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Obama's Crazy Plan To Cut Social Security

Is Obama's new "debt commission" about to savage Social Security for no reason? Sure looks like it.

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Q. Why the urgent focus on Social Security? In the past, Social Security has always been considered under the normal legislative process, with the opportunity for full amendments. According to the program’s actuaries, it is able to pay all benefits in full and on time for over a quarter of a century. Even its most diehard critics, who try mightily to convince the rest of us that the program is in crisis, can’t mount an argument that there is a problem for another five years or so. So what is the rush? What is the need for such an unaccountable, fast-tracked process when one has never been needed before? Why, in spite of the evidence that Social Security is working as intended and that there is growing need for the kind of broad and reliable protection provided under the program, is it being singled out by Bowles and Simpson and seemingly by the White House for a major trimming?

Q. The American public has stated in a number of polls that they prefer to increase the program’s revenue, even if it means them paying more, rather than reducing the benefits that are so vital to almost all its beneficiaries. (See, for example, this May 2005 Gallup Poll.) So why does the commission seem so determined to ignore the views of the American people, and insist that there must be benefit cuts?

Q. The members of the commission wrap themselves in the mantle of their children and grandchildren. Alan Simpson routinely says that he is a stalking horse for his grandchildren. This is good, but what about everyone else’s grandchildren? Especially those lacking privileged backgrounds; those more likely to need strong retirement, disability and survivorship protections as they grow and raise their own families and hopefully eventually reach retirement age? If these commissioners’ focus is on all grandchildren, shouldn’t they be more focused on investments today to ensure that their parents have good-paying jobs and that they can receive a first rate education? Why do they seem so intent on cutting the benefits of that future generation? As Simpson himself has made clear, he intends to spare today’s elderly, which means it is the benefits of the next generation which will be cut.

Q. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, are there efforts to buy off the press? Just in time for this commission, Mr. Peterson, not content to buy access, has now used his fortune to establish his own news service, so the story gets reported his way. The Fiscal Times is likely to be active in reporting about the commission. Given that Mr. Peterson’s son, Michael, has the power to hire and fire the two top editors, will its reporting be objective? Its first effort did not inspire confidence. (See Trudy Leiberman’s Dust up at the Washington Post and Richard Perez-Pena’s Sourcing of Article Awkward for Paper.)

At a time when the nation has near double-digit unemployment, when many responsible economists believe we could, without additional federal spending, experience a deeper recession, it is imperative for the press to ask the hard questions. Our elected officials should not be given a pass on an austerity approach that could have serious, long-ranging implications for all Americans, and particularly those most vulnerable. They have no one to protect them but an open, inquiring press.

Nancy J. Altman is the author of The Battle for Social Security .