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Co-authored by Eric  Kingson, Nancy Altman and Lori Hansen.

The President's Fiscal Commission is off to a very bad start. And it hasn't even met!

The rhetoric of the President's choices to chair this important commission, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, endangers Social Security and suggests insensitivity to 40 million older Americans.  

Even before all the members of the commission were chosen, Bowles went on record before the North Carolina Bankers' Association saying that if the Commission doesn't "mess with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security ... America is going to be a second-rate power" in his lifetime." Hardly the statement of an objective and impartial chair of a national commission.

His co-chair, Alan Simpson, gives ugly voice to harsh, ageist stereotypes, deriding older Americans as "greedy geezers."  Here's how he described the future of the fiscal commission:  "It'll be a bloodbath. Let me tell you, everything that Bush and Clinton or Obama have suggested with regard to Social Security doesn't affect anyone over 60, and who are the people howling and bitching the most? The people over 60. This makes no sense. You've got to scrub out [of] the equation the AARP, the Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare, the Gray Panthers, the Pink Panther, the whatever. Those people are lying... [They] don't care a whit about their grandchildren...not a whit."

The nation's serious long-term fiscal problems need to be addressed but will not be if the co-chairs consistently wrongly characterize Social Security as a fiscal drain and a cause of the nation's long-term structural deficit.  As they should know, Social Security is forbidden by federal law to borrow and can pay benefits only if it has sufficient income and assets to cover the cost.

The historic enactment of health reform is a step in the right direction but plainly much remains to be done. Social Security's relatively modest long-run deficit also needs to be addressed.  Fortunately, there are many reasonable, non-hysterical and non-ageist ways to do just that.  Restoring the estate tax on assets in excess of $3.5 million and dedicating those revenues to Social Security eliminates about one-quarter of the projected shortfall.  Gradually lifting the payroll tax cap so that, once again, 90 percent of earnings are subject to Social Security contributions eliminates three-tenths of the deficit. And these changes are good policy in and of themselves.

Far from being "greedy geezers" or "ungrateful dependents," the vast majority of older adults are - and want to remain - independent, contributing members of their families and of society.   Social Security is central to these aspirations to maintain dignity in their later years.

That being so how perverse it sounds for the Obama Administration, so determined otherwise to be moderate and reasonable and inclusive and valuing of all, to simultaneously be providing a platform for attacks on this bulwark of middle-class security and, through, Mr. Simpson, demonizing of Americans who have contributed so much to make our country great.  Social Security's success and its stability, especially in this uncertain economy, should be a cause of nationwide celebration on this its 75th anniversary.

Unfortunately, while neither mean-spirited nor intentional, evidence of insensitivity to seniors within the Administration is not restricted to the commission co-chairs. The President's primary and general election campaign websites listed 15 or so populations with a special stake in the presidential election  - women, young adults, Hispanics, students, union members, religious groups - but not older adults.  Where were they found?   Under "Issues," as "Seniors and Social Security."  And now the White House web site follows this same strange categorization.

What's wrong with that?  For one thing, it is misleading.  Yes, Social Security supports millions in retirement.  But it also takes a burden off the backs of their children, directly supports millions of children who have lost parents and gives disability protection to working persons and their families.    

Beginning with the rhetoric of the Fiscal Commission's co-chairs, the Administration needs to change the tone and correct the tilt of its current approach to Social Security and America's older adults. The President's voice is needed to clarify, not muddy the public's understanding of Social Security and the values on which it rests - reward for hard work and shared responsibility in caring for family and neighbors.

The 40 million Americans aged 65 and over are not, "issues," or "bundles of needs" to be ministered to. They have given much.  Most want to continue to build stronger families, better communities and contribute to society.   They love and care about their grandchildren. They need to hear, loud and clear, that their President supports Social Security and the values it promotes, for them, their children and grandchildren and America's future.

Eric  Kingson, Professor of Social Work at Syracuse University, and Nancy Altman, author of The Battle for Social Security, are Co-Directors and Lori Hansen, Policy Director, of Social Security Works. The authors served on the Campaign's Retirement Security Advisory Committee and later on the Advisory Committee to the Social Security Administration Transition Team. All three served as staff for the 1982 National Commission on Social , the "Greenspan Commission," and its members.

