Extremely Disappointing Language from Obama on Social Security

Barack Obama sounding better on Social Security during the MSNBC presidential debate late last month.

I absolutely agree that Social Security is not in crisis.

Barack Obama sounding a lot worse during an interview with National Journal from Tuesday posted yesterday on the magazine's website.

Q: So, welcome to Senator Barack Obama. Welcome to "National Journal On Air." Let me start right away by asking you about the contrasts that you are drawing between yourself and Hillary Clinton. Her campaign people, the people who support her, say by calling her somebody whose word can't be trusted, by suggesting that she's disingenuous, that that's really a character attack -- that that's the very thing that you said you weren't going to do in this campaign.

Obama: Well, I strongly disagree. Look we are offering our plans for the future on health care, on education, on energy, and the American people have a right to judge how clear and how consistent have the candidates been in their positions. Because if they're not clear and consistent, then it's pretty hard to gage how much they're going to fight on these issues. You know, Senator Clinton says that she's concerned about Social Security but is not willing to say how she would solve the Social Security crisis, then I think voters aren't going to feel real confident that this is a priority for her. And that's the kind of leadership I think that the Democratic Party has to offer in the years to come. [emphasis added]

"Social Security crisis." For those who weren't politically engaged in early 2005, those three words might not be terribly meaningful. But for the folks who fought tooth and nail to ensure that the Social Security program was not dismantled by President Bush and his Republican lackeys on Capitol Hill those three words come off like a dog whistle, because paramount to the conservative effort to kill FDR's great gift to American society was the attempted propagation of the myth that the Social Security system was in crisis -- a myth that has no basis in reality.

Social Security can pay full benefits as promised until 2042 according to this year's Social Security trustees report (or 2052 if you use projections from the Congressional Budget Office). Thereafter it will be able to pay about 75 percent to 80 percent of promised benefits.

Even if benefits were cut to 75 percent of what's promised, that reduced level would still be more than what today's retirees get, [the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Mark] Weisbrot said.

For example, according to CBO estimates, a person born in 1940 would get about $13,300 in their first year of retirement, while someone born in 1990 would get $16,700 -- in today's dollars.

Atrios explains why this stuff matters:

So, anyway, having someone suggest that Social Security is a problem which needs to be dealt with by any serious candidate is like the bat signal for people like me. There is no problem with Social Security. None at all. Whatever broader fiscal time bombs exist have absolutely nothing to do with Social Security. Once you get Fred Hiatt and the gang opining about the need fix that Social Security problem, you've increased the likelihood of something very bad happening.

Listening to Obama this week, it almost makes you think that he wasn't around in early 2005 when progressives had to fight back George W. Bush's efforts to partially privatize Social Security. It certainly leaves the impression that he just doesn't get it on Social Security. I don't know what to say aside from that this is just really disappointing stuff from Obama. Really disappointing.

Tags: Barack Obama, Social Security, there is no crisis (all tags)




This is awful.

But then O has never been shy about using rightwing frames. Maybe he'll deal with this crisis at the same time he figures out what to do about the rampant secularism in the Democratic Party, or how to defund the war without hurting the troops.

by david mizner 2007-11-09 03:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Ugh

Social Security is not in crisis.  Health Care is a crisis in this country, poverty is a crisis, Iraq is a crisis, and Iran is a crisis in the making.  We don't need to manufacture any more, especially since we've been paying more in payroll taxes than the system needs for 25 years.

by MassEyesandEars 2007-11-09 03:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Ugh

Such a disapointing campaign by Obama.  Once again, using right wing themes.

by TomP 2007-11-09 04:01AM | 0 recs
Obama on Social Security

It is indeed disappointing to hear Obama opine that Social Security is in crisis, for all the reasons you list.

If he wants to worry about the solvency of an important program, he should address himself to Medicare, which Bush and the Republican Congress have left in a real mess. As of January, my doctor gets less when he treats me than he does now, whereas the HMOs that insure some Medicare recipients (but not me, on principle), get a vast subsidy.

Medicare's finances are sliding down the tubes and this is the problem that needs to be fixed.

by georgiaka 2007-11-09 03:08AM | 0 recs

Oh, that was weak. I'm sorry, but that was weak.

by BlueDiamond 2007-11-09 03:21AM | 0 recs
Re: What?

Yes, Obama IS weak.  

Weak about supporting democrats.

Weak about supporting social security.

Weak about supporting equal status for all people, including gays.

Weak about showing up for votes that matter.

This guy is a study in weakness who hides behind surrogates who dish innuendo.

by Rooktoven 2007-11-09 03:41AM | 0 recs
Re: What?

I agree. The article itself links to a recent debate where Obama agrees there's no real crisis. Then he happens to use the word "crisis" in an interview.

Calling this a gaffe would be hyperbole. But to imply that he's reinforcing a "right-wing frame" because in one article he mentions a crisis which previously claimed doesn't exist seems to be far too critical for my taste.

We can't have a person running for president who is on message all of the time. Clearly, Obama knows the real fiscal problems are with medicare/caid and not with SS.

by rwiedower 2007-11-09 08:09AM | 0 recs
the real Lieberdem

It becomes more and more clear who the real Lieberdem is. The man just wants to get right with the DC editorial boards.

by souvarine 2007-11-09 03:28AM | 0 recs
Re: the real Lieberdem

I find it amusing that we b*itch over every single word that comes from Obamas mouth and if he says two or three words different from how we would say it, we write a million page Diary and launch an all out attack.

But Edwards and Clinton and all the other candidates? Not so much and they are far WORSE!

It's disgusting and people are taking note of it.

by BlueDiamond 2007-11-09 03:39AM | 0 recs
Re: the real Lieberdem

Edwards and Clinton don't intentionally undermine Democratic positions in an an attempt to sound "bipartisan".

by Rooktoven 2007-11-09 03:43AM | 0 recs
Re: the real Lieberdem

except when it comes to Iran.

by the mollusk 2007-11-09 06:37AM | 0 recs
Re: the real Lieberdem

Since many liberal Democrats voted for the Iran resolution (Durbin, Mikulski, Sarbanes, etc.) support for it did not undermine the Democratic position.

by souvarine 2007-11-09 07:16AM | 0 recs
Re: the real Lieberdem

"Edwards and Clinton don't intentionally undermine Democratic positions in an an attempt to sound "bipartisan".

End the Game.
by Rooktoven"

Couldn't agree more.  Obama's 'reconciliation' gambit was a farce from the start.  It appealed to people who don't understand how we came to be in this place and what the nature of the opposition is.

The consensus on which government was based for nearly 5 decades was deliberately and systematically destroyed by the people/groups that Obama says he'll reconcile with.

Those people/groups consider reconciliation to be submission to their movement, period.

We are in a war with that 'Movement.'  It is truly amazing that some (too many) Democrats haven't yet caught on to this fundamental fact.

The divisiveness in our political institutions won't stop until this mob is beaten to a bloody pulp.

by cal1942 2007-11-10 06:03AM | 0 recs
Re: the real Lieberdem

"Edwards and Clinton don't intentionally undermine Democratic positions in an an attempt to sound "bipartisan".

End the Game.
by Rooktoven"

Couldn't agree more.  Obama's 'reconciliation' gambit was a farce from the start.  It appealed to people who don't understand how we came to be in this place and what the nature of the opposition is.

