Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Return of Chompy

This is how the moribund chained consumer price index (CPI) method of cutting Social Security gets reanimated:
As one of its first orders of business upon convening Tuesday, the Republican House of Representatives approved a rule that will seriously undermine efforts to keep all of Social Security solvent.
The rule hampers an otherwise routine reallocation of Social Security payroll tax income from the old-age program to the disability program. Such a reallocation, in either direction, has taken place 11 times since 1968, according to Kathy Ruffing of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 
But it's especially urgent now, because the disability program's trust fund is expected to run dry as early as next year. At that point, disability benefits for 11 million beneficiaries would have to be cut 20%. Reallocating the income, however, would keep both the old-age and disability programs solvent until at least 2033, giving Congress plenty of time to assess the programs' needs and work out a long-term fix.
The procedural rule enacted by the House Republican caucus prohibits the reallocation unless it's accompanied by "benefit cuts or tax increases that improve the solvency of the combined trust funds," as paraphrased by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
As Michael Hiltzik of the L.A. Times lays out, this all-out war on the disabled, the sick, and the old has been planned for quite some time now. With a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, President Obama and the Wall Street branch of the Democratic party finally have the opening they've been craving to "reform" the social safety net.

 The GOP's job is to present a plan so cruel, so odious and so extreme that any eventual cuts in benefits agreed to by the Lesser Evil Party will have us breathing a sigh of relief that they're only sickening us and shortening our lives rather than immediately murdering us in our beds. The Republicans kill swiftly and with gusto; the Democrats prefer the gentler "boiling frog" approach.

It's how Good Cop/Bad Cop oligarchic theater works. It will be sold to the public as the sick and disabled being part of an organized crime ring, stealing from both current retirees and those mythical "future generations." It's just another variation on the tired old "divide and conquer" method used by rulers throughout history to maintain their choke-hold on power.

It's how politics in the age of Citizen United works. Even though large majorities of Americans want Social Security and Medicare expanded, the rich donor class does not. As we all know, the rich get what they want. And what they want is the profits from social insurance programs we've paid into all our working lives. What they want, frankly, is for the most vulnerable among us to simply disappear.

Such neoliberal media megaliths as CBS and NPR have already gotten the propaganda ball rolling with their recent "exposés" on disability scammers. According to the Beltway consensus, any malingerer with a pen and a stamp and a shyster lawyer and crooked doctor can collect lifelong disability simply on demand. In reality, however, only a small percentage of applicants are ever approved for benefits -- if anything, the system is unnecessarily cruel and time-consuming enough without Congress decreasing already meager benefits. It often takes years for a severely sick or disabled person to even get scheduled for an appeal hearing before an administrative court.

Embracing the Suck: The Sequel

Once the Democrats and Republicans grab that grotesque cudgel to hammer out their less-horrible plan (increased hunger for the vulnerable rather than outright starvation) Obama will most likely hail himself as the hero who saved the New Deal by bravely compromising. He was thwarted in his goal to reward the Wall Street grifters with our earned benefits early in his administration, but his time may finally have come. As Eric Zuesse of Washington's Blog reminded us shortly before the latest mid-term "shellacking,"
To Obama, his plan to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, so as to fund the Wall Street bailout, was an act of political courage. (In his interview with the Washington Post, he “pledged to expend political capital on the issue.”) It was his long-term plan, even though the polls showed widespread opposition to it by the public. This was a matter not of expediency, but of conscience, for him: he needed to find some way to fund both the ongoing Wall Street bailouts, and the massive federal debt that would be caused by the 2008 Wall Street crash and its resulting plunge in federal tax-collections; and this “balanced approach,” of tax hikes and spending cuts, would be his solution to both problems.
Here's then-Senator Obama's 2006 political audition before the directors of the oligarchy at the Brookings Institution, where the self-described "free trader" and market ideologue specifically promises to modernize (neoliberal-speak for slash) Social Security. He actually warns the filthy rich that their counterrevolution will not be a "bloodless process." (too bad that this smoking gun of a clip was not posted for public viewing until after the 2008 election.) The "Bob" he addresses is mega-banker Robert Rubin, former Clinton treasury secretary and architect of the Glass-Steagall repeal:

Before Thomas Piketty became a best-selling author and wealth inequality became part of the political lexicon, Obama used the smarmy mantra "sharing the sacrifice" to ram through his federal wage freezes, cuts in home heating assistance, slashing training programs like Job Corps, and other austerity policies. A variation on this theme, mouthed by House Minority Maven Nancy Pelosi upon agreeing in 2013 to cut unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless in exchange for keeping the government open, is "embracing the suck."

 It was only the recalcitrance of the Tea Party that doomed Obama's initial efforts to enact chained CPI and raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67. Now that austerity and deficit reduction have been totally discredited as means to "grow the economy," it should be interesting, to say the least, to see how he plans to justify sticking it to us this time.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he'll veto the Republicans' efforts to slash Social Security. But I'm not hopeful. This man is a dyed in the wool conservative who is not about to change into a progressive two years before he's due to cash in big-time in private life.

So stock up on your popcorn now while you can still afford it.


Denis Neville said...

Let’s have all-out war on the disabled, the sick, and the old. Stigmatize them as cheats. Our tax dollars support these lazy, immoral, welfare leeches, who are gaming the “disability industrial complex.” Kick those greedy bastards!!! Sacrifice them on the political alter!!!

WTF is wrong with these people, who don’t blink twice at spending a grand on their wine bill at dinner?

“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity, nothing exceeds the criticisms of the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” – Herman Melville

The lame stream media is targeting federal disability benefit programs by deceptively portraying them as wasteful and unsustainable. In reality, they have low fraud rates and assist those with severe disabilities survive when they are unable to work. Nearly one in five (57 million) Americans has a disability. Only 14 million receive federal disability benefits. Recipients are three times as likely to die as other people their age. One in five male and one in seven female disability beneficiaries die within five years of receiving benefits.

The growth in benefits has been due to our changing demographics and the financial crisis of 2007–2008, when job losses among workers with disabilities far exceeded those of workers without disabilities and the loss of employer health insurance made their chronic conditions more difficult to manage and, therefore, more disabling.

Baby boomers have aged into their high-disability years. People are twice as likely to be disabled at 50 as at 40; twice as likely to be disabled at 60 as at 50. More women have qualified for disability benefits. Workers with severe impairments can get disability benefits only if they have worked for at least one-fourth of their adult life and for the last ten years. Until women joined the workforce in significantly greater numbers in the 1970s and 1980s, few women met those criteria. Now more women have worked long enough to qualify for disability benefits. Hence, women have been a large factor in the increase.

When disabled workers reach full retirement age, they receive Social Security benefits rather than disability benefits. The increase in Social Security’s full retirement age from 65 to 66 has delayed that conversion for many workers.

Empathy seems to be as uncommon as common sense.

Embrace the suck.

“The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell.” ― Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays

Bill Neil said...

I heard this coming way back on Dec. 3, 2010, at the National Press Club, a Hamilton Project event on "jobs," John Podesta moderating - I forget whether Robert Rubin was there. What was so amazing, despite the topic, was outgoing Budget Director Peter Orszag's talk complaining about too many people on Social Security Disability. I thought it was outrageous because if you know anything about the program you know how hard it is to qualify. Orszag was on his way to a high level post at Citibank, if my memory serves me. I still haven't forgotten this speech and event, it was shocking.

Here's the link