This post first appeared on Daily Kos. You really can't make this stuff up -- via Barefoot and Progressive, Rand Paul's now-former Bourbon County coordinator Tim Profitt, caught on tape Monday night stomping on the head of Lauren Valle, wants an apology: Profitt blames his back, the police, and of course Valle herself for getting her head between his foot and the curb. Profitt also asked that his "face not appear on camera," so for those unfamiliar with his mug:
This post first appeared on Daily Kos. The Social Security Administration's chief actuary analyzed Republican proposals to overhaul Social Security, and found that they would "substantially reduce expected benefits for people now entering the workforce."
The analysis focused on proposals from Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) to overhaul the retirement-insurance program. Ryan has proposed raising the retirement age by linking it to life expectancy, and slowing the growth in Social Security benefit pay-outs by changing the way they are indexed. A worker born in 1985 whose earnings averaged $43,000 would receive 17% less at retirement than promised under current law, as a result of Ryan's proposal to change the inflation index. His proposed increase in the retirement age would reduce benefits by another 8%, according to the actuary's analysis. The combined effect of the proposals would be to reduce benefits by 24% for someone at the $43,000 income level, according to a separate study released Wednesday by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The GOP proposals the actuary analyzed, at the request of Ways and Means Social Security Chairman Earl Pomeroy, were
  • raising the retirement age from 67, as scheduled under current law, to a higher level-this reduces benefits for all regardless of when they retire;
  • flattening benefit levels and reducing replacement rates by tying initial benefit levels to price levels rather than wage levels (sometimes referred to as "partial price indexing" or "progressive price indexing");
  • adopting an alternative measure of inflation as the basis for the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
The Center on Budget and Policy Priority's study looks at these specific proposals as well.
Rep. Ryan’s indexing proposal imposes the greatest reductions on those with the highest earnings, and it exempts those with the very lowest earnings, so it is sometimes called “progressive” price indexing. Nonetheless, it would affect fully 70 percent of all Social Security beneficiaries — everyone with earnings above $22,000 in today’s terms. Over time, price indexing would turn Social Security into a program that provides only a small retirement benefit — and one that is largely unrelated to prior earnings. The second benefit reduction is an increase in Social Security’s full retirement age. The full retirement age was 65, is now 66, and will reach 67 for people born in 1960 and later. Rep. Ryan’s plan would accelerate the increase to 67 and would index the full retirement age to life expectancy thereafter. As a result, the full retirement age would reach 68 for people born around 1983 and higher ages for later cohorts. As shown in Table 1, an increase in the full retirement age amounts to an across-the-board cut in benefits. A one-year increase in the full retirement age is equivalent to a roughly 7 percent cut in benefits for a person retiring at any given age, whether a person retires at age 62 or works to age 70 and does not begin drawing benefits until then.... In addition to cutting benefits, Rep. Ryan’s plan would increase payroll taxes by ending the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance. By themselves, these benefit cuts and the payroll tax increase would be more than sufficient to bring Social Security into financial balance for the next 75 years. However, Rep. Ryan’s plan uses up much of these savings by diverting payroll taxes into private accounts that would impair Social Security’s financial soundness and require transfers from the general fund to assure the program’s solvency.
And this is what it looks like over time: CBPP graph No Republican is interested in "fixing" Social Security, unless by "fixing" they mean forcing future senior Americans into abject poverty. Which is pretty much what they mean. They won't rest until they achieve this. They won't "compromise" on Social Security, a la the catfood commission. They are not honest brokers when it comes to this issue and won't be until it defeats them.
This post first appeared on Daily Kos. The catfood commission, blithely attempting to hack away at Social Security benefits, needs to consider what even "minor" cuts mean in reality.
BOCA RATON, Fla.—Seniors prepared to cut back on everything from food to charitable donations to whiskey as the news spread Monday that they will have to wait until at least 2012 to see their Social Security checks increase. The government is expected to announce this week that more than 58 million Social Security recipients will go through a second straight year without an increase in monthly benefits. This year was the first without an increase since automatic adjustments for inflation started in 1975..... More than 58.7 million people rely on Social Security checks that average $1,072 monthly. It was the primary source of income for 64 percent of retirees who got benefits in 2008; one-third relied on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their income.
Fifty percent of U.S.-based financial services professionals expect this year's bonuses to exceed last year's, according to a new poll. Of this group, 19 percent expect bonuses will exceed last year's payout by at least 30 percent, the survey by eFinancialCareers Global Bonus Expectations Survey. Thirty-four percent say personal performance will be the main reason for the larger paycheck.