The consensus on which government was based for nearly 5 decades was deliberately and systematically destroyed by the people/groups that Obama says he'll reconcile with.

Those people/groups consider reconciliation to be submission to their movement, period.

We are in a war with that 'Movement.'  It is truly amazing that some (too many) Democrats haven't yet caught on to this fundamental fact.

The divisiveness in our political institutions won't stop until this mob is beaten to a bloody pulp.

by cal1942 2007-11-10 06:11AM | 0 recs
Re: the real Lieberdem

Amen.  I don't see anything wrong with making sure this program remains solvent.  When my wife and I discuss our retirement, we always begin with the premise that Social Security will not exist.  I hope we're wrong, but it's really the safest way to proceed.

by the mollusk 2007-11-09 06:24AM | 0 recs
Payroll tax is not going away

Social Security simply can't NOT be there. Certainly there can be a gap between scheduled benefits and income but 12.4% of payroll will always be able to provide some level of benefit, the question is how much that would be and whether that would amount to crisis.

As it happens under the current schedule benefits immediately prior to Trust Fund Depletion would be in real terms 160% of what a similar situated retiree gets today, after depletion that is projected to be reduced by 25%. And as Prof Rosser of JMU points out (in what I call Rosser's Equation) 75% of 160% = 120%. In context 'Crisis' is defined as 'Check 20% better than my Mom gets today'.

Now given that the current economic model is most likely overly pessimistic and that it is more likely than not that Depletion will continue to be pushed out in time (2029 with the 1997 Report, 2041 today) there is not much reason to be concerned anyway, but either way there is exactly zero reason to plan for retirement without knowing that you can count on about 30% of your pre retirement income up to the then cap being there in the form of Social Security (percentage varies some but 30% is a reasonable number to work with). There is no reason to believe that the payroll tax would simply be abolished which means that at whatever level of benefits Social Security cannot simply go away.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 06:52AM | 0 recs
Re: Payroll tax is not going away

Hey, thanks for the detailed description of the situation.

by the mollusk 2007-11-09 06:57AM | 0 recs
This is not a trivial choice of words

If you don't understand that THERE IS NO SOCIAL SECURITY CRISIS, then you are simply uninformed. Go back and read Josh Marshall from early 2005; read Dean Baker's many articles.  To buy into the false idea is to set the stage for the repeal and dismantling of the heart of the new deal.

Failing to understand the importance of setting the terms of debate on this issue -- one of the only times progressives have actually done so successfully -- is a sign of not having learned anything, having made no political progress since the depths of Democratic political futility in 1998-2002.

by Nell 2007-11-09 07:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Extremely Disappointing Language from Obama on

There is absolutely no excuse for this from a Democrat.

by Steve M 2007-11-09 03:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Extremely Disappointing Language from Obama on

But, but, but Obama is charismatic.  He gave a really good speech once.

by Rooktoven 2007-11-09 03:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Extremely Disappointing Language from Obama

You rang?

by Big Tent Democrat 2007-11-09 05:44AM | 0 recs
Re: watch what he does not what he says

Didn't WJC also talk about the need to "deal with" Social Security while he was in office?  I'm more concerned with policy than rhetoric.

by megaplayboy 2007-11-09 03:49AM | 0 recs
Re: watch what he does not what he says

Bill Clinton did, and he dealt with it so that Obama wouldn't have to. Why doesn't Obama talk about the real issues: annual deficits and health care. Piling up even more money in the Social Security trust fund so that the Republicans can blow it all on more wars won't fix anything.

by souvarine 2007-11-09 03:54AM | 0 recs
Re: watch what he does not what he says

Absolutely.  Clinton had a good plan to strengthen Social Security, which is unfortunately not doable any more because of the Bush deficits.  But he didn't use alarmist language to try and get people's attention.

If you want to talk policy, the "problem" with Social Security is a shortfall in revenues that might interfere with payments 40 years from now if the economy does poorly.  In a world where we have to prioritize and where we only have a limited amount of tax revenue to fix problems with, making it a priority to address the relatively minor issue with Social Security (as opposed to, for example, Medicare and the health care system) is irresponsible.

And when people talk about how there's a crisis with Social Security, they enable the Republican position that the program isn't working and we need to replace it with something else.  Rhetoric does matter.

by Steve M 2007-11-09 04:01AM | 0 recs
It is not 1998

The situation facing Social Security in 1998 was significantly different than the one today. At that point you could fairly say that Social Security faced a certain degree of challenge. Unless the economy managed to put through a significant string of better than average growth the long term health of Social Security was about 50/50.

Well guess what? The economy did put through a significant string of better than average growth and the results are what you could (and I did) predict at the time: depletion steadily being pushed out in time and the payroll gap shrinking. The results can be seen in this table EPI Social Security Issue Guide: Changes in Trustees Projections over Time
In 1997 the Trust Fund was projected to go to Depletion in 2029, a point of maximal demographic strain on the system, and the payroll gap was 2.23%. Ten years later Depletion is projected for 2041, when the median age of the Boomers will be 84 and as such rapidly shuffling off to Buffalo and points beyond, and the payroll gap is down to 1.95%.

Bill was right to be concerned. Then. Obama really has no excuse here, at best he can blame sloppy staff work. If only they had read any of my ten or so MyDD diaries on this, or maybe visited my Social Security website they could have avoided all this. Better yet they could have read the introduction to Dean Baker's Social Security: the Phony Crisis. Dean was on to these guys already by the late 90's

We have a chance, said President Clinton, to "fix the roof while the sun is still shining." He was talking about dealing with Social Security immediately, while the economy is growing and the federal budget is balanced. The audience was a regional conference on Social Security, in Kansas City, Missouri, that the White House had helped bring together.

The roof analogy is illuminating, but we can make it more accurate. Imagine that it's not going to rain for more than 30 years. And the rain, when it does arrive (and it might not), will be pretty light. And imagine that the average household will have a lot more income for roof repair by the time the rain approaches.

Now add this: most of the people who say they want to fix the roof actually want to knock holes in it.

This is the situation facing Social Security, and it is well known to those who have looked at the numbers. The program will take in enough revenue to keep all of its promises for over 30 years, without any changes at all. Thirty years is a long time--it's hard to think of any other program that can claim to be secure for that long. Furthermore, the forecast of a shortfall in 2034 is based on the economy limping along at less than a 1.7 percent annual rate of growth--about half the rate of the previous three decades. If the economy were to grow at 1998's rate, for example, the system would never run short of money.

Well it did and it won't. Each year that passes makes Social Security even less of a 'crisis'.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 05:46AM | 0 recs
Greenspan, Krugman: "NOT in crisis!"

While on Met The Press in September, Russert asked Greenspan about Social Security:

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe either political party has stepped up to the crisis we face with Social Security and Medicare in the coming years?

MR. GREENSPAN: I do not.

MR. RUSSERT: How big a crisis will that be?

