Tag Archives: Erskine Bowles

Hardship Case

Means-testing Social Security is a popular position among Republican presidential candidates this election cycle—if not among prospective voters. That means, essentially, turning the nation’s retirement system into a welfare program, targeted at those with real hardships. But how do you figure out who’s a “real” hardship case and who’s not? In fact, it’s well-nigh impossible.

When Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the chairs of President Obama’s 2010 deficit commission, gave up on finding common ground with their colleagues and released their own set of deficit reduction proposal, they called for two big changes in Social Security: gradually raising the eligibility age for full benefits from 67 to 69 and upping the early-retirement age for reduced benefits from 62 to 64. They also directed the Social Security Administration to design a “hardship exemption for those who cannot work past 62 but who do not qualify for disability benefits.”

It all seemed eminently reasonable—so much so that most of our current class of Republican presidential candidates are calling for Continue reading Hardship Case

The Meaning of Harry Reid’s Departure

For the last decade, Harry Reid has been a bulwark against efforts by Republicans and members of his own party to send the core of the New Deal achievement down the road to oblivion. Other Democratic lawmakers may be equally committed, but almost none have the same close emotional ties that he possesses to the Rooseveltian state.

When Senate minority leader Harry Reid announced last week that he won’t run for reelection in 2016, the first thing that flashed through my mind was his age: he’s 75. Only nine senators are older than Reid, and only two of them are Democrats. That underscores how few people still serving in the Senate were born during the New Deal, the period that formed the modern US government, with its social protections, administrative apparatus, and (not so happily) military-industrial complex. For the past 35 years, roughly corresponding to Reid’s career in electoral office, the legislation that Washington enacted during the Great Depression has been a war zone, Continue reading The Meaning of Harry Reid’s Departure

The Nobody-But-Ourselves-to-Blame Trip

If Americans can’t retire in comfort and relative security, who’s at fault? Increasingly, we’re being conditioned to point the finger at ourselves. It’s a brilliantly underhanded way to keep us from questioning the downsizing of successful, collective programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Every so often, the mainstream media anoints a new public intellectual—the big thinker who explains it all to us in newspaper or Internet columns, bestselling books, or on the Sunday morning chat shows. Sometimes they’re genuinely quite smart and insightful (Paul Krugman, Malcolm Gladwell), sometimes otherwise (David Brooks, anybody?).

The hottest new public intellectual may be Evgeny Morozov, a not-yet-30 scholar who has published two well-received debunking books, The Net Delusion, about the notion that the Internet promotes democracy; and To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, a broader-ranging attack on the belief that smart technologies and Big Data are the ultimate problem solvers.

Both books are needed antidotes to the grandiose claims being made for technology, and To Save Everything, in particular, is of vital importance to anyone concerned about the direction of public discourse on the looming retirement crisis in America. If you only have a few minutes, Continue reading The Nobody-But-Ourselves-to-Blame Trip

Jon Cowan: Once Again, Ginning Up Faux Youth Outrage

Coming soon: a new pressure group called “The Can Kicks Back,” which aims to turn younger Americans into an anti-deficit avenging army. It will surely attempt to play a role in the post-election talks surrounding the “fiscal cliff.” This offensive bears a slight odor of deja vu, however, because one of its organizers is Jonathan Cowan, who 20 years ago attempted to recruit Gen Xers in a similar campaign propelled by a brash, ultimately buffoonish group called Lead … Or Leave.

Today, Jon Cowan is the president of Third Way, which calls itself “the nation’s leading centrist policy institution” and is certainly one of the most prominent center-right pressure groups in Washington. Its board of trustees reads like a Who’s Who of Wall Street, hedge fund and real estate barons and it enjoys privileged access to Continue reading Jon Cowan: Once Again, Ginning Up Faux Youth Outrage

Pie in the Sky in Eastern Europe: The Ryan Plan in Action

Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has been pushing Social Security privatization for the better part of a decade. What if his plan was actually implemented? An important new paper looks at what happened when Hungary and Poland attempted something similar with their national pension systems. The results were ugly.

