Here I was, thinking that the debacle of 2011 had finally got the Grand Bargain virus out of President Obama's system, when known Obama trial balloon launcher Dick Durbin uttered this untruth on FOX News Sunday today:
"Social Security is gonna run out of money in 20 years," Durbin said. "The Baby Boom generation is gonna blow away our future. We don't wanna see that happen."The truth is that Social Security will NOT run out of money in 20 years. The program currently has a surplus of more than $2 trillion, and it would be fine forever with normal economic growth rates. (If it still needed help, just lift the cap and make all income, not just that under $86,000/year, subject to FICA taxes.)
Furthermore, even the hint of a threat to defund, even partially, Social Security benefits is going to undo all the Democrats' gains from the shutdown fight. Follow me and I'll explain.
Fears that Obama would do a repeat of his 2011 cave were rampant throughout the past month and a half, even since the Tea Party wing of the GOP made it clear that it would sic the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks and Heritage Action on any of their fellow Republicans who didn't back their insane plan to defund the Affordable Care Act by holding the nation hostage.
One of the most oft-voiced beliefs was that Obama would once again, as in 2011, use the threat of a shutdown to try to get a chunk of his Grand Bargain dream -- cuts to Social Security and Medicare under the guise of "entitlement reform", as mentioned in a recent Salon article -- past the Capitol Hill Democrats:
... President Obama has repeatedly touted chained CPI – a proposed change in cost of living calculations that would cut future Social Security payments – as something that both demonstrates his willingness to compromise and advances his commitment to Social Security’s future. In his press conference Tuesday, the president reiterated that he’d “put forward proposals in my budget to reform entitlement programs for the long haul…” While reaffirming that he wouldn’t “pay a ransom for America paying its bills,” Obama said he was “absolutely” willing to negotiate following passage of even a short-term debt ceiling increase, and that Republicans could “attach some process to that that gives them some certainty that in fact the things they’re concerned about will be topics of negotiation, if my word’s not good enough.”So how can we stop this from happening? As mentioned in that same Salon article, the best way is to remind Obama, Dick Durbin (whose office can be reached here) and anyone else signing the Grand Bargain hymn that Social Security is still the third rail of politics -- touch it, and your political hopes die.
Syracuse University Professor Eric Kingson, who advised presidential commissions on Social Security under Reagan and Clinton, said he took from Obama’s public comments that “the implicit deal” is that once Republicans lift the debt ceiling and re-open the government, the White House “will be very willing to trade off a piece of Social Security.” Kingson is co-director of Social Security Works, a coalition of three hundred organizations opposed to benefit cuts.
Representatives for two prominent Democratic-aligned progressive groups cautioned that all the political gains the Democrats had made as a result of the shutdown would be flushed away and then some if they were so stupid as to cut Social Security and Medicare:
I think even Dick Durbin (who is NOT on the Budget Committee, whereas Bernie Sanders is) must sense this somehow, because he chose FOX News Sunday, a news venue not exactly favored by Democrats or lefties, for this umpteenth relaunching of the Let's Cut Social Security Because We're Too Scared to Tax Rich People trial balloon. If he thought that rank-and-file Democrats would back it, he wouldn't be hiding out from them on FOX.
Ilya Sheyman, who directs MoveOn.org Political Action, told Salon he was “cautiously optimistic” that congressional Democrats would defeat chained CPI, given that “there is zero hunger” for it from the public. DFA’s Chaimberlain went further: “I really think it’s a non-starter in Congress.”
Both men warned that pushing chained CPI could wipe out what they called a very real chance for Democrats to ride a wave of anti-GOP backlash and take back the House next year. Noting polling showing public opposition to “having the whole economy and government held hostage to trying to roll back Obamacare,” Sheyman said, “the surest way to erase those votes would be for anyone to entertain cutting Social Security and Medicare like this, which would have that same level of outrage, if not more.”