MR. GREENSPAN: Social Security is not a big crisis. We're approximately 2 percentage points of payroll short over the very long run. It's a significant closing of the gap, but it's doable, and doable in any number of ways. Medicare is a wholly different issue because, remember, right now, with the current entitlement, we can afford Medicare. It's easily refunded. We're going to double the size of the retired population. And by all of the analysis I go through in the book, it's very evident to me that we are not able to actually deliver on the Medicare we are promising, and I think that is marginally unethical to immoral because we are promising to people who have not yet retired a fairly significant Medicare package which, if they knew they weren't going to fully get, they would take actions now--maybe retire later, do different things--and I think everybody has been avoiding this issue. We avoided it in the Social Security Commission in 1983, and everyone's done--been doing it since. Then it was more than 20 years before. We're now right at the point where if we don't act we're going to be in very serious problem--trouble.

While on This Week in October, Paul Krugman was asked specifically about Obama's Social Security charge against Clinton.  Krugman took Clinton's side and said:

"Obama's wrong here and Clinton is right."

So here you have a conservative Republican economist and a liberal Democratic economist both agreeing with Clinton's position that Social Security is not in crisis.

The burden remains on Obama to explain why he agrees with the GOP meme regarding Social Security being in crisis.  Until then, his attacks on Clinton ring hollow.

by BigBoyBlue 2007-11-09 03:51AM | 0 recs

So the choice is between agreeing with the GOP framing--which was previously Clinton's own framing--or agreeing with Regan's and Bush's Ayn Rand worshipping economist?

by HatchInBrooklyn 2007-11-09 04:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Greenspan?

I have no idea where you pulled that interpretation from.  

by RickD 2007-11-09 05:13AM | 0 recs
From The Comment?

I got that interpretation from the comment, which suggests that we can either agree with the GOP that there might be a Social Security funding problem some day, or we can agree with a GOP economist (albeit one who has recently taken to criticizing Bush) who says that there will be no funding problem.

by HatchInBrooklyn 2007-11-09 05:24AM | 0 recs
Re: From The Comment?

The GOP frame is not "there might be a Social Security funding problem some day."  OF COURSE there might be a Social Security funding problem some day!  The GOP frame is "there is a Social Security crisis," which Obama is unfortunately reinforcing.

The point is that even a hack like Greenspan says the Democratic position is correct on this.

The other point is that Paul Krugman agrees as well.  If Krugman doesn't have credibility among progressives on economic issues, I'm not sure who does.

by Steve M 2007-11-09 05:32AM | 0 recs
This Seems Silly to Me

Honestly folks, this is why such a long primary season is such a bad idea.  He's not accepting a right wing frame here, he's talking about how to ensure that SS STAYS in good shape going forward.  And in doing that, he's explicitly rejected the BS privatization plans that Republicans continue to push for.  And if you haven't noticed, by the way, Bush got killed with that plan -- so it's not like he's talking about SS solvency in the middle of a privatization push.  

Finally, I'd note that both Al Gore and Bill Clinton talked about the importance of shoring up SS going forward and doing so in a progressive way.  Obama's doing the same thing.  So to the extent you have a problem with his language, it sounds like you also have a problem with both Gore and Clinton I.

by HSTruman 2007-11-09 04:08AM | 0 recs
Re: This Seems Silly to Me

no thats absolute bullshit.

Clinton shored up SS for the long run with fiscal responsibility.  Gore ran on fiscal responsibility, though he used the lock box to essentially say he was not going to raid social security.

Bush has screwed that up, taking off years, but it still isnt in crisis.

Maybe you didnt pay much attention during the "privatization" time period where Santorum and Co in the Senate tried scaring the hell out of everyone saying there was a Crisis.

The crisis is that Bush is a fucking idiot, and sorry, but i dont want our nominees parroting that fucking idiots talking points.

by sepulvedaj3 2007-11-09 04:26AM | 0 recs
Re: This Seems Silly to Me

Did you notice how Bush got killed with his privatization push?  And that no one is pushing the idea now?

Geez, take the blinders off before posting.  Eventually, it's going to be necessary to make some rather minor changes to ensure that SS is on sound footing.  That's what Obama is talking about, just like Clinton talked about (remember his mantra of fix SS first?) and Gore highlighted in 2000.  Sure, your amorphous concept of "fiscal responsibility" is part of that but raising the cap on SS taxes probably is as well.  And yes, we'll probably raise the age to receive full benefits by a year or two eventually as well.  You can think it's a big deal to talk about that if you want to, but I highly doubt you'd find any of this offensive if it was your preferred candidate making the same statements.  

by HSTruman 2007-11-09 05:11AM | 0 recs
Re: This Seems Silly to Me

You seem to view the word "crisis" as irrelevant, which is not the position of most of us here.  I'd ask you to show me anywhere that Clinton or Gore ever said there was a "crisis" with Social Security.

The way to make sure privatization stays dead and buried is to stop saying there's a crisis when there isn't.

In terms of the policy merits, I don't want to see any Democrat using up finite political capital and tax revenues by "fixing" Social Security right now when there are far greater priorities.  Every dollar we spend to make sure Social Security won't have a hypothetical shortfall 40 years from now is a dollar we can't spend to fix the problems with Medicare and the health care system.  That's why it's a bad priority.

by Steve M 2007-11-09 05:36AM | 0 recs
Re: This Seems Silly to Me

"Did you notice how Bush got killed with his privatization push?  And that no one is pushing the idea now?

by HSTruman"

You must be quite young.  Conservatives have been trying to kill Social Security since the beginning.  The Bush attempt was preceded by Goldwater, etc., etc.

The Cato Institute has been campaigning against Social Security for nearly 20 years.

The Conservative Movement is hardly dead and they will stop at nothing to destroy Social Security.

In my lifetime I've seen conservatives regularly resurrect their cherished fantasies.

What this country doesn't need is for Democrats to play into their hands.

by cal1942 2007-11-10 06:34AM | 0 recs
Re: This Seems Silly to Me

Great way to start a conversation.  In EACH of the examples you cite, the GOP was  hurt by their attempt to privatize SS.  You can call me "young" and view that as an insult if you want, but the reality is that I'm simply not scared to have a conversation with republicans about SS solvency because I think the issue is a winner for progressives.  There is a generational divide at work here, but I think it's between those who are conditioned to fear an illusionary all-powerful republican party and those who actually think talking about issues is the best way to grow the progressive movement.  

But thanks anyway for the snark.  

by HSTruman 2007-11-13 04:32PM | 0 recs

The Obama supporters are amazing.

by Big Tent Democrat 2007-11-09 05:46AM | 0 recs
This Seems Silly to Me: It Would

Every time they talk Social Security 'Crisis' the immediate call is for a bi-partisan commission which inevitably leads to call for compromise. We don't need a compromise on this, instead we need to turn it around and let FDR borrow Teddy's Big Stick to whack the crap out of Privatizers.

I laid this argument out in 2005 at my blog when I suggested it as a tactic for the midterms Unleash Your Inner FDR: Social Security as an Opportunity and repeated in a MyDD diary in Jan 2006 Social Security as a Weapon in the Mid-Terms Well nobody picked the message up at the time but it can still work for 2008 or 2010. The key message is not that the Right is wrong on Social Security, it is that they are lying. Again. Still. I put it this way more than two and a half years ago:

"I am going to suggest a simply yet powerful theme for the mid-terms: "Social Security is not broke. Not now, not in 2017, not in 2041. Any Republican who tells you it is is a liar or ignorant" "

We do not and should not concede even an inch on this issue. The opponents of Social Security don't have the numbers, moreover in sparring with them it is clear that they know that. You cannot draw an opponent of Social Security into a discussion of either near or long term growth projections. They know that once this gets expressed in numeric terms that they will get laughed right out of the argument and they simply won't got there. Believe me I have tried.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 06:02AM | 0 recs
Re: This Seems Silly to Me: It Would

The reason we can never adopt this as an electoral strategy is because far too many Democrats foolishly go along with the Republican messaging.  Back before the blogosphere got involved in the privatization battle, the standard line from Democrats was that "okay, there's a crisis, but..."  They just didn't care about learning the facts, and since we're Democrats we've never heard of message discipline.

