“Rebuilding the Foundation” of Social Security, Chapter 1

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, “saving” Social Security doesn’t have to just be about making more fiscally “solvent.” It can also link up with efforts to raise wages, make the program more equitable, and even to start rebuilding the U.S.’s crumbling infrastructure – without privatizing it. In fact, there are a multitude of ways to make Social Security more secure – none of which involve cutting benefits for hard-pressed working people and retirees.

I’m giving over this post to John Burbank, executive director of the Seattle-based Economic Opportunity Institute. He lays out a menu of changes that would improve Social Security benefits and pay for them in a way that would make the program – and its funding – more equitable. I met John at the National Academy of Social Insurance conference earlier this month, Continue reading “Rebuilding the Foundation” of Social Security, Chapter 1

What’s the Matter with Chisago County?

The solid middle class citizens of our economically beset nation are sorry that their growing dependence on government handouts is bankrupting the federal government. If they could possibly send the money back, they would. But they can’t, and so the poor get less. That seems to be the message of a major New York Times feature on the American social safety net. Reading between the lines, it tells us something quite different, and more interesting.

The New York Times ran an informative, engrossing, and very long front-page feature last Sunday on who gets the most from the social safety net. The basic, though muddled, message was that middle class households are sopping up more of what were intended to be anti-poverty programs. In so doing, they’ve become a danger to the nation’s future solvency. But they need the money and don’t know how to stop.

The article misrepresents these programs in a variety of ways – quite a few, in fact. For one thing, it lumps in Social Security and parts of Medicare, which are fully paid for by workers’ contributions, with programs like school lunches, food stamps, and Medicaid, Continue reading What’s the Matter with Chisago County?

Demanding the Possible from Social Security

The dead-end debate over Social Security’s solvency has long stymied any discussion of how to improve the program for its participants. Now may be the time to break that logjam. Here’s a way that progressive lawmakers can help to do so.


Hard as it is to conceive, the last time a significant improvement was made for a broad swath of Social Security participants was almost 30 years ago. Enacted as part of the 1983 Amendment to the Social Security Act, those changes – four modest benefit boosts for widows and divorced spouses – were swamped in the news coverage by the larger effort to keep the program funded. Thus has it been ever since.


The result, tragically, is that the national conversation over Social Security has been bottled up in a never-ending wrangle over how best to “save” the program. If it’s true – per Clausewitz, Jack Dempsey, or Mao Zedong, depending on your source – that “a good offense is the best defense,” then perhaps it’s time for progressive friends of Social Security to go on the offensive.


Continue reading Demanding the Possible from Social Security

Progressives Learn to Love ObamaCare

“ObamaCare” – actually two complex pieces of legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and the Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 – started life as an unloved orphan. The right hated it passionately and comprehensively, and still does. Progressive Democrats, who’d been working for something like it for a century, were disappointed that it came out a patchwork of baby steps, not a full-fledged reinvention of American health care.

Last month’s policy conference of the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) in Washington brought together a group of health care reformers, some of whom have been in the game for a long time. If their comments are anything to go on, progressive Democrats are finally learning to love ObamaCare. If they go so far as to Continue reading Progressives Learn to Love ObamaCare