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Does anyone think this means tested Rube Goldberg Social Security slicing machine is actually supposed to work?

The White House, fighting back against liberal critics who say he’s giving away too much, released details Wednesday of the protections Obama would include to make sure older seniors and low-income people don’t get hurt by lower benefits.

He’d give a special increase in Social Security benefits, starting at age 76, to help compensate older seniors for the losses that would build up over time. And he’d exempt several social programs that are focused on low-income people.

But here’s who wouldn’t be protected: Seniors younger than age 76, veterans who get compensation for war-related injuries, and some low-income families who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit. The proposal also wouldn’t stop people from rising into higher tax brackets more quickly, since the tax brackets won’t get as much of an adjustment for inflation.

The details are below:

To help older seniors recover from smaller Social Security increases, Obama would include a special hike in benefits that would be phased in over 10 years. It would start at age 76, and seniors would get the full increase at age 86. They’d get about 5 percent of the average retiree benefit, which would be around $800 today.
But everyone under age 76, of course, would still get the smaller cost-of-living increases with nothing to make up for it. And even the 76-year-olds wouldn’t get very much, since it would take 10 years for them to get the full increase. (One bit of good news: If they live to age 95, they’d get a second increase.)
The proposal would also carve out several social programs that have means-tested benefits, meaning they’re aimed at people with low incomes. They include Supplemental Security Income, a program liberals specifically wanted to be exempt because it helps low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
So basically, in true neoliberal fashion, a complex maze of subsidies and cuts that directly harm the middle class and the poor as well, but attempt to protect the most destitute through an arcane set of strictures that only a government technocrat or insurance adjuster could love. Much like the Affordable Care Act, really, except where the Affordable Care Act seeks to expand benefits, the Social Security cut seeks to remove them.

And the political consequences?

Administration officials spent most of Wednesday insisting that chained CPI was the Republicans’ idea, not Obama’s, and that he’d only agree to it if it had these protections and was included in a broader deficit reduction package. “The offer that is there for Speaker [John Boehner] is not an a la carte menu,” National Economic Council director Gene Sperling told reporters Wednesday.
But now that it’s in Obama’s budget, he owns the details – including who’s protected and who’s not.
And thus is destroyed the notion that the Democratic Party will protect Social Security.

This isn't just a failure of an overly conservative Administration that has somehow bought into the austerity line while lacking basic negotiation skills. It's not just the failure of a Washington culture dominated by corruption and neoliberal economic theory.

It's also the failure of a crew of Ivy League technocratic wonks in love with their ability to design complicated legislative contraptions designed to cut costs by using abstruse measures to slice away fat from people they think can take it, while leaving just enough meat on the bone so no one completely starves.

The complexities of this Social Security "solution" remind one of the Affordable Care Act. The answer to the healthcare crisis should have been Medicare for All from the very beginning. Politically feasible? Perhaps not. But that should have been the starting point for negotiations.

And the answer to the Social Security non-crisis, such as it is, should be to raise the payroll cap. It's that simple. Politically feasible? Perhaps not. But that should be the starting point.

It's impossible to prove, of course, but one gets the sense that these arcane machinations are being pursued not so much out of necessity, as out of a wonkish belief that the new crew of preppy budget wonks can rightsize the government to behave with greater efficiency and lower cost without real damage to the system. It's as though the lean company craze that overtook corporate America in the 1990s has finally hit the government as well, with predictable results.

The Obama Administration promised a bloodless government that abandoned ideology in order to reach across the aisle to do what is "practical." The only problem is that trend-seeking Ivy League wonks vastly overestimate their ability to cut efficiently and bloodlessly without nicking an artery. "Practical" is usually in the eye of the beholder. When all the beholders went to Harvard and make six figures, their eyes tend to shaded.

There is a reason that most voters make their political decisions based on values, not on specific policies. It's not because they're ignorant rubes. It's because values are meaningful, and worldviews inform good decision-making. Voters support political parties not because they're blind followers of their "team" (though there is some of that), but because they trust that a politician who belongs to one of those parties will share their values. Voters don't want to have to evaluate every politician's individual stand on every issue. They just want to know that the politician would do as they would do if it were their job to make laws.

If one believes that government benefits are bad, and that lazy people become too dependent on them while starving Wall Street of the potential investment income from that luscious cash pension, then slashing Social Security makes a lot of sense. But if that's true, the answer isn't to slice away at it gently. The answer is to eliminate it entirely and shove everyone into a 401K.