But gawd knows we can't restore Clinton-level taxes on these people. Cost-of-living adjustments are automatically tied to the Consumer Price Index. But the Consumer Price Index doesn't take into account all the other factors in the economy facing seniors--loss of equity in their homes, decimated stock portfolios for those who had them. While Congress can't easily address the COLA issue for this year, at least one Senator is arguing for a short-term fix. Sanders will push for a one-time $250 payment to seniors and disabled persons that would at least help them stretch their food and utility budgets.
This post first appeared on Daily Kos. Joe Miller might not be a millionaire, but he has aspirations. He's joined the millionaires against the minimum wage club, (joining Oregon governor candidate Chris Dudley, and Senate candidates Linda McMahon and John Raese) but with a twist. Miller adds the minimum wage to the long list of government actions he thinks are unconstitutional.
Miller wants to roll back the power and size of the federal government to a degree not seen for 70 years or more. We asked him, for example, if there should be a federally mandated minimum wage, something that has existed since Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. "That is clearly up to the states," Miller said. "The state of Alaska has a minimum wage which is higher than the federal level because our state leaders have made that determination. The minimum level again should be the state's decision." So there should not be a federal minimum wage? "There should not be," Miller answered. "That is not within the scope of the powers that are given to the federal government."
Add that to Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits as things that are unconstitutional in Miller's world. As Scott McAdams says, in the best political line yet of this election cycle, Miller “wants to repeal the 20th Century.” Yale might be considering taking that law degree back.
This post originally appeared on the Daily Kos.
So yesterday, word was that Senate Republicans were severely punishing Lisa Murkowski for continuing on with her Senate race as a write-in candidate.
CNN's Dana Bash tweeted that Senate GOP leadership will move Wednesday to strip Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) of her position as the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee's ranking member. Such an action would come in response to Murkowski's decision to mount a write-in bid to hold on to her seat after being upset in the GOP primary by attorney Joe Miller. ABC News and Politico followed up with reports.
As it turns out, they've apparently decided they need to hedge their bets with Murkowski, and not cut all ties. She's still in at Energy and Commerce, but she has resigned her leadership position in the Senate Republican Conference. That doesn't mean everybody is ready to make nice. Anonymous Republican staffers told TPM
"She certainly has an interesting message for the current political climate, and it seems like a message that hasn't been working," a Republican Senate aide told TPM. She's getting some very bad advice from people who have let their emotions get involved instead of looking at the reality of the situation," another Republican aide said.
She hit back hard on CNN:
"Let me tell you, Jim DeMint or the Tea Party Express coming out of California, far be it for them to determine whether or not the senator representing the people of Alaska is conservative enough for them," Murkowski said.
Very smart hit, invoking California and out-of-state agitators in that one. Smarter than the first ad she ran and had to retract. When you're running as a write-in candidate, that "writing in the name correctly" part is pretty critical. Oops.
This  post first appeared on Daily Kos. An alarming finding from the Census:
The poverty rate surged to 14.3 percent last year as the recession took its toll on incomes, the Census Bureau said Thursday. A record 43.6 million people were in poverty in 2009. The poverty rate was up from 13.2 percent in 2008 and was the highest rate since 1994. The number of people in poverty was up from 39.8 million in 2008 and was the third consecutive increase. "The number of people in poverty in 2009 is the largest number in the 51 years for which poverty estimates have been published," the Census Bureau said.
That many people moving into poverty means a shrinking middle class and a massive widening of income inequality. Based on the preliminary data from the Census, Democrats on the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC) have issued a report based on the Census data, showing that "income inequality skyrocketed in the past three decades, peaked under President Bush just before the Great Recession began, and may have been a root cause of the worst recession since the Great Depression."
The report, entitled "Income Inequality and the Great Recession," finds that middle class incomes, which had grown at a healthy pace during the Clinton Administration, declined under President Bush and never regained their highs reached before the 2001 recession.  After President Bush’s eight years in office, middle class families had seen their annual incomes fall by more than $2,600. Stagnant incomes led to an increased demand for credit, with the household debt-to-income ratio growing dramatically from 2001-2007.  The unsustainable spending sparked the housing bubble, and subsequent collapse, and ultimately helped to trigger the Great Recession. The JEC report also found: * In the past three decades, the share of income going to the wealthiest 10 percent of households has increased significantly, from 34.6 percent in 1980 to 48.2 percent in 2008. * Annual income for middle class Americans – those in the middle income quintile – increased by more than $6,700 during the Clinton Administration.  During the eight years of the Bush Administration, this middle quintile saw their annual incomes fall by more than $2,600. * Americans across all five income quintiles saw income gains during the Clinton Administration, while, by contrast, incomes fell for each quintile during the Bush Administration. * The increase in marginal tax rates for the wealthiest one percent of households during the Clinton Administration did not lower these households’ income.  Real income of the top 1 percent grew at an average annual rate of 10.3 percent during the Clinton years. * From 1948 to 2005, incomes for Americans in the 60th percentile grew at an average of 2.5 percent under Democratic Presidents, compared to an average growth rate of just 1.1 percent under Republicans.
