Why We Can't Trust Them

by digby

David Walker responds to William Greider's piece about the Peterson Foundation's assault on the safety net. It's not particularly illuminating except to confirm my worst fears.

Greider replies:

David Walker is offended but, if you read his letter closely, he more or less confirms what I wrote about the establishment's assault on Social Security and other entitlement programs.

I said they want to loot Social Security. He says it's already been looted. I said they are trying to evade the regular processes of representative democracy. He says Congress is "broken" and so cannot be trusted to make sound decisions in a timely manner.

Do they want to whack benefits for Social Security recipients, as I claimed, or don't they? Walker declines to answer the question. Readers may decide for themselves whom to believe.

Bill Greider

I don't ever believe these fiscal responsibility scolds, particularly those who work for Pete Peterson who has made it his life's work for the past thirty years to put an end to social security. It's the holy grail of conservatism and there is always some Loserman Democrat around to give it a bipartisan sheen.

Here's a piece of a post I wrote back in 2004, during their last attempt at "reforming" the system. They've been making almost exactly the same dire predictions for nearly half a century:

My grandfather used to believe that back in the 60's and it's still true today. He believed it because people like Ronald Reagan were saying back then that social security was a bad deal:

But we're against those entrusted with this program when they practice deception regarding its fiscal shortcomings, when they charge that any criticism of the program means that we want to end payments to those people who depend on them for a livelihood. They've called it "insurance" to us in a hundred million pieces of literature. But then they appeared before the Supreme Court and they testified it was a welfare program. They only use the term "insurance" to sell it to the people. And they said Social Security dues are a tax for the general use of the government, and the government has used that tax. There is no fund, because Robert Byers, the actuarial head, appeared before a congressional committee and admitted that Social Security as of this moment is 298 billion dollars in the hole. But he said there should be no cause for worry because as long as they have the power to tax, they could always take away from the people whatever they needed to bail them out of trouble. And they're doing just that.

A young man, 21 years of age, working at an average salary -- his Social Security contribution would, in the open market, buy him an insurance policy that would guarantee 220 dollars a month at age 65. The government promises 127. He could live it up until he's 31 and then take out a policy that would pay more than Social Security. Now are we so lacking in business sense that we can't put this program on a sound basis, so that people who do require those payments will find they can get them when they're due -- that the cupboard isn't bare?

That was forty years ago. Later, in the 1980's, Ronald Reagan's indiscreet budget director David Stockman admitted that the purpose of ginning up the social security crisis was "to permit the politicians to make it look like they are doing something for the beneficiary population when they are doing something to it, which they normally would not have the courage to undertake."[that's from Grieder's seminal article "The Education of David Stockman", btw. --- ed] And then with masterful chutzpah, considering his famous "Choice" speech from 1964, excerpted above, Ronnie then went on to use the so-called "looming" SS crisis to great effect --- he flogged the GOP contention that the program was insolvent (as they'd been doing for fifty years) and also raised the payroll taxes which they immediately raided to cover their budget deficit. And now, lo and behold, we are "in crisis" again. Imagine that. Brilliant.

This keeps coming back mainly because Democratic politiciansin explicably keep using it as a yardstick of "fiscal responsibility." It's actually the opposite.

Any Grand Bargain that includes negotiating with conservatives on social security must be off the table. They want to destroy it. They always have.