Any Democrats who says "Republicans are lying when they say there's a crisis" now has to deal with the response "Oh, so you're saying Barack Obama is a liar?"  That's what happens when you have no message discipline.

by Steve M 2007-11-09 06:17AM | 0 recs
That is what the blogosphere is for

We successfully sold the message 'There is No Crisis' in the spring  of 2005. An idea that was totally fringe in Nov 2004  when I put up my first MyDD diary on this What if Social Security wasn't Broke? (And it isn't) (it drew one comment, the concept seemed so laughable nobody even bothered to slap it down) was by April by and large accepted wisdom in the Left Blogosphere. Well none of that happened because we just threw up our hands and said 'We have no message discipline, so why even try'.

In November 2004 it was still pretty difficult to get consensus on 'Bush is lying'. Well it is a lot easier three years later. 'Bush is lying on Social Security like he lied on Iraq', well at least there is fertile ground to work with.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 07:07AM | 0 recs
Re: That is what the blogosphere is for

You do God's work on this issue, Bruce.

by Steve M 2007-11-09 07:20AM | 0 recs
I don't know about that

But I have spent a lot of time wandering in the wilderness. Getting this particular piece of Good News out is sometimes slow work.

Actually this currently dustup has been a great opportunity. There is a hell of lot of difference between a front page comment thread and a diary. Just like you get more market penetration discussing this on a post at Ezra's then in preaching to the choir on the Econoblogs.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 09:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Extremely Disappointing Language from Obama on

This doesnt come as a surprise

by sepulvedaj3 2007-11-09 04:27AM | 0 recs
A generational thing?

I think this may be a generational thing. Regardless of whether or not social security is in a crises (I really don't know), I know that people my age (19) aren't counting on it existing by the time we're eligible receive benefits. That may be more of a result of people screaming words like 'insolvency' and 'crises' for so long. My point is that I think most young voters would agree that social security will basically have disappeared by the time we retire.

by ctnewbie18 2007-11-09 04:50AM | 0 recs
Re: A generational thing?

People your age (19) are not people Obama's age (46).

I agree that there has been a lot of negative propaganda in the mainstream media over the years.  We count on leaders to see through the propaganda storm, not to be suckered in by it.

by RickD 2007-11-09 05:15AM | 0 recs
Re: A generational thing?

I didn't mean to insinuate that Obama is part of my generation. He is, however, trying to appeal to young voters and it makes sense for him to offer more radical solutions to problem that is seen as a crises to his target demographic.

Regardless of whether or not social security is in a crises (I'm not convinced one way or the other), I don't think proposing massive changes to ensure that it's fully funded and isn't a major headache ever 20 years is a bad thing. That may be a function my being of a different generation as well.

by ctnewbie18 2007-11-09 05:40AM | 0 recs
Re: A generational thing?

When I was your age I thought the same thing. This was just after the Social Security trust fund nearly ran out of money in 1983, so no offense but I think I was being more realistic than you. At the time the issue was pretty immediate for me, my father had died a few years earlier and my family was surviving on our SSI benefits. Then Bill Clinton won election and he rapidly turned things around.

Today the trust fund is projected to last for another 30 to 40 years, and to last beyond the foreseeable future if the economy does as well as it has during the mediocre Bush years. There is no reason in the world for people in your generation to think Social Security won't be around for you, you guys can't be such easy marks for Charles Schwab and the Republicans.

by souvarine 2007-11-09 05:39AM | 0 recs
Re: A generational thing?

Excuse me but no.  You were not being "more realistic" than people of my generation.  Quite frankly you (the generation) before us, have basically fucked our future.  Your generation is the one that is largely responsible for driving the progress made on social programs from the 30's through the 60's into the ground, putting the country's finances in shambles with deficits that WE will have to deal with, and screwing up American's position among the other nations of the world, so NO- i don't think we're being unrealistic by expecting you to fuck up the rest of our future.  

People my age (early 20s) have come to expect less than nothing from your generation.  We are in damage control mode, and quite frankly do not trust people like you who tell us not to worry about the future any more...you'll take care of it.

by bluedavid 2007-11-09 09:24AM | 0 recs
Trouble with the parents?

I'm not a boomer, but even if I were I think you are dealing with some other issues and not reading what I wrote. Read Bruce's comments here, Social Security is not damaged, you have been mislead, it does not require damage control.

The deficit? Our international situation? Those are real. Bush did that, I voted for Gore and Kerry.

by souvarine 2007-11-09 11:57AM | 0 recs
Re: A generational thing?

"Excuse me but no.  You were not being "more realistic" than people of my generation.  Quite frankly you (the generation) before us, have basically fucked our future.


People my age (early 20s) have come to expect less than nothing from your generation.  

by bluedavid

YOUR generation was born into a world wholely provided by PRIOR generations.  

Virtually every bridge, road, dam, water system, public k-12 school and university, our courts, government, various support systems, unions and all of the other public goods that existed on the day you were born were provided by PRIOR generations NOT excluding your immediate predecessors.

If you're in your early twenties I suggest you stop whining about being born into a magnificent civilization and start participating in public life in far greater numbers than is the current case. Become a real citizen for crissakes.

The only generation that can fuck your future is YOURS.

by cal1942 2007-11-10 07:41AM | 0 recs
Re: A generational thing?

I'm 37, but I remember very well that when I was your age, I believed Social Security wouldn't be there for me either when I retired.  I think I've seen polling that suggests this has been true since the dawn of the program.  I mean, how hard is it to believe anything will be the same 50 years from now?

Now that I understand the workings of Social Security better, I know that the only things that will keep it from being there for my retirement are Republicans somehow managing to kill the program, or a collapse of the American economy altogether, in which case we're screwed no matter what.

When people like Obama talk about a crisis, it appeals to voters like yourself because you think he's showing the courage to tell the truth unlike other politicians, but actually he's not.  I've seen it from other people much older than yourself who buy into the "crisis" framing.  All we can do is ask Democrats not to reinforce a belief that just isn't so.

by Steve M 2007-11-09 05:41AM | 0 recs
That is by design

After the 1983 reform the Cato Institute gathered a group of opponents of Social Security to design a strategy for the next time. The results of the conference were published in the Fall 1983 issue of the Cato Journal under the title SocialSecurity: Continuing Crisis or Real Reform. The actual battle plan was written by Germanis and Butler and published under the revealing title Social Security Reform: Achieving a 'Leninist' Strategy In the article Butler and Germanis lay out a systematic propaganda strategy designed specifically to convince younger workers that Social Security simply wouldn't be there for them. In the twenty four years since the Right has followed the plan to the letter and with tremendous success.

