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Conservative Mogul Buying Up Reporters to Promote His Regressive Agenda

Pete Peterson, the Wall Street billionaire who wants to loot Social Security, has created a "news network" hooked up to the Washington Post.

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The biggest lie in Peterson's story-telling is his refusal to acknowledge the looting aspect of what he proposes. Despite his inflamed rhetoric, Social Security is not broke -- it has a huge surplus of around $3 trillion (trillion, not billion). With no changes at all, the trust fund will be solvent for at least another thirty years. In fact, workers retiring now have already paid for their Social Security benefits because they paid higher payroll taxes for the past twenty-five years. I might have a little respect for fiscal crazies like Peterson, Conrad and Gregg if I once heard them state these facts honestly instead of demonizing Social Security recipients.

Here is what really worries the fiscal hawks: as the Social Security trust fund built up the huge surpluses, the federal government borrowed the money and spent it. The time is approaching -- maybe ten or twelve years from now -- when the federal treasury will have to start paying back its debts to Social Security. The accumulated wealth does not belong to the US government, any more than the money it borrowed from China. The beneficial owners are all those working people who faithfully paid their FICA taxes for all those years. If Washington stiffs them now, it will be a bait-and-switch swindle larger than Wall Street's.

A year ago, the Obama White House was playing footsie with Peterson and intended to give him a starring role in its "fiscal responsibility summit." The Nation disrupted those plans. I wrote a fierce attack on the billionaire's looting scheme and the true fiscal history of Social Security. The sting that really hurt was The Nation's cover -- an unfortunate photograph of Mr. Peterson in which he resembled a Mafia don. The White House abruptly downplayed its summit and dropped Peterson as keynote speaker.

But the assault on Society Security, we knew, would come back sooner or later because many of Obama's lieutenants are devoted to Peterson's fiscal logic. Budget director Peter Orszag once co-authored a "reform" plan that would raise the payroll tax on young workers and cut benefits for older people near retirement. Isn't that clever? Pinhead economists evidently think that workers won't notice. Now the billionaire is cranking up another fight. We should finger him again, big-time, and all those who willingly collaborate in his plot.

As a candidate, Barack Obama said all the right things about Social Security and described the modest adjustments that would solve any long-term problems. But we learned during the last year not to trust fuzzy expressions of good intentions. We need to bang on the president right now and demand explicit commitment to oppose the sleight-of-hand proferred by Peterson, Conrad, Gregg and others.

Likewise, people need to confront Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi immediately. It has been reported the two Congressional leaders are prepared to go along with this ugly ploy. I find that hard to believe, but we need to find out -- now -- because Conrad and Gregg and their rich friend intend to demand the "commission" legislation be included later this month when Congress votes to raise the federal debt ceiling. That's clever timing designed to stampede members of Congress since, if the debt-ceiling measure is not enacted, government in theory might be shut down.

Maybe progressives should recruit some Democratic senators who will stage a progressive filibuster. Let's see how Harry Reid deals with that. Or maybe progressives in the House can recruit some bipartisan support in Republican ranks. Above all, people need to make a lot of noise, because this issue represents one more fleecing for people already struggling. If the Democratic party and the Democratic president decide to go down this road, arm-in-arm with the billionaire and the Washington Post, they may find themselves in a civil war much like the one tearing up the Republicans.

 
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