The report talks about how increasing income inequality has been compounded by financial deregulation, resulting in easier access to credit and more and more American families getting deeper and deeper into debt just to make ends meet. At The Washington Independent, Annie Lowery pulls out several of the key graphics from the report. Among them, these that are particularly striking: (Click on the image to view it in large format.) Those four lines on the bottom are people making below roughly $70,000 a year in 2008 dollars since 1967. The line souring way above them? The people making over $100,000. Notice how the bottom three quintiles haven't really budged in 43 years? This is middle class income during the previous for presidencies. Note the drop starting in 2001? This one is the share of the nation's income held by the wealthiest 0.1% of Americans (the blue line) with the top marginal tax rates. As tax rates fall, the share of their income goes up. The JEC comments:
Tax policy is an important lever that allows policymakers to ensure fairness and reign in runaway inequality. The lowering of the top marginal tax rate from 1981 through 2000 coincided with the dramatic rise in the share of income going to the very wealthiest American households (See Figure 6). In response to growing income inequality stemming from decades of cuts in the top marginal tax rates, the Clinton administration instituted policy changes that required the ever‐richer rich to pay a small additional slice of their income in taxes. The upward movement in the top marginal tax rate in the Clinton era was relatively minimal; the top rate remained lower than they were during the Reagan administration. Moreover, higher marginal tax rates for the richest households did not lower these households’ income. Indeed, the real income of the wealthiest 1 percent grew at an annual rate of 10.3 percent during the Clinton administration, when the top marginal tax rate rose from 31.0 percent to 39.6 percent.... Policymakers today have the opportunity to continue the work begun by President Clinton, and help steer America back onto a course of economic growth where rising tides lift all boats, rather than just the wealthiest American’s yachts. Retaining the Bush tax cuts for all households, instead of letting them expire for the top two income brackets, would make the income tax system less progressive and could further exacerbate income inequality and economic fragility.
The choice in the current debate over taxes is an easy one, if Dems want to start close the gap in income inequality.
This post originally appeared on Daily Kos. In their zeal to repeal health reform, Republicans are taking aim at one provision of the Affordable Care Act--intended to strengthen already existing tax law--with potentially devastating results. They are doing by means of an amendment, to be voted on tomorrow from Sen. Johanns (R-NE) to the small business bill, that would repeal that provision. Here's the basic rundown from Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:
Prior to enactment of the health reform law, businesses generally had to report to the Internal Revenue Service any payments of more than $600 they made to vendors for services they received; this reporting requirement was designed to help the IRS determine whether vendors were accurately reporting their income on their tax returns. Both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the IRS found, however, that the requirement was not sufficient to prevent a substantial number of vendors from significantly under-reporting their income in order to reduce their tax bills. A key problem was that the requirement exempted all payments to corporations, as well as all payments to vendors for goods and property rather than services. The GAO, the IRS, and the Treasury Departments of both President Bush and President Obama all recommended strengthening the reporting requirement to remedy this problem. Accordingly, the health reform law (known as the Affordable Care Act) eliminated the current exemptions, requiring businesses to report payments of more than $600 to corporations and payments for goods and property (as well as for services). This new requirement is scheduled to take effect in 2012. Some small businesses have expressed concerns that this change will impose a large paperwork burden and force them to track many additional expenditures, such as meals, gasoline, shipping, and store purchases. But repealing the provision entirely, as the Johanns amendment would do, would leave in place a clearly inadequate reporting regime that has failed to prevent widespread tax avoidance. Repeal would also cause the loss of $17.1 billion in revenue over ten years (the amount of revenue that otherwise would be collected, due to the improved tax compliance that would result from the provision of the Affordable Care Act). To make up for this loss, the Johanns amendment would strip $11 billion in Affordable Care Act funding for critical investments in health prevention and related activities and would seriously weaken other aspects of the health reform law.