Basically two generations simply got played on this one.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 07:10AM | 0 recs
Re: A generational thing?

You're 19 and you've got it all figured out?


by cal1942 2007-11-10 07:19AM | 0 recs

The real tragedy is how off the deep end you folks are about SS.

Is there a crisis? Maybe not. But will it take HUGE amounts of political capital to make the minor changes to the program (tax increases) that will probably be neccessary? Uh...yeah.

by wahoopaul 2007-11-09 05:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Lame

So, if SS is NOT in crisis, why does Obama claim it IS?   It will take getting back to close to a balanced budget to solve the financial shortfall it has been tracking on to get it back on track.

by georgep 2007-11-09 05:11AM | 0 recs
Re: Lame

Hmmm, lets parse the candidates language even more shall we.  Good lord, talk about making a mountain out of a molehill.  Hillary, and apparently her supporters, seem to think it's folly to say anything about SS other than "we must increase fiscal responsibility to strengthen the program."  Well, that's certainly true -- and not something any Dem candidate disagrees with -- but the reality is thaht we are going to have to make very minor changes to SS to ensure its long term solvency.  

I'm not sure why ya'll are so scared of saying that outloud since the entire idea in electing a Democrat is that we can ensure those changes are progressive.  

by HSTruman 2007-11-09 05:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Lame

Here's the thing: SS is a standalone program that will take care of itself for several decades.  OTOH, the general budget has had deficit levels that have fluctuated wildly in recent years.  

There is absolutely no fiscal reason to look at SS as a cause of budget woes.  NONE.  OTOH, our adventurous foreign policy and our defense spending are sucking in money like nobody's business.  

With all of that in mind, somebody who talks about Social Security like it's the problem has revealed himself to be completely unserious when it comes to the budget.  

by RickD 2007-11-09 05:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Lame

I have no idea how you get to your final conclusion.  There is absolutely nothing incompatable with addressing our general budget deficits and SS at the same time.  If we do the latter now, when the program is in relatively solid shape, significantly larger tweeks won't be necessary later.  The idea that this is an either or proposition is just ridiculous to me.

As is, I might add, essentially refusing to talk about how to approach SS going forward.  Because that's all Obama is doing folks.  If you think his statements in the interview cited are "fear mongering" I simply don't even know how to respond.  

by HSTruman 2007-11-09 06:16AM | 0 recs
What is ridiculous

Is weighing in on this discussion while having no apparent understanding of the dollar figures involved.

It is not at all clear that Social Security needs either small or large tweaks now or in the future. As I have pointed out several times on this thread the actual Reports show a projected gap that is both shrinking and pushing out in time at an average rate of more than a year per year. There is in fact exactly zero reason to move on this and Hillary asking that we put the entire budget into context is the correct policy here. The Right is trying to bullrush us into activity using scare tactics and phony numbers and all too many people have bought into what is on analysis exactly what Baker and Weisbrot called it in 1999. People need to read up on this topic, most of what everyone 'knows' is wrong.
Social Security: the Phony Crisis Reading the Intro is probably the best first step you can take to really understanding Social Security. The link will take you there.

I am not refusing to talk about Social Security, quite the opposite. But Obama is having the wrong conversation while using faulty assumptions. He wants to talk about this in terms framed by Cato, well ridiculous or not I am not going to go there.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 08:52AM | 0 recs
Re: What is ridiculous

Ah, because he said "crisis" once he's now taking cues from the Cato Institute?  Doesn't that strike you as just a tad strong?  Yikes, sometimes primaries really do lead people to lose perspective.  I really wish we could all calm down a little bit and realize that supporters of the other DEMOCRATIC candidates are not actually the enemy.  Broadly speaking, they would ALL make good presidents.    

Anyway, out of curiosity what exactly is it that you oppose about Obama's policy on SS?  He's firmly against any privatization BS.  He wants to raise the regressive cap on SS taxes to extend the programs solvency.  Even assuming that such a change isn't NECESSARY right now, help me understand why such an action would be BAD policy?  

As far as this giving the right an opening, I'm really not sure what your talking about.  Bush's privatization push, made when he was at his political height, went up in flames.  Democrats are likely to gain seats in Congress in '08, meaning that even if a republican won the WH -- and they won't, irrespective of whether your preferred candidate or mine wins the nomination -- no one is going to move on any right wing plans for SS period.  In short, there's nothing to fight about on SS right now.  There is, however, an opportunity to strengthen a vitally important and succesful program.  

by HSTruman 2007-11-09 09:28AM | 0 recs
Google 'Jeffrey Liebman'

Osama has hired Jeffrey Liebman to be one of his top economic advisors. Liebman is the lead author of LMS: the Liebman-MacGuineas-Samwick Non Partisan Reform Plan which is a simply horrible scheme to 'reform' Social Security in a way that throws all responsibilities for repaying the Trust Fund back on workers and workers alone. Workers, particularly lower income workers get worse results at much higher lifetime costs.

I don't care that he worked for Clinton. His plan should be toxic to anyone who is trying to run as a progressive change agent. And though they weren't big on detail the WaPo article on Obama indicates that Obama is inserting a least a portion of the LMS plan.

The LMS plan couldn't have been written at Cato. They wouldn't have dared go so far, their agenda being well known. But despite the dusting of bi-partisanship this is just poison. If Obama is really against privatization why did he bring one of America's top privatizers on board.

No that was not too strong. LMS is a Right Economic wet dream, Obama better not get too close, things could get sticky.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 10:11AM | 0 recs
Re: Google 'Jeffrey Liebman'

This is very old news.  When it came up the first time, Obama AGAIN rejected any kind of privatization and noted that he disagrees with certain positions of almost ALL his advisers.  Not sure what else there is to say about that, but feel free to to focus on Liebman's views rather than on what Obama has explicitly said if you want.  

by HSTruman 2007-11-09 10:27AM | 0 recs
Plan still terrible but

The problem with LMS is not that responsibility for repaying the bonds shifts. Because it doesn't. What it does do is to cut the cost of interest to the General Fund going forwardby diverting the entire surplus into ostensible PRA (Private Retirement Accounts). I say ostensible because the taxpayer never has control and there is no inheritable interest.

Basically the plan boils down to nailing workers for an extra combined package of taxes and benefit cuts to the tune of 5.2% (in the fact of a 1.95% gap) all in the interest of disciplining Congressional spending. While I am sure we all would like to see Congress get spending and taxes back in alignment, I am not sure why this has to come right on the back of wage workers.

One component of the plan is a 1.5% tax increase on wages. That alone would close 75% of the gap and give all workers about a 93% result. Another component is a cap increase which would be the equivalent of another 1%. A combination of a 1% increase and a cap lift gives a 100% result. Instead with LMS a typical worker could end up with as little as a 85% result with a 33% higher cost compared to the 1%/1% plan.

If Obama really wants to fix Social Security, i.e. pay full promised benefits, he is talking to the wrong guy. That is not what LMS and by extension Liebman are about at all.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 10:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Lame

Obama's puzzling ongoing focus on SS as his big domestic signature issue is a problem.  I suppose he is trying to use this to distinguish himself, but, quite honestly, he should be talking up his health care proposal in the same fashion.  Health care is the real "crisis," but Obama does not talk about it.  It may be a routine part of his stump speech in a one-sentence proclamation, but he and his health care proposal are certainly not considered "the word" on that subject.   With the health care crisis acute, growing and considered by all Americans, but especially Democrats, to be the most important domestic issue, should that not be his focus?  