Originally posted to www dcfightsback org on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 08:44 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for bringing this (6+ / 0-)

    important overlooked issue up and the commission itself. I am very disappointed in the people the President picked...it does not go well for SS and MC.  I am at an age where this is what I worked for and my only guarantee. I am not guaranteed a pension or retiree health benefits. I also don't want to work until 70 I want to retire. The people on the comission are not for protecting what it ours and preventing the SS fund from being tapped into for other gov't waste.  

    I wish he picked a Dean Baker type...oh well.

    It would be best if this commission went nowhere.

    How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened. Thomas Jefferson

    by coffejoe on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 09:04:28 AM PDT

    •  SS is not a retirement program. (0+ / 0-)

      It is an insurance program.  One of the biggest problems with making changes to SS is that people do view it as a retirement/pension program.  

      "When people show you who they really are, believe them." - Maya Angelou

      by Pennsylvanian on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 09:11:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  On the composition of the commission (5+ / 0-)

      Robert Kuttner:

      For starters, note the prominent role of Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan. If any two Americans are responsible for the economic, financial and fiscal mess we're in, they are Rubin and Greenspan. Much of the rising deficit, after all, is the result of the financial collapse. The main reason for the big deficits is that tax revenues are down in a severe recession. The financial collapse also required the government to step in with increased public spending.

      If the orgy of financial deregulation that led to the crash had two prime sponsors, the Democratic one was Rubin and the Republican one was Greenspan. Inviting these characters to a fiscal summit to devise a way out of the crisis is like inviting arsonists to design a seminar on fire prevention.

      •  What should we do? (0+ / 0-)

        About the deficit?

        Yes, I call it 'Obamacare' because Obama cares.

        by SpaceJunk on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 10:39:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Raise taxes and cut spending (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Clues, nippersdad, Willa Rogers, DawnN

          Actually close the corporate loopholes politicians pretend they're going to close when they campaign, restore the higher rates on the wealthy, eliminate the special lower rates for capital gains and dividends, keep the estate tax, remove the income cap for Social Security taxes and make it apply to unearned (interest, capital gains, dividends) as well as earned income (which likely produce a tax cut for most people as rates could be lower - somewhere around 75% of wage earners now pay more Social Security/Medicare tax than income tax), collect the royalties that are owed for oil and gas production from public lands.

          On the spending side, actually deal with health care costs and not just health insurance, reduce drastically the obscene amounts we spend on the military and wars of choice that server little or no purpose and eliminate corporate welfare and bank bailouts.

          If we can find enough money to save the multi-million dollar bonuses of those on Wall Street, there's certainly enough money to provide a decent standard of living and health care for older Americans both now and in the very long-term future.

          We are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

          by badger on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 11:07:35 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Ending wars would be a good start (0+ / 0-)

          But when it comes to Medicare and SSRI, here are two suggestions:

          1. Start taxing investment income for FICA. It's beyond insane that people who make millions from investments don't pay into FICA while a minimum-wage worker does.
          1. Allow (rather, force) Medicare to negotiate drug-pricing, as is done with Medicaid, by private insurers, and by just about every other country in the world.
  •  Seriously? (0+ / 0-)

    Obama is ageist because SS and older Americans are under the wrong link on his website?  Seriously?  That's some pretty weak tea.

    I'm glad Obama is getting some straight talking people to take a hard look at SS.  Changes do need to be made, whether we like it or not.  I am certainly not concerned about older Americans having enough representation in this process, because they have PLENTY of power as a constiuency.  To deny that is to deny reality.  

    This panel hasn't even proposed anything yet, so this diary seems premature anyway.  I guess my general response is, what exactly is your point?  

    "When people show you who they really are, believe them." - Maya Angelou

    by Pennsylvanian on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 09:08:59 AM PDT

  •  God forbid the SS trust should be tapped for (11+ / 0-)

    Social Security. The MIC/Wall Street must be fed at all costs, and taxpayer funds used to pay off previous obligations could make future carnage, both military and economic, less feasible.

    That would never do. This "fiscal responsibility commission" is just another pre-emptive economic war on the poor and middle classes.

    A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

    by nippersdad on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 09:16:41 AM PDT

  •  Tipped and recced. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Clues, nippersdad, Sunspots, DawnN, Joieau

    Absolutely right about the fix being in.  This isn't a deficit cutting commission.  They won't touch defense or raising taxes.  This is all about gutting social security and medicare for the benefit of the Wall Street fat cats like Pete Peterson.

