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“How Could Paul Ryan Have Known?”: Super-Wonk, Budget Wizard And Speaker-Designate Ryan Didn’t Know What His Staff Was Up To?

One of the more ridiculous and cynical features of this whole surprise budget deal is Paul Ryan’s expressions of horror and anger. Aside from the fact that the Republican House leadership is not about to blindside their hand-picked Speaker on something this big, there’s the little issue that Ryan’s staff helped draft a big chunk of it. HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney has the story:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday morning that he hadn’t seen the new bipartisan budget deal and that the secretive process used to craft it “stinks,” but there’s stuff in the bill that should smell good and familiar to him.

One of its most important provisions makes changes to the Social Security Disability Insurance program, and some of those changes came from the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees Social Security and which Ryan chairs.

“Paul Ryan’s staff was involved in crafting the provision for weeks,” a Democratic aide told HuffPost. “His staff signed off on the provision, his staff also signed off on other key provisions” related to tax compliance and Medicare.

Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck denied that Ryan’s committee staff crafted the disability provision within the context of the legislation, which was negotiated by the White House with party leaders in the House and Senate. The committee had been working on changes to disability benefits earlier this year; Buck acknowledged that Ways and Means staff were aware the disability provision would be included.

At 52 pages, the disability insurance provision comprises a significant portion of the 144 page bill. It would prevent a 20 percent benefit cut scheduled to kick in next year for SSDI’s 11 million beneficiaries by diverting revenue from Social Security’s better-known retirement insurance program — a strategy some Republicans previously said amounted to “raiding” that program’s coffers.

The bill is also supposed to save $4 or $5 billion by tightening eligibility requirements for disability benefits, partly by requiring the Social Security Administration to make sure all initial applications include a medical screening.

But we’re supposed to believe super-wonk, budget wizard and Speaker-designate Ryan didn’t know what his staff was up to or how it related to an overall budget deal. Give me a break.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 27, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, Paul Ryan, Social Security | , , , , | 3 Comments

“Everybody Over 40 Has A Little Back Pain”: Watch Out, Grandpa! Republicans Are Coming For Your Social Security

Hey, Rand Paul, why don’t you tell us how you really feel?

Last week, the junior senator from Kentucky mocked people on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD), suggesting their ailments are not worthy:

What I tell people is, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting your disability check. Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club… Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts. Everybody over 40 has a little back pain. [Huffington Post]

This is just the prelude to the GOP’s plan to roll back the whole of Social Security. Paul’s remarks are part of a PR campaign to portray the program as riddled with lazy deadbeats and cheats.

Don’t believe me? Earlier this month, the Republican Congress adopted a rule change regarding the disability portion of Social Security. It has occasionally run short of money, which last happened in 1994 and will happen again in late 2016. Typically, the disability side is topped up with money from the (much larger) general Social Security funds. But Republicans have changed the rules to prevent this, which means disability payments will be cut by a fifth when the money runs out.

Now, they’re beginning to argue this is a great time to “reform” the system as a whole:

One of the co-sponsors of the rule change, Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), said that his intention was to “force us to look for a long-term solution” to the disability program. But the rule itself says it will allow a revenue transfer if the “overall health” of Social Security, encompassing both the retirement and disability programs, is improved. That’s what Democrats are warning about, but some conservative analysts who have consulted with House staffers are also hoping that the GOP uses the threat of benefits cuts to go big. [Talking Points Memo]

If you examine the history of conservative animosity towards Social Security, as Dylan Scott does in a great piece, the long game here is obvious. Conservatives hated the program when it started, tried to abolish it for a generation, rolled it back slightly when it became firmly politically entrenched, and tried to privatize it in the Bush years. Conservative activists have been plotting this move for years.

The political entrenchment of Social Security explains the slyness of their tactics today. Social Security is one of the most popular programs in the country, and attempting to privatize it was a political disaster for Bush. Thus, passing bill after bill scrapping the program altogether a la ObamaCare would be committing political suicide. Much better to use a manufactured funding crisis to force a complicated political bargain that most people don’t understand. Better still to maneuver Democrats into accepting cuts, and then blame them for it and run against them on the issue.

Let’s look at the policy. Are conservatives right about SSDI being riddled with fraud, as an episode of This American Life squirmily argued two years ago? They are not. As a Center for Budget and Policy Priorities analysis shows, the increase in disability payments is mainly due to demographic factors. There is little fraud in the program (in reality, a large majority of applicants are rejected). The program doesn’t pay out much per beneficiary. And the general Social Security fund can top up the disability fund with only a tiny overall effect.

How about Social Security in general? Contrary to Republican anti-tax zealotry, the problem with Social Security is that it is not nearly generous enough. American retirement security used to rest on pensions, the 401(k) system, and Social Security. The first of those is almost dead, the second has been an utter failure, and the third is simply not big enough to provide a genuine retirement for most people. Boosting the program substantially would be simple and good policy.

Many years ago, it was widely accepted that as our country got richer, we could afford to work less as a whole. Disabled people could be kept out of poverty, and old people could retire. But conservatives are increasingly abandoning this idea. There is no reason Paul’s logic about the disabled couldn’t be applied to retirees, too. Can your grandma stack shelves at Walmart? Maybe she should, the lazy parasite.

In reality, we can easily afford to boost Social Security. Indeed, we can easily afford to eliminate poverty altogether. That we don’t is a political choice, nothing more.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, January 20, 2015

January 22, 2015 Posted by | Rand Paul, Republicans, Social Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Uh Oh, Republicans Are Trying to ‘Protect’ Social Security Again”: A Misleading Argument To Tee Up Benefit Cuts

Whenever Republicans start talking about protecting Social Security, warning bells go off in my head.

Remember President George W. Bush’s ill-fated plan in 2005 to privatize Social Security? It was pitched as a way to protect Americans from what the then-president and his supporters falsely claimed was the system’s impending collapse.

The bells have started up again. Buried in the new rules being adopted by the House Republican majority for the current session of Congress is one that the drafters say will “protect” Social Security retirement benefits from being raided to pay for Social Security disability benefits. What this boils down to is using a misleading argument to tee up benefit cuts.

This bulletin from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains the ruse in detail.

In brief, Social Security has several parts. The biggest part, by far, is the retirement system. Another smaller part, Social Security Disability Insurance, pays benefits to disabled workers.

On eleven different occasions in the past, Congress has allocated money from one system to the other whenever one of the funds was running short. Such shifts have historically been noncontroversial, as well they should be: They are basically housekeeping maneuvers.

The new Republican rule, however, bars the House from doing a straightforward shift of  money from the retirement system to the disability system. That could cause havoc. The disability system is currently strained, for two main reasons. One, disability claims rise with the aging of the population. Two, a tax change in 1983 was only partially reversed in later years, leaving the disability system underfunded. If money is not shifted from the retirement system to the disability system, severe cuts to disability benefits will be needed starting in 2016.

In their new rule, Republicans say they are protecting the retirement system from being robbed. What they don’t say – because it is the truth – is that reallocating money from the retirement system to the disability system would put the disability fund on a firm footing while barely denting the retirement fund, for the simple reason that the retirement fund is far bigger than the disability fund.

A reasonable reallocation could enable both the disability system and the retirement system to pay full benefits through 2033.

That is plenty of time for reasonable politicians to enact modest reforms in taxes and benefits that could ensure the solvency of both systems well into the 21st century.

The real challenge is to shield the systems from deliberate destruction by today’s Republicans until cooler heads prevail.

 

By: Teresa Tritch, Taking Note, The Editorial Pages Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, January 7, 2014

January 11, 2015 Posted by | Republicans, Social Security | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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