A THREAT TO SOCIAL SECURITY? The debate over President Obama‘s deal with Senate Republicans to extend Bush-era tax cuts—in exchange for an extension of unemployment benefits—rarely got below the surface for many in the media and in the political class. But there’s a reason the most ardent critics of the agreement, which won Congressional approval after major arm-twisting by the administration, were opposed to the bitter end. They were not just worried about tax policies that extend the gap between rich and poor and embrace supply-side Reaganomics; they were specifically concerned about the future of Social Security.
The deal cuts the Social Security payroll tax paid by workers for a year, which means that the government would have to borrow $112 billion to make up the loss. According to a statement from the office of Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, who led the revolt against the agreement in the House Democratic Caucus, “This sets a dangerous precedent that opens Social Security up to attacks from those seeking to dismantle or privatize it, and is not the type of investment that will create jobs or put people back to work.” “At the end of 2011, the Republicans will insist on extending the payroll tax holiday,” DeFazio predicts, “and to pay for the extension, it’s likely they will demand cuts in Social Security benefits.”
All of this comes at a point when Social Security is already in the cross hairs. Incoming House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan has made no secret of his desire to begin the process of privatization, and the president’s deficit commission has outlined proposals that could—if Obama’s State of the Union address embraces them, as the commission co-chairs hope—set the stage for a brutal debate over the program’s future. DeFazio is right when he warns that this is “the first time in seventy-five years, since President Roosevelt created Social Security, that opponents of the program are poised to undo the New Deal and turn it into a raw deal for America’s seniors, the taxpayers and working men and women.” Progressives had better be ready to wage—and win—this fight. JOHN NICHOLS
POWER TO LOW-POWER FM: While much ink has been spilled about the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” there was another important and hard-fought progressive victory on December 18: Congress passed the Local Community Radio Act. Congress authorized low-power FM (LPFM) radio service in 2000, but restrictive legislation backed by big broadcasters and media lobbyists was passed soon after. The Radio Broadcast Preservation Act of 2000 introduced limitations that made it extremely difficult for new LPFM stations to receive approval. Supporters of the bill claimed LPFM stations would cause interference on high-power FM signals, a claim wholly disproved by a Congressionally mandated and taxpayer-funded study in 2003.
The Local Community Radio Act repeals this legislation, reopening the airwaves to schools, civil rights groups, churches, sources of local music and culture and more. Candace Clement of Free Press, a nonprofit media reform organization, noted that “the Local Community Radio Act will make it possible for hundreds, if not thousands, of new local radio stations to go on the air.”