And what's on the chopping block is serious, namely the Prevention and Public Health Fund, "10-year $15 billion commitment to wellness." This is the smart investment on the smart side of health care--creating and strengthening programs to keep people from getting sick and having to have much more expensive treatment. The prevention measures in this fund include expanding screenings for breast and colon cancer, smoking cessation and prevention programs, adult vaccine programs, and programs to reduce heart disease and diabetes. In other words, the smart, basic stuff that even Republicans saw as a necessity in the larger debate. You'll never guess which Democrats supports the Johanns amendment. Yeah, you got it, Blanche Lincoln (sound of DSCC/DNC money being flushed down the toilet), though Evan Bayh, Mark Begich, Ben Nelson, and Jeanne Shaheen have all signed onto a letter to the IRS expressing their concern over enforcement of the reporting requirements. Bill Nelson has an alternative amendment which would raise various thresholds in the provision--it would only apply to businesses with more than 25 employees and set the reporting threshold at $5,000 instead of $600. The Johann amendment is the first serious salvo in the Republican battle to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Luckily, it requires 60 votes to pass, and it's unlikely to get them, but it shouldn't get a single Dem vote. This isn't going to be the silver bullet for Lincoln back home in Arkansas. She's been toast since the race began, so she should just do the right thing for the party that has done far more for her than she's deserved. Defeating this amendment with a unified Dem majority is critical for fending off the repeal battles that are coming.
This post first appeared on Daily Kos. At the risk of sounding too shrill about the extremism of the Republicans nominated to run for Senate this year, let's take a look at Alaska's Joe Miller
Washington (CNN) - Joe Miller calls President Obama "bad for America" and suggests he is leading the nation on a path to socialism. But the newly minted GOP Senate nominee from Alaska also has a message for the Republican Leadership. Not to mention unapologetic views on cutting federal spending and even possibly phasing out Social Security.... "There is an opportunity to lead this country out of the crisis its in and I believe the Republican Party is well suited to take up that mantle," Miller said in an interview for Wednesday's "John King, USA." which will air at 7pm. "The question is whether or not there's the courage and leadership in that party to seize the moment and to recognize that the only way out of this is to get out of the age of the entitlement state to return power back to the states and recognize that central government is broken and see what we can do about fixing things and getting the government focused on those areas the enumerated powers that it should be doing. And the Republican Party can do it but it does require courage." .... KING: "It is an issue that you well know can be easily demagogued, so I want to deliver a statement. You tell me if it's fair or not: That anybody in the [Social Security] system or close to the system is fine. We won't do anything significant to change your benefits. But how about an American born tomorrow or born the day after Joe Miller was sworn in in Washington? Would that person perhaps grow up in an America where there is not a federal Social Security program if you got your way? MILLER: "Absolutely." KING: "That's a fair statement?" MILLER: "No demagoguery there at all."
Miller, like Rand Paul before he was advised to keep his mouth shut, is saying out loud what the Republican ethos is. Returning "power back to the states" and limiting the "central" government (with that hint of creeping socialism) to its "enumerated powers" is the quiet fight in which the Republicans have been engaged since the New Deal. When I wrote that post about Paul, I included this from a 2004 post by DavidNYC:
I'm hardly the first person to make this point, but it's one that bears repeating: While conservatives are preparing to pack the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary with right-wing judges who will seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, their real aim is a stealth campaign against the New Deal interpretation of the Interstate Commerce Clause (ICC). Don't get me wrong: Roe and other hot-button social issues matter a great deal. But the power to destroy the ICC has much more far-reaching consequences.... Every time someone like this comes up for a nomination, we need to say that they want to make Social Security illegal. Not get rid of it - make it illegal. They want to make the minimum wage illegal. They want to make clean water laws illegal. This is not a mis-statement or exaggeration of their position. This is exactly what they propose.
That was in the context of Supreme Court nominations, but it's what Joe Miller is articulating as the conservative governing philosophy.
This post originally appeared on Daily Kos.
Of course, since Republicans don't actually care about the deficit, they just like to use it as a bogeyman, this letter from the CBO [pdf] (via the Wonk Room won't make them stop screaming "REPEAL!!!"
