The debate about the future of Social Security has opened, and how progressives respond will decide whether the United States is a civil society or a pirate state where the government’s primary role is to take from the poor and give to the rich.
So far, the response has been mixed. The signals from the Obama White House are bad, with the president indicating openness to “compromises” that would compromise the legacies of the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society. In contrast, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, key Congressional Democrats, labor unions and activist groups are raising all the right objections.
The spark for the debate was the release of a statement from the co-chairs of the president’s Fiscal Commission—the high-powered committee charged by President Obama with developing strategies for balancing budgets and addressing deficits and debts—that indicates they are leaning toward implementing the sort of rigid austerity schemes that would ruin the US economy.
The Commission is not due to make any serious proposals until December, at the earliest. But the statement from former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, a supposedly sensible Republican, and former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, a North Carolina Democrat who tried without success to get elected to the Senate, suggests that the commission has adopted the fraudulent calculus that says every federal program is more of less equally wasteful, and thus equally “on the table” for cutting. Those cuts, to their view, would begin with deep cuts in Social Security benefits and a hike in the retirement age to 69. Where would it end? The proposal by Simpson and Bowles to tear the safety net gives Wall Street speculators precisely the opening they have been seeking to make a grab for the biggest corporate-welfare payout ever: privatization of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid.
The White House response did not inspire confidence in the administration’s determination to maintain the commitments made by Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
“The president will wait until the bipartisan fiscal commission finishes its work before commenting. He respects the challenging task that the co-chairs and the commissioners are undertaking and wants to give them space to work on it. These ideas, however, are only a step in the process towards coming up with a set of recommendations and the president looks forward to reviewing their final product early next month,” said White House spokesperson, Bill Burton.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee described the statement as representative of the “weak, ‘I won’t pick a fight on even the most obvious of issues,’ loser mentality that will be DISASTER for Democrats if continued through 2012.”
In contrast, the group pointed to Pelosi’s response as “the type of bold fighting attitude Democrats will need to WIN in 2012.”
“This proposal is simply unacceptable,” said Pelosi.
“Any final proposal from the Commission should do what is right for our children and grandchildren’s economic security as well as for our nation’s fiscal security, and it must do what is right for our seniors, who are counting on the bedrock promises of Social Security and Medicare. And it must strengthen America’s middle class families—under siege for the last decade, and unable to withstand further encroachment on their economic security.”