What You Need to Know About Obama and the Social Security Sell-Out
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Watching Wednesday night’s presidential debate, you’d have to be a crack political code reader to know what Obama was really saying about Social Security. It was quick. It was subtle. But it was one of the most telling moments of the debate.
First, let’s get a few things straight. Social Security is solvent. It’s America’s most successful retirement plan to date. It’s extremely popular across party lines. Social Security adds not a penny to the deficit. And, as Nancy Altman has argued, it's “the poster child for fiscal responsibility.” The program is prudently managed, cost-effective, and carefully monitored.
Obama could have mentioned these facts and cheered the success of a program that Democrats – and all Americans -- should be proud of. Instead, the discussion went like this:
“Lehrer: Do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?
Obama: You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we've got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound. It's going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker -- Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill.”
Ladies and gentleman, that was the sound of your president offering to screw you on your retirement. This revealing exchange was followed by some politically strategic talk by both candidates about how current retirees shouldn’t be worried, because, as we all know, their votes are needed in the short term. But the rest of us? Be very, very worried.
The Roots of Betrayal
There is a persistent myth, or, to put it more bluntly, an outright lie, repeated by Republicans, and, alas, many Democrats, that Social Security needs to be “fixed” in order save the government money.
The Republicans have been dying to kill Social Security ever since FDR signed it into law in 1935, and Ronald Reagan answered their prayers by delivering a blow in the form of a “tweak” that essentially robbed the program, as economist Allen W. Smith explains splendidly in a 2010 article in Dissident Voice.
Alan Greenspan was the architect of that fraud against the American people. The Dems jumped on board during the business-friendly Clinton administration at the behest of then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Clinton got very close to cutting a deal with Newt Gingrich to partially privatize the program. Had he succeeded, the 2008 financial crash and ensuing recession would have been even more devastating that they have been. As Robert Kuttner has noted, if we can be grateful for one thing from the scandal of Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, it’s that there was too much distraction going on to push the plan through.
And who was right smack in the middle of this disastrous –and thankfully derailed -- negotiation? None other than Erskine Bowles, Clinton's Chief of Staff. You know, the guy whose name was on the lips of both presidential candidates Wednesday night and the man who is rumored to be at the top of Obama’s list for the next Treasury Secretary should he win his re-election bid. Bowles is the Corporate Democrat extraordinaire, and he appears likely to have a prominent role in a next Obama administration whether he gets the Treasury job or not. I like to call him "Cat Food" Bowles, in honor of his co-chairmanship of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, the group Jane Hamsher of Firedog Lake aptly dubbed the "Cat Food Commission" for its assault America's seniors.
If you were wondering if Obama will try to betray his base on Social Security if re-elected, this should pretty much answer your question. He’s poised to do it, and we have to shout from the rooftops that he will not get away with it.