    It is Obama's shame that he is participating in this knifing by stacking the commission with people like the chairs, Conrad, and Walker, and the geniuses like Ribin and Greenspan who helped send us into this mess in the first place.  I have no idea why anyone should listen to their advice on what to have for breakfast, or anything else.

  •  There is no way to balance the budget (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Azazello, Joieau

    without addressing Social Security, Medicaid, CHIP, and Medicare. Altogether, they make up 40% of the federal budget, and that doesn't count other safety net programs which consume about 14% of the budget. In other words, you can't do much about balancing the budget until you can get these expenses into some kind of alignment.  Does this mean draconian cuts?  I doubt it.  But it does mean changes are going to have to be made, perhaps starting with the idea that there must be COLA's every year.  Incidentally, my spouse and I are both SS recipients who would have a hard time with expenses without SS income, so please don't accuse me of having no sympathy for seniors.  Come to think of it, though, I don't have a great deal of sympathy for seniors with 7 figure incomes who are, nevertheless, drawing SS.

    •  Deficit Reduction Blindness (5+ / 0-)

      A syndrome identified by Bill Scher:

      Moreover, as economist Mark Thoma, among others, has previously noted: "The growth in health care costs is the [debt] problem in the long-run, nothing else matters much in comparison." The President and Congress have taken the first big step to rein in those costs. To the extent that more needs to done to ensure a sound fiscal footing, it is further refining of the health care reform law, not a crude slashing of Medicare and Social Security.

      •  Our diet is 20% of Medicare's cost (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        nippersdad

        Get the sugar and the high glycemic index carbs out of the American diet.  And this means stop using food bank recipients as garbage cans for unused supermarket bakery products that are really poisons causing diabetes.  Stop turning food banks into diabetes factories.

    •  The programs you cite have (6+ / 0-)

      have trusts that are supposed to be independent of the budget. There are special taxes levied to support them exclusively; payroll taxes which are really quite regresive. These taxes have been raised and the benefits cut before, BTW. This is not a new phenomenon.

      What you are talking about in terms of the regular budget is the interest paid on the funds borrowed from the trust to cover things like wars and tax cuts for the rich. Whenever you see the money expended for SS etc. added to the budget, what you are seeing is a ruse to make them look like a larger proportion of Federal spending than they actually are in order to frighten the rubes into accepting lower benefits and higher regressive taxation to further expend on wars and tax cuts.

      A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

      by nippersdad on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 09:53:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  What you are overlooking (0+ / 0-)

        is that the so-called "trust funds" are empty.  They exist on paper and nowhere else.  The borrowing from them has been so extensive that it would take decades to pay it back.  What is happening now is what has been happening all along:  Current SS contributions are being used to pay out current SS benefits.  When the baby boomers, like me, retire, it's going to be an earthquake to the SS system.  I'm on the leading edge.  In another 5-10 years, there are only going to be 2-3 current SS contributors for every SS recipient.  At that point, you've got a problem.

        •  No, the trust funds are not empty they are full (8+ / 0-)

          of IOU's in the form of T Bills, as you have pointed out. If they want to tax us again for funds already disbursed but do not want to pay back, they need to be honest about it. What they are saying instead is that they want to increase the trust's income and offload it to Wall Street so that they do not have to dip into the trust fund. Not the same thing.

          The borrowing from them has been so extensive that it would take decades to pay it back.

          Which is why it is so important to end these wars and sunset George's tax cuts.

          A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

          by nippersdad on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 10:25:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Wrong. (6+ / 0-)

          The "Trust funds" are covered by US Treasury Bonds.

          The exact same US Treasury bonds held by the $trillions by China and Japan among others.

          Backed by the very same promise of the "full faith and credit" of the United States of America.

          Why are American citizens who paid into the insurance funds entitled to second-rate protection compared with foreign governments?

          "When the going gets tough, the tough get 'too big to fail'."

          by New Deal democrat on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 10:56:27 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Dean Baker (6+ / 0-)

          However, plans to cut Social Security are even more troubling because they amount to an effective default on a portion of the national debt. In 1983, Congress voted to raise the Social Security tax above the level needed to pay for current Social Security benefits. The intention was to deliberately accumulate a surplus, which would be invested in government bonds and held by the Social Security trust fund. The rationale was that the huge baby boomer cohort would begin retiring and collecting benefits in 2008. The trust fund could be used to partially cover the cost of their retirement.