Back to SS:  Let's make it crystal-clear that Democrats have been spending a lot of time and effort fighting the GOP on the issue whether SS is in "crisis" or not.  Our contention is that SS is NOT in crisis, but needs a few minor tweaks to extend its' viability indefinitely.  Obama talks as if SS is in an acute crisis, don't fool yourself into any other interpretation.   That not only undermines the arguments the Democratic party has advanced for years, it also is incorrect, an attempt to CREATE an issue for political reasons as a means to distinguish himself from Clinton.   He is doing a disservice to all of us with this track.        

by georgep 2007-11-09 05:37AM | 0 recs
Got numbers?

"but the reality is thaht we are going to have to make very minor changes to SS to ensure its long term solvency."

That 'reality' is totally contingent on a particular economic model, one that over the last decade has been proven to be flawed. I have put the whole thing in the form of a betting game.
The Cost of Inactivity:Nothing as a Plan for Social Security. To play the game you examine the current year numbers for the Intermediate Cost projection and determine if they are realistic enough to argue for an immediate move or whether you should wait another year. The twist is that you are comparing the probabilities of the growth numbers to the known cost of the fix.

Per the Trustees the cost of a fix using payroll tax alone is 1.95%. Do I keep that 1.95% in my pocket or not? Well the Trustees called for 2.0% Productivity and 2.6% Real GDP for 2007. Well if Q4 Real GDP comes in below 2.0% then we would just miss 2.6% for the year. On the other hand I still have that 1.95% in my wallet. How much would the payroll gap for 2008 have to be for this to be a losing bet? Well it depends on your age, for somebody 50 the gap would have to go up .11 points. Given that the gap has never gone up by that much and in fact in 9 out of the last 11 years has fallen, for me at least Nothing is an excellent bet. It is extraordinarily unlikely that Q4 economic performance will come in so badly as to make the payroll gap go up to any significant degree. People can suggest that Q3 Real GDP of 3.9% was an aberration explicable by high oil prices, you can quibble with the 4.9% Q3 Productivity number posted by the BLS on Wednesday, but those are the numbers we have. Betting against 2.0% Productivity for the year is a slam dunk, the number would actually have to go negative. Could it happen? Sure, it did in 2005, growth numbers were beautiful right through Q3, then a flatline Q4 and some revisions to the earlier quarters took some air out of that balloon.

But the fact remains that if you calculate the Cost of Inactivity from 2004 to today it turns out to be the equivalent of a one year 6% tax cut.

Will there come a time when we might want to tweak the system? Maybe. It is just that the current numbers suggest a policy of Nothing.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 07:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Got numbers?

Now, I'm a lawyer and not an economist, but when you add up baby boomers retiring, longer life spans, and an arbitrary cap on SS taxes it strikes me that it actually is quite prudent to make adjustments now.  I'm not sure why you or anyone else thinks that perspective is "republican" in nature.  

by HSTruman 2007-11-09 08:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Got numbers?


by bluedavid 2007-11-09 09:28AM | 0 recs
Let me add...

Lefty bloggers like us may understand that the SS problem is overstated, but 80% of the country has very little confidence in the system. It would be politically popular to raise the cap on SSI taxes, and this would give a Democratic president much more room to maneuver on other spending measures...

by wahoopaul 2007-11-09 05:08AM | 0 recs
I hope you don't mean...

It sounds like you are saying Obama would fund deficits out of a larger Social Security surplus. I hope that is not what you meant, can you clarify?

by souvarine 2007-11-09 05:43AM | 0 recs
Re: I hope you don't mean...

Bill Clinton did it!

by wahoopaul 2007-11-09 06:13AM | 0 recs
Plug in some numbers

Can we put the myth that Clinton or any of his predessesors 'raided' the Trust Fund? First of all prior to about 1994 there wasn't that much money to start with. Table VI.A4.-Historical Operations of the Combined OASI and DI Trust Funds,
Calendar Years 1957-2006
. In 1994 the Trust Fund Ratio (reserves expressed as a function of time) was 117, barely over the legal target for Short Term Actuarial Balance. After 1994 when the dollars started getting bigger, Clinton's hands were tied by a Republican Congress hell bent on tax cuts.

But this whole notion that the Trust Fund has been 'looted', 'stolen', 'diverted' is just the result of not understanding the mechanism involved. Even Bush hasn't yet done anything underhanded, he hasn't made any direct move that would lead to abrogation of the bonds, he has just used the cover of the Unified Budget to hide the real picture of General Fund spending in relation to his tax cuts. Which is sneaky but not actually a direct threat - yet.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 07:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Let me add...

I don't know that I could ever state with confidence that a tax increase would be "politically popular."  This applies moreso when we're talking about the payroll tax.  While I wish we lived in a country where voters would cheer a Democratic President for raising their taxes to shore up Social Security, and ask "What other spending measures can we support you on?", I don't think we live in that country.

If you gave me carte blanche to increase the cap on payroll taxes, I'd put the extra money towards fixing Medicare, which is much more of an issue.  Wouldn't even be a close call for me.  Every dollar you devote to "fixing" something that isn't a priority is a dollar you can't use on real priorities.

by Steve M 2007-11-09 05:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Extremely Disappointing Language from Obama on

Let's see...

  1. pandering to the religious
  2. embracing homophobia
  3. declaring Social Security to be "in crisis"

Are we sure Obama is an actual Democrat?  I thought that his supposed strategy was to draw the anti-Hillary vote away from Edwards.  But now it seems like he's trying to position himself further to the right than Clinton!  I think it's a bit late for that, not that I think he could pull it off in any case.  

It's becoming hard to take Obama seriously at all.  When his ideas are subjected to scrutiny, it seems like there is very little there.  Charm alone isn't enough for the Presidency.  People know that.

by RickD 2007-11-09 05:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Extremely Disappointing Language from Obama on

I would say Obama is an actual Democrat.  He is just not (or better said: no longer) a true progressive in the strict sense of the term.  His supporters seem to claim that he has staked out his own brand of progressivism, that does not align to any preconceived schema.  

To that traditional progressive end, Obama has fallen from 15th to 24th (out of 100 Senators) in progressive ranking in the latest updates on the rankings site http://progressivepunch.org

You can also see that reflected in Obama's ranking as a "rank and file Democrat" with govtrack, another progressive-ranking site, where Obama is ranked to the right of Clinton, Kucinich and Dodd and only to the left of Biden (out of our pool of candidates who also serve in Congress)

http://www.govtrack.us/congress/presiden tial.xpd

Obama has also made statements and announced votes that seem at odds with progressive values:  Opposition to the mining reform bill, pitting him against the environmental groups that have endorsed the bill, is one example.   I think Obama is more in the mold of a moderate Democrat, given what we have seen, which also fits his unifying message a lot better.

by georgep 2007-11-09 05:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Extremely Disappointing Language from Obama on

I dunno. You can cherry pick, as people often do in the primaries. But there are 1000 other  issues where he's WAYYY to the left.

