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“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

“A Model Of Deception”: For House Republicans, A Game Of Debt Charades

Lawmakers went home for the holidays and got an earful from constituents about their juvenile behavior in Washington.

So, in their first major act of 2012, House Republicans picked up exactly where they left off: They staged a duplicitous debate in which they pretended that they were going to deny President Obama permission to increase the government’s borrowing limit.

The pretense had been clear since last summer, when 174 House Republicans voted for a budget deal that guaranteed that the debt limit would continue to increase this year unless two-thirds of the House and Senate voted otherwise — a practical impossibility.

But that didn’t stop many of those same 174 Republicans from marching to the floor  Wednesday afternoon to vote for a resolution “disapproving” of the very same debt-limit increase they had already blessed. It was a model of deception: claiming to oppose something they had guaranteed would take effect.

“My resolution that is before this chamber will send a message that the constant borrowing from our children, our grandchildren, must come to an end,” declared Rep. Tom Reed (N.Y.), one of the 174 Republicans who voted to allow the borrowing last summer.

“During my time in Congress, I voted nine times against raising the debt limit because it was not tied to spending controls. This is another time to say no,” argued Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), who said yes last year to the increase he voted against on Wednesday.

“If we do nothing, American prosperity will drown in debt,” said Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (Pa.), another of the 174 Republicans who had authorized the drowning.

“The culture of Washington must be reformed from the ground up,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) thundered in opposition to the debt-limit increase to which he consented last summer. “The future of our nation depends on it.”

Actually, if the culture of Washington is to be reformed, a good place to start would be for Kinzinger and his colleagues to be more honest about their shenanigans.

The role of calling out Republicans for their two-faced behavior fell on Wednesday to one of their own, conservative Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), who, unlike most of his colleagues, was perfectly consistent: He opposed increasing the limit last year, and he continued to oppose it on Wednesday.

“This vote has been called a charade,” Flake said on the floor. “That is true. It is. Let’s face it.”

Flake, one of the few grownups in the chamber, was not done with his fellow Republicans. “I think we have to admit that even if the Senate had passed the House-passed budget, the so-called Ryan budget, we would still have to raise the debt ceiling,” he reminded them. “I don’t think anybody really disputes that. We are going to have to raise the debt ceiling again and again.”

Then Flake did something truly heretical: He reminded Republicans that “we were headed toward this cliff long before the president took control of the wheel.”

What Flake said was demonstrably true: Both parties created the debt mess, and to fix the problem both would have to be honest. Instead of being honest, however, House Republicans were staging a show so that they could tell voters they opposed the very debt limit hike they had authorized.

Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) accused the Republicans of donning “flip-flops.”

“I do prefer Crocs, if anybody cares,” Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) retorted.

Apparently, most of the 174 Republicans who blessed the debt-limit increase last year were embarrassed about going to the floor to argue against it, because most of those who spoke were from that GOP minority who voted against the debt-limit increase last year, too.

“We should never have passed that Budget Control Act the way we did,” said Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), who voted no last summer. As a result, he said, Obama is “raising the debt ceiling without us being able to do a thing about it. We made a big mistake.”

Maybe they made a big mistake. Or maybe they did the right thing last year in reaching an agreement that kept the federal government from defaulting.

Reed, the floor leader for Republicans on Wednesday, wanted to have it both ways. “It’s so important, in my opinion, for the future of this nation, the future of the world,” he pleaded, with an urgency that he apparently lacked last summer. “The national debt is a serious threat to our very existence as an American nation.”

Reed and 232 fellow Republicans then voted to “disapprove” of the debt-limit increase — well short of the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a presidential veto. The House’s first legislative act of 2012 had been utterly pointless — which was just the point.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 18, 2012

January 19, 2012 Posted by | Budget, Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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