It’s been reported that Paul Ryan is no longer pushing Social Security privatization. House Republican leaders “refused” to let their Budget Committee chair “add changes to Social Security” into the budget he wrote last year and that passed the chamber with solid GOP support. This year, he and his colleagues again “left the program untouched.”

That’s not quite true. Ryan has now written two budgets, both of which include Continue reading Pie in the Sky in Eastern Europe: The Ryan Plan in Action

Newt Gingrich Can’t Get With the Program

Why is the Republican Party leadership so scared of Newt Gingrich? Putting aside his generally abrasive personality, his loud streak of megalomania, and his tendency to self-destruct – OK, that’s a lot! – it’s hard to think of much in the way of substantive policy matters that sets the former House speaker apart from the rest of the Republican presidential field.

Oh yes, there’s one thing.

Early last month, when it still seemed that Mitt Romney’s anointment as GOP nominee was a matter of course, the editors of the Wall Street Journal took Gingrich for his position on, of all things, Social Security. The Journal has been pushing for Social Security privatization for decades, but strangely, Continue reading Newt Gingrich Can’t Get With the Program

Fixing Social Security: Ted Nugent Speaks Truth to Power

Ted Nugent, the “Motor City Madman” of ’70s hard rock, has a plan to fix Social Security: Eliminate it. And make workers under 45 pay to wind it up. With enemies like this, does Social Security even need friends?

At this point in his demented career, The Nuge – Tedly, Uncle Ted, what have you – is an American institution, a living, breathing parody of contemporary rugged individualism that Glenn Beck and the Tea Party would have to invent if he wasn’t already roaming the Upper Midwest.

As occasional readers of our right-wing op-ed pages know, he’s also a political scientist of sorts.  This month, he’s challenging the Republican Party to put its money where its mouth is on Social Continue reading Fixing Social Security: Ted Nugent Speaks Truth to Power

Social Security: It’s All in the Adjectives

People who want to cut Social Security benefits to lower future budget deficits are “reasonable” and “serious.” Moreover, economists have reached a “consensus” that this should be done. People who oppose balancing the budget on the back of Social Security recipients are “denialists” whose views are “maddening,” “crackpot,” “strident.”

The cartoonist R. Crumb once advised a young protege that to be good at the craft, he needed to draw his subject accurately – but then exaggerate it just a little bit. In polemical writing, adjectives are that little bit of exaggeration. Sprinkled sparingly through an otherwise competently argued piece, they create a slightly distorted view of the writer’s opponents without making the writer sound too angry or confrontational. The cumulative effect is stark: those on the same side as the writer are intelligent and reasonable. Those on the other side are not.

The adjectives applied to defenders of Social Security, quoted above, aren’t from Fox News, the Cato Institute, or a Rush Limbaugh broadcast. They are drawn from Continue reading Social Security: It’s All in the Adjectives

Paul Ryan’s Hammock

How stands the Social Security discussion in Washington following State-of-the-Union night? More or less where it was before. Which, for defenders of the program is mostly not good.

President Obama honored his pledge to congressional Democrats over the previous weekend not to endorse cuts to the program. In fact, he went a bit farther, rejecting any plan that would include “slashing benefits for future generations.”

There’s more to say about that. But first, what about Paul Ryan and that Michele Bachmann? Continue reading Paul Ryan’s Hammock

The Greed of the “Bottom Half”

We’ll shortly be hearing the objections of deficit hawks to the deficit reduction package Demos, The Century Foundation, and the Economic Policy Institute. No doubt they’ll echo the criticisms that have already been leveled at the deficit-shrinkage roadmap Rep. Jan Schakowsky put on the table earlier this month. To get a sense of what those criticisms are likely to be, I recently had a close look at a Schakowsky critique by The Atlantic’s resident deficit hawk, Derek Thompson.

The first thing that makes Thompson’s November 16 piece interesting is that it actually acknowledges the existence of Schakowsky’s plan. The second thing, only slightly less extraordinary, is that Thompson makes an effort to analyze and understand the proposal. It took the New York Times nearly two weeks after Schakowsky released it to even note that it was there (and even then, didn’t provide details).

What’s most remarkable about Thompson’s analysis, however, is that he lectures Schakowsky for not squeezing poor and low-income workers hard enough. Continue reading The Greed of the “Bottom Half”