The real question, for me, is where he was on the biggest issue of our generation: Iraq.

by wahoopaul 2007-11-09 06:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Extremely Disappointing Language from Obama on

This post is so full of blind Obama hate that it's hard to even start. "Embracing homophobia"? "pandering to the religious"? "further to the right than Clinton?"

And which votes is Obama trying to "draw" away from Edwards? Last time I checked, Edwards doesn't have too many votes. Obama is mostly ignoring him, much like the media, and the voters (I actually like Edwards, don't take this as a cricism against him - it's just reality).

Please, calm down. We have 2 candidates (Edwards and Obama) who are incredibly liberal. Probably the two most liberal major candidates to run in our generation. Then we have Hillary, who has a mixed record...

by wahoopaul 2007-11-09 06:16AM | 0 recs

There's a bigger reality here. Obama makes the point that he's standing up to lobbyists, ethics reform, etc.

However, the insurance lobby is influential. They like the usurious rates americans are paying.
We have the highest cost healthcare in the world.
And not necessarily the best.

There is a fundamental disconnect between leading a progressive reform effort and, through the use of entities and washing - taking money from those that would shut it down. We have to ask ourselves gain, where is all this money coming from?

And lets look at the inflows. They're massive. The lobbyists are apolitical. They are trying to influence whomever they think has statistically won.

This missive about social security is good. Singer is making a good point.
Jon once also said, I recall clearly
"bribery is still bribery, even if its institutionalized"

In this case, we have to ask ourselves - who benefits by Obama's approach? Why do the small donors, myspace people get sweeped up.

Its probably the same reason edwards diaries get promoted so frantically over here.
Someone is trying to rig the system again.

Fortunately for us in the blogosphere, its impossible to do that out here. Too many ways to track the  money. Theres something to this, if you ask me. I'd say dig deeper.

by Trey Rentz 2007-11-09 05:52AM | 0 recs
Jonathan, this is a swing and a miss

Respectfully, the only thing really disappointing is this post.  You know that Obama has consistently and forcefully been against privatizing Social Security - or you should.  I will concede that during maybe his 10th major interview this week, Obama slipped by using the word "crisis" instead of say, "problem".  Big deal. Obama's point as you quoted, is Senator Clinton's failure to show leadership or even address the issue by her evasive - set up a Commission and assess our fiscal situation at the time- answer. In fact, when has Senator Clinton in her entire career shown leadership on any significant issue - she is a timid incrementalist.  

Regarding Social Security, the problem is a real one and it occurs before 2042.  As the 2005 article you link to indicates, the actual cash collected from workers from Social Security taxes does go into shortfall in 2018 (payouts will exceed receipts).  The Social Security trust fund (which does not really exist as a cash fund sitting somewhere) does not go into deficit until 2042.  You are going to have to get the cash to make payouts from somewhere- in 2018.  And the sooner you address this problem, the less drastic are the possible solutions in the future.

You should have read down a little further into the article you link to, because this Weisbrot guy you quote says "consider tax increases on higher income earners.  In the next 5 to 10 years (this article was written in 2005), he suggested, raise the cap on income subject to Social Security tax."  This is Obama's exact proposal to address this problem.  The issue here is who is showing leadership with a specific proposal that has political risks to address a real problem.

by mboehm 2007-11-09 06:00AM | 0 recs
So there IS a SS Crisis?

The GOP does not  say the same thing?

There is nothing funnier than Obama supporters supporting what THEY MUST KNOW was a mistake.

The Cult comes to life.

by Big Tent Democrat 2007-11-09 06:26AM | 0 recs
Try that with a dash of numbers

The Social Security Reports are freely available online and as more or less a public service I have them all broken out at my website. 2007 Social Security Report There is no reason at all that we should be using current data points. For example the current figure for shortfall (Income Excluding Interest failing to match Cost) is 2017 and depletion 2041. Which would seem to represent a deterioration but actually represent a strong improvement from the 2006 Report. You have to get down to the fine detail to understand the changes.

" You are going to have to get the cash to make payouts from somewhere- in 2018.  And the sooner you address this problem, the less drastic are the possible solutions in the future."

How much cash? Is it a huge amount? Well now whether you express the initial shortfall in Current dollars (Table VI.F8) or in inflation adjusted Constant dollars (Table VI.F7) the numbers are not particularly scary. $30 billion current, $15 billion constant. As late as 2025 the constant dollar gap is still less than the projected 2008 cost of the war. This gap should it happen is easily financeable. Which is why opponents started using Infinite Future Horizon numbers with the 2003 Report, 75 year numbers were losing their scare component.

And the record shows that delay addressing this problem has actually resulted in a smaller problem going forward. Moreover if you take care to actually examine the numbers you will see that this trend is likely to continue, the needed 'solution' shrinking away perhaps eventually to nothing. The record does not support the 'Can't afford to wait position', the numbers suggest exactly the reverse.

Most people, even most people in policy positions don't have these numbers at hand, but we know that Obama has a person on staff that knows them full well, if in fact Leibman is on board as reported. That the campaign is allowing Obama to take this line given the well known numbers is pretty disturbing.

BTW you simply cannot trust the MSM on this. They simply refuse to do basic reporting on Social Security and have for a least a decade. The dates of shortfall and depletion have been moving and for the most part out. Someone should be asking the questions 'Why are they moving at all?' and 'Can this trend continue?' Well no one is even willing to go there.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 08:41AM | 0 recs
Re: Extremely Disappointing Language from Obama on

On some level I do worry about SS, mostly because I don't believe the government can afford to pay what is in "surplus" because of all it's other debts. So I don't think the money will really be there.

We'll be 10,000,000,000,000 in debt by then! So I worry about defaulting on the obligation. Would that be bad? Hell yes, but sometimes countries have no choice but to do so.

So I worry because I don't believe the government will meet its obligations.

by MNPundit 2007-11-09 06:01AM | 0 recs

...for political reasons I am perfectly willing to say that there is no crisis.

I guess I suck.

by MNPundit 2007-11-09 06:01AM | 0 recs
Far from me to judge suckitude

But really there is no crisis. It takes some poking around in the data tables and a real examination of the numbers projected over the next decade but it is increasingly likely that Social Security as currently configured is good for decades longer than projected and that Trust Fund redemption will not in fact start in 2023. Plausible models exist that show the principal in the Trust Fund never having to be paid back over the 75 year window.

I am not some naif straight off of Sunnybrook Farm, I have three years of Social Security diaries here and at dKos and a website entirely devoted to this. Social Security is not broke. At all.

(For the record I don't think you suck. After you analyze the actual numbers it turns out that your position is sound both from a policy and political perspective.)

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 08:20AM | 0 recs
This is why blogs are great

Jonathan -

I guarantee Obama will stop saying "crisis" after taking flack for it. He probably slipped. It happens!

by wahoopaul 2007-11-09 06:18AM | 0 recs
Good for you

HOWEVER, no synonyms for crisis are allowed either.

by Big Tent Democrat 2007-11-09 06:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Extremely Disappointing

Troubling. Very troubling. But I can't say that I'm all that surprised....

Last spring, when I was researching the candidates and trying to determine whether to support Obama, I began looking at his advisors to get a clue as to what type of appointments etc he would make. The Wall Street Journal article Seeking Clues to Obamanomics gave me several leads on the names of his advisors. As I recall Jeffrey Liebman was listed as one of his economic advisors in that article. I performed a quick google search and read Liebman and his other advisors' papers.

