially removed from this post because I thought it was too snarky:

I felt like I was watching a replay of 2008 with all the Reagan worship and blurring of differences.

I know that some people thought Obama was very liberal in 2008. I wasn't one of them.

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