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by Richard Eskow
This is a moment of moral clarity. Right now there are only two sides in the Social Security debate: the side that says it’s acceptable to cut benefits – in a way that raises taxes for all income except the highest – and the side that says it isn’t.
It’s time to ask our leaders – and ourselves – a simple question: Which side are you on?
Nancy Pelosi says (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/nancy-pelosi-fiscal-cliff_n_232...) she can convince most Congressional Democrats to “stick with the President” as he pursues his gratuitous and callous plan to cut Social Security benefits as part of a deficit deal – even though Social Security does not contribute to the deficit.
Excuse me: Stick with the President? What about sticking with our seniors and our veterans? What about sticking with our disabled fellow Americans? What What about sticking with the more than 4,000 children on Social Security who lost a parent in the Iraq War?
If you want to “stick with” Americans on Social Security, it’s time to call (http://strengthensocialsecurity.org/publicstatementcallpage) everybody who represents you in Washington – your Representative, your Senator, your President – and tell them that they’ll lose your support if they do this deal.
It’s time for an end to the Orwellian doublespeak. Cutting benefits won’t “strengthen” Social Security, as Nancy Pelosi claims. Cuts of 6.5 percent for a 75 year old and 9.2 percent for a 95 year old aren’t so small that “folks won’t even notice ‘em,” as President Obama claimed. They’re not a “technical” adjustment, as his press secretary argued (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/nancy-pelosi-fiscal-cliff_n_232...), nor do “most economists believe … this about getting a proper measure of inflation.”
The smart economists know that even today’s cost of living formula isn’t enough. It undercounts the things older and disabled people use the most, like health care and public transportation. Some other people know the formula’s inadequate, too: Seniors. They live with the costs every day.
So let’s stop all the double-talk and get down to the real question at hand: Which side are you on?
It’s time to put an end to weasel words and waffling language, too. You know the kind I mean: “We won’t slash benefits.” “No major cuts.”
The Huffington Post reports (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/20/chained-cpi-democrats_n_2339682...) that Democrats voiced their objections to the President’s chained CPI offer. But when asked, they “did not rule out voting for a deal” which included it.
That’s not good enough.
Mike Lux wrote an informative piece (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-lux/only-an-uprising_b_2339671.html) explaining why so many Democrats are likely to fall in line anyway unless we pressure them. You can probably guess the reasons: Access. Influence. Not alienating the top guy. I’m not dismissing their concerns. I get it. They’re in a tough position.
Know who’s really in a tough position? Elderly widows trying to get by on $850 a month. If Obama’s deal goes through that figure will fall to around $770 a month by the time they’re 95.
Know who else is in a tough position? Kids who lost a Mom or Dad in Iraq. Disabled Americans. And the millions of struggling families who’ll see their taxes go up as the “chained CPI” bounces them into higher tax brackets.
It’s “going to be a tough vote”? Tough. You should’ve thought of that before you decided to run for office, because tough comes with the territory.
And please don’t tell those of us who oppose this deal that we’re too “extreme” or too “left.” Three-quarters of all Republicans and Tea Party members agree with us, so who’s “extreme”? Don’t tell us we’re close-minded, either: Some of us know the numbers better than you do, but you won’t talk to us. You’d rather give credibility to the stealth corporate lobbyists at Fix the Debt and the Committee For a Responsible Federal Budget.
We’re very open-minded. We’re open to lifting the payroll tax cap. We’re open to fighting unemployment so that more people can pay into Social Security’s trust fund. We’re open to increasing its benefits as a stimulus measure – and because it’s the right thing to do. We’re open to a public exchange of ideas on the subject.
Don’t try to cut benefits behind closed doors and then tell us to be “open-minded.”
It’s true that waffling Democrats have offered some fine rhetoric. They’ve always got good rhetoric. In fact, they’ve got rhetoric to burn. But somebody else always winds up feeling the heat.
The President even offered up a new rhetorical flourish – the “superlative CPI” – he says will help those who are most deeply in need. But he offered no details, and the devil’s in the details. A lot of seniors on Social Security are already impoverished, according to the research (http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v65n2/v65n2p14.html). And that study was don before the economy was battered in 2008 – by many of the same Wall Street CEOs pushing this deal. It’s a pipe dream.
Besides, why fund an antipoverty program with other seniors’ and disabled people’s benefits, when the wealthy still won’t pay their fair share under your “compromise”: to avoid the “fiscal cliff”? As far as the “cliff” goes, Van Halen said it best: Go ahead and jump.
And if politicians come around at election time after voting for this deal, a lot of people will tell them the same thing I just said: Jump off a cliff.
Even if your only loyalty is to Team Blue – if Democratic victories are all you care about – you still need to make those calls (http://strengthensocialsecurity.org/publicstatementcallpage). Democrats’ huge polling lead on Social Security helped them win the House in 2006. Then that lead fell by 21 points (http://blog.ourfuture.org/20110120/Shocker__Obamas_Less_Trusted_Than_Bus...) and Republicans won the House back – helped in large part by their “Seniors’ Bill of Rights,” a transparent con only made plausible by muddled Democratic doublespeak.
It’s only been a few weeks since the party’s renewed credibility on this issue helped it achieve a major victory. Now it’s about to trade it away – again. And this time it lose that advantage forever. We need to act – now. We need to tell them: Don’t just say the right thing. Do the right thing. Put up or shut up.
There are real leaders who can show them how it’s done. Rep. Keith Ellison: “I will not vote for something that includes chained CPI.” Rep. Raul Grijalva: Chained CPI is “a Beltway fig leaf that I will never support.” Rep. Charlie Rangel: “Any deal that cuts Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits is unacceptable and I will oppose it.”
That’s how it’s done.
This is no time for us to waffle, either. Did you vote for Barack Obama, or for a Democratic Senator or Representative? I did. I feel a personal responsibility to do everything I can to stop them from doing this.
It’s time to make those phone calls and send those emails. Because Lux is right about something else: Without mass resistance these Social Security cuts are a done deal. And we’ll have to face the fact that we didn’t do enough to stop it.
Tell the President you’re against the chained CPI. Tell your Senators and your Representative to declare their unequivocal opposition to it like Grijalva and Ellison and the others did, and to vote accordingly.
And ask them that simple question: Which side are you on?
© 2012 Richard Eskow
Richard (RJ) Eskow is a well-known blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, an experienced consultant, and a former musician. He has experience in health insurance and economics, occupational health, benefits, risk management, finance, and information technology. Richard has consulting experience in the US and over 20 countries.
Richard has also worked in long-range forecasting. With the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, he participated in an online game where 10,000 players enacted future disaster scenarios. He has also done forecasting and analytical work for the Rockefeller Foundation and other organizations. He is among "fifty of the world's leading futurologists" whose "hopes, fears, and best predictions" are collected in a 2011 book entitled The Rough Guide to the Future.
He is a regular columnist for the science and culture blog 3 Quarks Daily and a Contributing Editor for Tricycle magazine. His reflections on blogging and spiritual principles were included in "Best Buddhist Writing of 2008."