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.The details are below:
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.
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.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.
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.
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.And thus is destroyed the notion that the Democratic Party will protect Social Security.
But now that it’s in Obama’s budget, he owns the details – including who’s protected and who’s not.
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