If, on the other hand, one believes that the market is cruel, predatory and unstable, and that working people deserve a decent, secure and sizable income on which to retire, then the answer is to expand Social Security while raising the payroll cap.

One of those two sides is right and the other is wrong. We have elections to determine which direction the people want to go. That's what politics is all about. Trying to split them down the middle isn't just moral cowardice and lack of clarity. It's also amazingly incompetent as a matter of policy.

Slicing away and rejiggering social security for various age groups is stupid. It's short-sighted policy, meaningless in terms of cutting earned benefit shortfalls, and damaging to seniors and working people of all ages. There's no philosophical or ideological grounding for it. It just looks like an experiment for wonks who think they're far smarter than they are.

Cross-posted from Digby's Hullabaloo

Originally posted to thereisnospoon (David Atkins) on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 01:53 PM PDT.

Also republished by Social Security Defenders.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Are they? (16+ / 0-)
    President Obama met at the White House Thursday morning with a group of top Wall Street chief executives as part of the administration’s efforts to forge better relations with the industry and enlist them in efforts to sell his fiscal proposals.

    The CEO group included Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan, Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, Michael Corbat of Citigroup, James Gorman of Morgan Stanley, John Stumpf of Wells Fargo, Bob Benmosche of AIG and several others.

    Among the topics discussed in the Roosevelt Room at the White House were immigration, cybersecurity, the long-term fiscal outlook for the country, and the stability of the financial system.  The Forum executives also stressed measures to boost the housing recovery, skills training, and clean energy initiatives, according to a White House official.


    They might just be super-competent at hoovering up money for Wall Street.

    •  The list of those (14+ / 0-)

      attending is a veritable banksters rogues gallery.... Cut to SS and then.... Last night dinner for the Republicans, today luncheon with the bankster's, then there was golf with Oil guys while the  DFH protested keystone.

      Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and CEO Goldman Sachs GS
      Jacques Brand, CEO Deutsche Bank
      Michael Corbat, Chief Executive Officer Citigroup            
      Jamie Dimon, Chairman, CEO and President J.P. Morgan
      Sergio Ermotti, CEO UBS
      James Gorman, Chairman and CEO Morgan Stanley
      Gerald Hassell, Chairman and CEO Bank of New York Mellon          
      Jay Hooley, Chairman, President and CEO State Street Corpo  Abby Johnson, President, Fidelity Financial Services          
      Steve Kandarian, Chairman of the Board, President and CEO Metlife MET
      Brian Moynihan, President and CEO Bank of America
      John Strangfeld, CEO, Prudential
      John Stumpf, Chairman, President and CEO Wells Fargo        
      Jim Weddle, Managing Partner, Edward Jones
      Bob Benmosche, President and CEO American International Group

      Can't imagine what they were discussing. Most likely how to create some jobs don'tcha think?

      •  I'm confused. Why was the White House (8+ / 0-)

        meeting with Organized Crime Kingpins?

        If Republicans said every 3rd person named "Smith" should hang, we'd bargain them to every 7th. Then we'll see apologia written praising this most pragmatic compromise. There's our losing formula.

        by Jim P on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 03:18:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I suppose (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          3goldens, Jim P, greengemini

          the Don's have to meet with their Consigliere's for advice and  consultation. Their kingdoms need direct access to the statesmen who facilitate their 'operational acts'.


          Consigliere (Italian consigliere "counselor", pronounced [konsiʎˈʎɛːre], roughly kohn-seel-YEHR-eh) is a position within the leadership structure of Sicilian and American Mafia. The word was popularized by Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather (1969), and its film adaptation. In the novel, a consigliere is an adviser or counselor to the boss, with the additional responsibility of representing the boss in important meetings both within the boss's crime family and with other crime families. The consigliere is a close, trusted friend and confidant, the mob's version of an elder statesman. He is devoid of ambition and dispenses disinterested advice. This passive image of the consigliere does not correspond with what little is known of real-life consiglieri.

          A real-life Mafia consigliere is generally the number three person in a crime family, after the boss and underboss in most cases. The boss, underboss, and consigliere constitute a three-man ruling panel, or "Administration."