I believe that Obama's views on social security which he expressed in this National Journal article are heavily influenced by Jeffrey Liebman. Liebman came out with a social security reform plan I believe around the time that George Bush was talking about social security reform.

http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/ksgnews/KSGIn sight/liebman.htm

Here's elements of his social security reform plan:

The reform we came up with was based around four compromises. The first compromise was over how large the traditional Social Security system should be. We agreed that the amount of money going into the traditional benefit should be exactly 12.4 percent of payroll, no more and no less than the payroll tax today. We closed Social Security's financing gap with a roughly equal combination of benefit cuts and new revenue.

Second, we agreed to add enough new revenue to maintain currently promised retirement income levels, but we devoted all of the new revenue to personal retirement accounts equal to 3 percent of payroll for every worker.

Third, we agreed that half of the revenue for the accounts would come from new worker contributions of 1.5 percent of payroll and half would come from diverting resources from the Social Security Trust Funds.

Fourth, we agreed to have personal retirement accounts in the plan, but the accounts were heavily regulated. So, in particular, they would be mandatory and when you get to retirement, you would be required to take out all your money in the form of an annuity a payment that lasts as long as you live. This ensures that people cannot squander all of their savings in the first few years of retirement.


Basically, he wants to raise taxes to start add-on accounts. I think Obama is just laying the groundwork for Liebman's ideas.

If you want to hear more about Liebman's ideas, you should watch that Kudlow show on CNBC. I remember that he appeared on the show after the GOP's debate....

by ademption 2007-11-09 06:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Extremely Disappointing

More from the same article about Liebman's social security plan:

Q: Do you see this proposal and others as potentially restarting the Social Security debate in Washington? What will happen if the reform debate is not reignited and the system continues as is?

Liebman: There are three reasons why it's important to do social security reform now and not wait ten or twenty years until the problem is right on top of us. The first is that if we act now we can share the burden of bringing the system into balance across more generations. The later you go the larger the costs will be on the later generations if you let the earlier generations off the hook for paying any of the cost for bringing the system into balance.

The second reason it's important to act now is that while we have Social Security surpluses in hand, it means that we can phase in some of the painful elements of the plans, benefit cuts and tax increases, and by doing it gradually they become a lot more politically feasible than if you announced a large tax increase or benefit cut that was going to be implemented tomorrow or two years from now.

The third reason why it's really important to act now and not later is that if we can act now and announce some of the future reforms today, it allows people to plan ahead and alter their savings behavior or alter their retirement dates and take into account the new system. It's very unfair to spring big changes on people right at the last minute right when they're about to retire or after they've retired, and the earlier we get Social Security reform done, the more time people will have at hand to plan for those changes.

by ademption 2007-11-09 06:35AM | 0 recs
Your numbers are misleading

You have to take LMS: Liebman-MacGuineas-Samwick as a whole. The plan calls for a 1.5% payroll hike for all, raising the cap ultimately to $167k for another 1.0% payroll equivalent, raising retirement age for an additional .68%, and changing benefits for another 2.02%. The total package of tax increases and benefit cuts amounts to 5.2%. In the face of the current gap that only measures 1.95%. The plan is a total ripoff and bailout of capital.

Liebman is playing with language here, drawing a distinction between the traditional plan as it would continue and the new PRAs they propose which does not in fact exist from a worker perspective.

If the plan actually produced a better outcome for workers it might merit a look. But when you examine Table 2 you find out that lower income workers would be better off simply taking the 1.5% increase and ditching the benefit cuts. If Obama is signing on to any variation of LMS he has lost me for good. Basically the plan is to shift responsibility for redeeming the Trust Fund over the next forty years from the General Fund onto workers. LMS is a horribly anti-worker plan. It offers little to anything for any worker in the workforce today, though predictably performance gets better the wealthier you are.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 08:00AM | 0 recs
The reason he talks about this is obvious

From pollingreport.com

CBS News Poll. Oct. 12-16, 2007. N=1,282 adults nationwide. MoE � 3.

"Which of the following do you think best describes the financial situation of Social Security today? It is in crisis. It is in serious trouble, but not in crisis. It is in some trouble. OR, It is not really in trouble at all."

Crisis   30%
Serious trouble   36%
Some trouble  26%
Not in trouble 5%

In strictly political terms, it's a no-brainer.

by the mollusk 2007-11-09 06:35AM | 0 recs
Re: The reason he talks about this is obvious

Isn't that the point of the post? Politically Obama is undermining the Democratic position, and reinforcing the Republican rhetoric, for a short term gain in the polls. This is the behavior that makes Lieberman infamous among Democrats.

by souvarine 2007-11-09 07:20AM | 0 recs
Re: The reason he talks about this is obvious

So Obama is governed by polls?

What a shock.

by Rooktoven 2007-11-09 07:24AM | 0 recs
They call it leadership

Obama has a positive responsibility to get the policy details straight, pandering to the polls using bad data, or worse no data at all is not the quality I would be looking for in a President.

Obama has the policy wrong here and the likely result is that he will get the politics wrong. People who think Social Security is in 'Crisis' or 'Serious trouble' need to be told in forceable fashion that on the topic Republicans are simply lying and here are the numbers to back that up.

We have the numbers on this one. We just need to break out of the framing.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 08:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Disappointing Language from Obama on SS

maybe this younger generation baby needs his social security now...he is getting "older" in remembering what he says a few days ago..

And I guess his buddy Sully needs his social security now as well.

After all this "ME TOO, ME TOO" generation needs to have their arugula salads and lattes etc!!!

by pate 2007-11-09 06:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Extremely Disappointing Language from Obama on

Um, isn't he just quoting her?  Tempest, meet teapot.

by Sean Robertson 2007-11-09 07:32AM | 0 recs
That is not a quote

It is a paraphrase where Obama is inserting the word 'crisis'. There is no indication that Hillary actually used that word at all. Instead Obama seems to be saying that she admits there is a crisis and simply won't address it. That is not at all the message I get from Hillary directly. She quite properly suggests a wait and see attitude on this topic, which policy is in fact strongly supported by the data trend over the last decade.

Left unattended and 'neglected', Social Security has in fact strongly improved its financial position over the last decade. There is every likelyhood that the trend shown in the following table will continue.
EPI: Changes in Trustees Projections over Time
It is not a Tempest in a Teapot. Obama is lending material aid and support to people whose real goal is to roll back every vestige of the New Deal. I don't need a candidate who ends up carrying water for Cato and the AEI on this issue.

by Bruce Webb 2007-11-09 08:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Disappointing Language from Obama

"We can't have a person running for president who is on message all of the time. Clearly, Obama knows the real fiscal problems are with medicare/caid and not with SS.

by rwiedower"

This is a pretty damn important issue to screw around with.  The fact is Obama brought up Social Security when it wasn't necessary.  He did it when he finds himself way behind and wants to create an issue.  Wrong damned issue Obama. Downright dangerous.

I can hear it now if a Republican wins the White House "Even Barack Obama said ..."

By the way, it should be pointed out that Medicaid is an appropriation not dependent on a separate tax.  So why are you linking it with Medicare and labeling it a crisis?

by cal1942 2007-11-10 05:42AM | 0 recs


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