          This means that the baby boomers have effectively already paid for the cost of their own retirement. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bonds in the trust fund, together with ongoing tax revenue, will be sufficient to pay for all Social Security benefits through the year 2044....

          In this context, cutting benefits for the current or near retirees amounts to an effective default on the bonds held by the Social Security trust fund. These bonds were supposed to pay for the benefits of the baby boomers. If Congress doesn't pay these benefits, then it is effectively defaulting on the bonds held by the trust fund.

          Go read the rest.  He argues that if defaulting on these government bonds is on the agenda, then defaulting on bonds held by the likes of Peterson should also be on the agenda.

    •  Why this comment is wrong (7+ / 0-)

      Other expenses have raided the Social Security Trust Fund.  Social Security had a surplus under Clinton.  The problem is that the rest of the government that raided Social Security is whining that it can;t pay Social Security back.

      •  It is not so much can't as won't. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DawnN

        If they really wanted to "fix" entitlements, they would eliminate the cap on the payroll taxes which support them.

        Did you hear those screams? That is the sound of Pete Peterson finding out that he just got hit with a twenty million dollar annual tax to support Social Security and Medicare. File that under never going to happen.

        A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

        by nippersdad on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 11:40:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Medicare Solution - let everyone enroll (4+ / 0-)

      Let everyone enroll on a sliding scale with older people aged 50-64 having lower premiums and the fees otherwise based on income.

  •  This isn't getting the recs that it deserves (7+ / 0-)

    But I hope you will keep writing about this topic until people wake up to what is happening.

  •  First meeting of the commission is next week (4+ / 0-)

    The attack on Social Security could start in a few days

  •  WA State Dem Resolution on Social Security (4+ / 0-)

    There is now a resolution up for consideration for the WA State Democratic Convention that will oppose any attempt by the bipartisan commission to weaken Social Security and that supports protecting the Social Security trust fund from being raided for other purposes.

  •  Link to article - Wall Street attack on SocSec (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    2laneIA, nippersdad
  •  No one (0+ / 0-)

    is getting rid of social security.

    Yes, I call it 'Obamacare' because Obama cares.

    by SpaceJunk on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 10:39:05 AM PDT

  •  53% of the budget is going into endless wars, (6+ / 0-)

    which will ensure that the Muslim world hates us for generations, and to support insane military adventures that will endanger us all for a long time to come, so that means that we have to cut back on support for our old and disabled?  After they've paid into those programs for their whole lives?  While Wall Street is getting rich shuffling Federal Reserve free money?

    Gee, that makes a lot of sense.  Today it's been reported that since the military-industrial complex's wars have damaged so many of the troops, they want those injured troops to pay more for their care.  They cost too much now that they've been used up.

    Meantime, the economy is tanking, Americans are homeless and hungry, so this is the time to trash what little safety net we still have?  Wall Street needs more and we serfs still have a few crumbs.

    Mexico apparently has decent, cheap health care, even for immigrants, though, so that's an option.

  •  This is the Shock Doctrine in action. (5+ / 0-)

    First they create the impression of a crisis, "SS is bankrupt". Then they come up with a "fix", privatization. That's what they're doing. You watch, as soon as they turn it over to Wall St. they'll find a way to pay back the trust fund money.

  •  I went to medicare.gov (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Clues, denise b, DawnN

    today.  Greedy insurance fingers have been busy there.

    Those familiar with Medigap will remember the policies were from A-L and each letter stood for certain benefits.  Like A was the lowest cost with less benefits.  F was higher priced in this area with best benefits.

    Starting June 1, 2010, J disappears and we have M and N. There are other changes.  We will pay more deductibles now.  They feel like we need to pay more of the costs.

    If you already have the policy before June 1, 2010, it will be the old costs and benefits.

    Does anyone else get the feeling they are out to get the boomers?

    First they will try to hurt the younger workers Social Security benefits, then they will try to turn them against those older who get the benefits.  They have tried to make the young resent the older people for the last decade.

    We didn't say Wealth Care, we said Health Care

    by relentless on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 11:52:07 AM PDT

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