Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Choice

Every presidential election, the Public Broadcasting System's Frontline program does a dual profile of the major party's candidates called "The Choice". Let's do a short version of that show for the Senate elections coming up, shall we? At least, let's look at our choice of parties who might control the Senate. Here is the Republican spokesperson, Nevada U.S. Senate candidate Sharon Angle, as described by Talking Points Memo:

Then there is Angle (R-NV), who campaigned on wanting to "phase Medicare and Social Security out," far from a mainstream Republican message.

GOP Shields Angle And Paul To Avoid Making Them Face Of '10

The Republicans have been backing away from this position, which is strange to me, because it wasn't all that long ago that a Republican President was saying that they should do exactly that, and getting royally slapped down for it. Here's a Senate GOP spokesperson explaining their position:

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) told Politico that Angle's Social Security privatization push is not going to be part of the GOP's platform. "I'm not sure how she's going to develop her policy positions with regard to entitlement programs at this point," he said. "She's going to have to come out and define what it is she's for, what she's against - including probably some of her statements that she's made in the past and ... how she's them applying in the current economy."

GOP Shields Angle And Paul To Avoid Making Them Face Of '10

So, the GOP seems to want to avoid talking about this issue. One might think that was a good strategy on their part.

What do the Democrats have to say? You'd think that they would be against any cuts in Social Security, wouldn't you think? Think again:

[Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)] also admonished “bleeding heart liberals” to be open to program reductions to restore fiscal balance. An hour after the commission’s meeting, however, several liberal activists held a conference call with reporters to press for additional spending to create jobs, lower military spending, higher taxes for the wealthy and no cuts in Medicare or Social Security.

Obama Tells Debt Commission ‘Everything Has to Be on the Table’

Durbin's the Senate Majority Leader, which makes him the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate. The title of that New York Times article is also instructive - the President is on board with cutting Social Security or privatizing it. He's said so on multiple occasions, both during the election and afterwards.

What's that you say? Later, once he was the nominee, he pledged to protect Social Security? Yes, but he also promised not to create another Social Security Commission:

OBAMA: We’re going to have to capture some revenue in order to stabilize the Social Security system. You can’t get something for nothing. And if we care about Social Security, which I do, and if we are firm in our commitment to make sure that it’s going to be there for the next generation, and not just for our generation, then we have an obligation to figure out how to stabilize the system. I think we should be honest in presenting our ideas in terms of how we’re going to do that and not just say that we’re going to form a commission and try to solve the problem some other way.

Barack Obama on Social Security

How did that work out?

President Obama has packed the Debt Commission (also known as the cat food commission) with members who have an overwhelming history of support for both benefit cuts and privatization of Social Security.

The “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” is operating in secret over the objections of both parties. John Boehner and John Conyers have both raised concerns that the commission will make recommendations in December that could be passed by a lame duck Congress that doesn’t have to worry about being reelected. They requested that the commission report its findings prior to the election so that the public can have a chance to factor in the recommendations into their voting decisions in the election. The commission denied the request.

Obama Packs Debt Commission With Social Security Privatization & Benefit Cut Supporters

[links from original]

William Greider adds:

In setting up his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Barack Obama is again playing coy in public, but his intentions are widely understood among Washington insiders. The president intends to offer Social Security as a sacrificial lamb to entice conservative deficit hawks into a grand bipartisan compromise in which Democrats agree to cut Social Security benefits for future retirees while Republicans accede to significant tax increases to reduce government red ink.

Whacking The Old Folks

It looks to me like cutting Social Security and Medicare is something that both parties want to do, or at least some members of each party. The difference right now seems to be that on the Democratic side, it's the leaders who are saying that's what needs to be done, with a few lesser Senators objecting. On the Republican side it's the outsiders who say such things, and the leaders are trying to keep them quiet.

I don't see any other difference here. Yet, according to that TPM article, the Democrats seem to think that they can make this into a campaign issue that works for them. In America, where the average voter seems to have no idea who or what he's voting for, that might just be possible.

It's not working for me.

UPDATE: I struck the "or privatizing it" above, because I can't find a reference to Obama actually stating he supported the idea. He has, however, said "everything should be on the table", and then denied that privatization would be on the table. Apparently, in the Obama universe of that moment, privatization wasn't part of "everything". You figure it out:

Obama's "everything on the table" remark occurred in the course of an unintentionally amusing exchange with George Stephanopoulos:

Stephanopolous: You've also said that with Social Security everything should be on the table.

Obama: Yes.

Stephanopolous: Raising the retirement age?

Obama: Yes.

Stephanopolous: Raising payroll taxes?

Obama: Everything should be on the table.

Stephanopolous: Partial privatization?

Obama: Privatization is not something I would consider.

There are basically three choices with respect to Social Security, as the nation heads into the boomer retirement years with huge financial liabilities to future generations: (1) reduce benefits, (2) raise taxes, or (3) reform the system (aka partial privatization).

Clinton, Obama and the Social Security Table

This guy lies so well and so often, it's sometimes hard to tell what he's said. I'm still not sure I'm right or wrong. As the author said, privatization is one of very few possible solutions. It's hard to think that it wouldn't be part of "everything". Yet, to the Obama of that time, it seemingly wasn't.

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