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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

 
Sherrod Brown making a welcome push to expand Social Security

by David Atkins

Greg Sargent has an underreported bit of Social Security news that should please progressives who long been arguing for similar measures:

Dem Senator Sherrod Brown, a member of the Finance Committee, tells me that GOP Senators have requested hearings into Social Security Disability Insurance this summer. Dems expect Republicans to attack the program as wasteful and fraudulent, in part because conservative media have already done so, and in part because at least one GOP proposal in recent days took aim at the program.

Brown says Dems should seize this occasion to get behind a proposal that would lift or change the payroll tax cap, meaning higher earners would pay more, while adopting a new measure for inflation that would increase benefits for all seniors. Instead of getting drawn into debates about “Chained CPI” and other entitlement cuts, Brown says, Dems should make the case that stagnating wages and declining pensions and savings demand an expansion of social insurance.
“We should stop playing defense on Social Security, and instead talk about why Social Security is a public pension that we should be proud of, that has lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty,” Brown tells me. “The three-legged stool — Social Security, pensions, private savings — has seen two of the legs sawed off for a large number of people. It’s time to look at expanding Social Security as an issue of retirement security.”

Brown said he expects Republicans to renew attacks on disability insurance (as opposed to the retirement security portion) to divide supporters of Social Security and renew the push for structural changes to the program, and said Dems could use that to draw an effective contrast. SSDI’s trust fund is set to be depleted soon, but that could be solved by a reallocation fix that’s been done before, rather than a deep benefits cut, which Republicans may press for.
“They want to separate ‘good’ Social Security (retirement security) from ‘bad’ Social Security (disability insurance), to win support for structural reform,” said Brown, who is holding a Senate Finance sub-committee hearing tomorrow on the overall program. “The attacks on disability insurance will accelerate. This is how they will try to back-door the dismantling of social insurance. But the public is with us on social insurance.”

Brown noted that such an issue could play well in the midterms. “The electorate is older, so the field is fertile for Democrats to talk about this,” he said. “We should turn up the volume.”
People like myself who work really hard at the inside game of Democratic politics and personally know a lot of fantastic, progressive, genuine and hard-working elected officials often get frustrated with the cynicism shown by many even smart progressives over politicians in general and the Democratic Party itself. There's a lot of hand-waving about endemic personal corruption and grousing that the Party itself is a moribund, hopelessly compromised institution.

Those of us who actually know many of the politicians and put our noses to the grindstone to advance a more progressive agenda know that's not true, and we have to work hard to clear away a lot of that cynicism. If we don't, many progressives won't come out to vote, and when our people don't vote the far-right objectivists win.

That said, it's hard for us to make our case on that front as local activists when the top levels of the Party seem, in truth, to be either politically befuddled or deeply morally compromised on many issues. The Iraq War is often cited as one such issue, but at least there one could argue that in the years immediately following 9/11 Democrats would have been dealt political defeats for seeming too weak on the "war on terror."

But the failure of the national Democratic Party to seize on expanding Social Security is something else altogether. There's literally no downside except the wrath of a few plutocratic oligarchs like Pete Peterson and the rest of the fiscal austerity hand-wringers. The public favors higher taxes on the wealthy, and the public loves Social Security.

Raising the payroll cap is good politics. It's good policy. So it's hard to blame the cynics when they argue that personal and political corruption must be to blame for Democrats not doing the right thing on such obvious issues.

If national Democrats want to win more votes and help activists like me, they'd do well to follow Sherrod Brown's lead. It wouldn't just be good for the public, it would be good for the fortunes of the Democratic Party at every level. Keeping Pete Peterson and the Third Way crowd happy just isn't that important.


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