          When a boss gives orders, he issues them in private either to the consigliere or directly to his caporegimes as part of the insulation between himself and operational acts  

        •  Nailed it! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jim P, shaharazade

          Plato's " The Cave" taught me to question reality.

          by CTDemoFarmer on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 06:11:17 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Report to the Board of Directors (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        quagmiremonkey, shaharazade

        ... from the chief of the Governmental Affairs Division, obviously.

        If you want to cut Social Security, you're not a real Democrat.

        by Dallasdoc on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 07:26:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I read this at Hullabaloo (9+ / 0-)

    and already posted a link to it here.  Rube Goldberg is the perfect framing for this monstrosity.

  •  Me too (6+ / 0-)

    I read it at hullabaloo. Glad you posted it here also. I agree with most of it but think that while they are ivy league technocrats they are also souless, greedy, valueless neoliberal  who are arrogant free market ideologues of the worst order.. They represent Gov. Sachs and seem to be doing a heck of a job as corporate earning are soaring.  

  •  How can anyone in either good conscience or not (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jim P, 3goldens

    totally brainwashed believe that cutting SS versus major cuts to the national insecurity budget is a good thing?   The other option would have to be self interest. Money, greed.  Sick, sick people.  

    "I'm an antiwar propagandist as accused by democrats. Not even republicans have called me that."

    by BigAlinWashSt on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 02:59:07 PM PDT

  •  Really appreciate this diary! (9+ / 0-)

    Two things that resonated with me:

    There is a reason that most voters make their political decisions based on values, not on specific policies. It's not because they're ignorant rubes. It's because values are meaningful. . . Voters don't want to have to evaluate every politician's individual stand on every issue. They just want to know that the politician would do as they would do if it were their job to make laws.
    Absolutely!  This is why I have noticed the lack of mention of personal values by this President.  I'm old and remember JFK-----no, he wasn't perfect, but one thing those of us alive then soaked up was that we knew what was important to him, what he valued and what his ideals were.  

    And the second thing (which I won't copy) is your entire final paragraph.  All I can say to that is YES!

    "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." - from the prophet Jeremiah

    by 3goldens on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 02:59:21 PM PDT

  •  Actuarial tables have boomers dying at 81 to 83 (6+ / 0-)

    about 90% of them, if I recall a recent diary correctly.

    It would start at age 76, and seniors would get the full increase at age 86.
    This amounts to just more "manage perceptions and you've done all that's needed" politics which became dominant with Bill Clinton's first and 2nd victories.

    The President is stuck in 1995 or so, when polling showed that "ending gridlock" was the people's top concern. Then he surrounds himself with people who were stars of the mid-90s, though most all of them have pushed failed and discredited conventions.

    Those were the days when Economy seemed growing; we were the military force no one on earth could resist; global capitalism seemed to work. These days ain't those days.

    The "manipulate perceptions" business is merely an amoral cynicism masked with razzle-dazzle and double-talk. People can tell if they have no money and/or no prospects, ain't no tricks and qualifiers going to make them not notice.

    If Republicans said every 3rd person named "Smith" should hang, we'd bargain them to every 7th. Then we'll see apologia written praising this most pragmatic compromise. There's our losing formula.

    by Jim P on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 03:16:32 PM PDT

  •  Populism remains unpopular at 1660 Penn Ave (6+ / 0-)

    I am of the opinion that the deep thinkers in the West Wing are no less self-deluded on Social Security and many other budgetary policies than the present occupant of the Oval Office.

  •  The f'ed-up Obama plan. (4+ / 0-)

    Obama owns this labyrinthine dungheap of a plan. He did not have to - but he put his name and his party's name on a convoluted unnecessary reconfiguration of the Social Security benefits structure.

    And through this diary we see how this technocratic Rube-Goldberg contraption is configured to dazzle us with so much bullshit.

    This tells me one thing about the people who dreamed this scheme. They have devised something they themselves never intend to use. And so will not be harmed by their callous incompetence.

    •  But they did intend to use it (0+ / 0-)

      as we are living through their callous implementation of austerity cause it's 'the world as we find it and inevitable and worst of all preached as somehow good.

      •  I speak of reliance on Social Security. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Who in Obama's advisory staff, another millionaire's club, will need to collect Social Security to get by in their declining years?

        For my money, not a single person who worked in this proposal will need one cent of Social Security to have a chance at a decent standard of living.

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