On balance, the two laws’ health care and revenue provisions are estimated to reduce the projected deficit in 2020 by $28 billion, and the education provisions of the Reconciliation Act are estimated to reduce the projected deficit in 2020 by $2 billion. [...] Finally, you asked what the net deficit impact would be if certain provisions of PPACA and the Reconciliation Act that were estimated to generate net savings were eliminated—specifically, those which were originally estimated to generate a net reduction in mandatory outlays of $455 billion over the 2010–2019 period. The estimate of $455 billion mentioned in your letter represents the net effects of many provisions. Some of those provisions generated savings for Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and some generated costs. If those provisions were repealed, CBO estimates that there would be an increase in deficits similar to its original estimate of $455 billion in net savings over that period.
The "you" the CBO is responding to is Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), who must have thought that if he asked just one more time, the CBO would give him a pony in the form of the health law not reducing the deficit. It's really rather remarkable--the CBO originally said, make these changes and save $455 billion--did Crapo really think that repealing those provisions wouldn't then cost $455 billion? Sometimes the CBO must get very frustrated by the letters they get from Congress. Igor Volsky adds:
If they were to repeal the law, Republicans would have replace it with something that makes up for the deficit increases (assuming, of course that they will still care about the deficits) and helps slow the growth rate in the Medicare program. The GOP’s old leadership backed plan and its reliance on medical malpractice reform as a money saver won’t be enough.
They don't care about the deficit. They don't care about trying to control the costs of the absolutely essential Medicare and Medicaid and CHIP, to keep them healthy and effective. And they sure as hell don't have a plan for making the nation's health care system work.
This post originally appeared on the Daily Kos.
When WikiLeaks released its massive trove of documents on the Afghanistan war, the Pentagon immediately responded that the release would endanger Afghans who were helping the Army. WikiLeaks countered that they had attempted, using the New York Times as an intermediary, to ask the administration for help in redacting those names. The Pentagon claimed that it had not had direct contact with WikiLeaks and had not had the opportunity to redact critical information in the release. A new report from Newsweek's Mark Hosenball puts that assertion into question.
A lawyer representing the whistle-blowing Web site WikiLeaks  says U.S. government officials have been given codes and passwords granting them online access to official U.S. government documents that WikiLeaks so far has not published. Timothy Matusheski, a lawyer from Hattiesburg, Miss., who says he represents whistle-blowers and has been in touch with both WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and at least one government official involved in investigations of WikiLeaks, said the site had set up a “secure channel” through which authorized users could access the unpublished material. He said credentials for using this channel had been forwarded to representatives of the U.S. government whom he did not identify. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Matusheski indicated that the reason WikiLeaks had taken these steps was to make good on its offer to try to work with U.S. authorities to remove from reports, published in the future by the Web site, sensitive information that could put innocent lives in jeopardy.... Earlier this week, Assange and Pentagon spokesmen indulged in a bout of long-distance name-calling, with Pentagon spokesmen denying that U.S. defense officials had “any direct contact with WikiLeaks," and Assange insisting, in an interview  with the Associated Press in Stockholm, that the U.S. had expressed a willingness to discuss a request from WikiLeaks that U.S. officials help the Web site redact Afghan war documents that it has in its possession but hasn’t yet published. In an e-mail to Declassified, Assange insisted: “We are correct, the Pentagon lies or misleads, as per usual.” Not long after the “liar, liar” accusations began flying between Assange and Pentagon spokesmen, WikiLeaks posted, via Twitter, a copy of an Aug. 16 letter that Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel, had sent to Matusheski. In the letter—which was sent out before the Pentagon spokesman gave us their denials of any “direct” contact with WikiLeaks—Johnson claimed that Matusheski, on behalf of WikiLeaks, had sought a conversation with someone in the U.S. government to discuss “harm minimization” with regard to 15,000 official Pentagon reports on the Afghan war that WikiLeaks has been threatening to make public. In the letter, however, Johnson reiterates the Defense Department’s position as it was stated by official spokesmen to Declassified: “The Department of Defense will not negotiate some ‘minimized’ or ‘sanitized’ version of a release by WikiLeaks of additional U.S. Government classified documents. The Department demands that nothing further be released by WikiLeaks, that all of the U.S. Government classified documents that WikiLeaks has obtained be returned immediately, and that WikiLeaks remove and destroy all of these records from its databases.”
So the Pentagon did have direct contact with WikiLeaks or a representative prior to the release of documents--the letter Johnson sent to Matusheski proves it. WikiLeaks should have redacted that information before releasing documents. This seriously undercuts, as Adam Serwer notes, the Pentagon's argument that WikiLeaks alone will have "blood on its hands" in this episode. The Pentagon might not like the fact that WikiLeaks is releasing these documents, but it and administration officials need to be honest in this debate.