Tag Archives: George W. Bush

Hank Aaron’s Chinese menu: Fixing Social Security at the NASI

The National Academy of Social Insurance hosted a decidedly unusual trio of luncheon speakers at its annual conference last week. Henry J. Aaron of the Brookings Institution, keynote, was there to unveil a new plan he’s devised to solidify Social Security’s funding for the next 75 years, if not beyond. Nancy J. Altman, president of Social Security Works, and Jason Fichtner, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, were on hand to respond to and discuss Aaron’s proposal.

Aaron has perhaps the deepest knowledge of the Social Security system – and social insurance in general – of anyone alive today. Altman is also a leading expert and a longtime, passionate defender of the program against right-wing attempts to dismantle it. Fichtner served in the Social Security Administration under George W. Bush and is a critic of the program who has argued that it crowds out private savings and offers negative incentives to work and who advocates stabilizing its finances by cutting benefits while cutting payroll taxes.

Aaron and Altman have never been friendly to such ideas. Normally, that would place them on one side of the Social Security discussion and Fichtner on the other. That wasn’t so last week.

Continue reading Hank Aaron’s Chinese menu: Fixing Social Security at the NASI

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

ALEC’s Bigger Target: Social Security

The low-key “legislative exchange” group has been in the news a lot, promoting right-wing bills in state governments. But it seeks a role on the national level as well. One of its longtime targets is one of the biggest: Social Security.

The American Legislative Exchange Council is taking some flack – and burnishing its conservative credentials – due to the remarkable success of some controversial initiatives. Model bills that have made it onto the books in multiple states thanks to ALEC members of those state’s legislatures include laws mandating stringent new voter ID rules and “stand your ground” laws that helped create the poisoned atmosphere accompanying the tragic gunning down of Trayvon Martin.

What’s sometimes overlooked is that part of ALEC’s goal is for its work at the state level to have a cumulative effect – leading, wherever possible, to legal changes in Congress as well.

One of ALEC’s oldest and most consistently pursued causes has been the dismantlement of public-employee pension systems. Continue reading ALEC’s Bigger Target: Social Security

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

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

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”

“Inside Job” – See This Movie!

Charles Ferguson has made a documentary that must be seen if you want to understand why the same people who let the housing bubble and the 2008 financial meltdown happen are still in charge. But if you can’t go out and see Inside Job right away (it opens in New York and Los Angeles today), read Ferguson’s article, “Larry Summers and the Subversion of Economics,” summarizing his case in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The thesis of Ferguson’s film (a trailer is available here; a New York Times review is here) is simple, and astonishingly obvious: economics, as a profession, has been subverted by its proximity to power and money. Continue reading “Inside Job” – See This Movie!

The Social Security Trustees’ “Infinitely” Unreal Projections

Friends of Social Security on the whole should be pleased by the numbers in the trustees’ annual report. Except for one thing: they continue to include a dubious “infinite” projection in the report alongside the traditional 75-year forecast. This Bush-era innovation in Social Security accounting should be eliminated.

The trustees’ annual report is generally regarded as the best benchmark of Social Security’s long-term fiscal health. (There are a number of very good reasons to take it with a grain of salt as well, but we’ll leave that for another time.) And this year, the numbers look pretty good. Despite two years of a terrible economy, with payroll tax receipts down and the depressing effect of high unemployment likely to continue for some time, the most important number in the report actually got better.

Continue reading The Social Security Trustees’ “Infinitely” Unreal Projections

What Karl Rove Leaves Out of His New Memoir

So I’m a bit behind on my reading. What with the plethora of books purporting to explain the origin and progress of the post-meltdown economy, I only recently got around to the most intriguing political memoir of the Bush II years, Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequences: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight.

But I was eager to see what the president’s consigliere has to say, especially about Social Security privatization, the fight Rove deliberately picked to kick off his boss’s second term and that quickly sank both Bush and the Republican Party. The subtitle, of course, is a defensive reaction to criticism from the Republican right that the Bush administration didn’t do enough to rein in domestic programs and even pushed through a modest stimulus package when the economy was tanking in 2008.

Hey, Rove seems to be saying, forget my occasional attention to economic and political realities. I’m a Tea Partier just like you.

Rove’s other project is to rewrite the history of his and Bush’s Social Security gamble, perhaps the worst domestic political miscalculation by a president in the past 40 years. Continue reading What Karl Rove Leaves Out of His New Memoir

Cato Premieres Its Latest Horror Show

Jagadeesh Gokhale is back with a new book laying out a fresh doomsday scenario for Social Security. But before dipping into the Cato Institute scholar’s (and Bush appointee to the Social Security Advisory Board) latest research-and-destroy mission, it’s useful to have a look at his past record as a budget analyst and champion of a dubious “present value” accounting measure.

In August 2003, Joe Lieberman, then in the early stages of launching a presidential bid, wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary John Snow in which he accused the administration of “stripping out” from its 2004 budget the findings of an internal Treasury paper that Snow’s predecessor Paul O’Neill had ordered up. Attempting to stake out a position as the toughest of the deficit hawks, Lieberman suggested that “this administration is trying to hide the true nature of our financial obligations from the American people in order to advance its agenda of cutting taxes indiscriminately.”

The paper was written by Gokhale, then at the Cleveland Fed, and Kent Smetters, Continue reading Cato Premieres Its Latest Horror Show