Tag Archives: Obama

The realism of Berniecare

Ever since Bernie Sanders released details of his single-payer health care proposal recently, critics right and center have been on the attack against his “revolutionary, unaffordable and unachievable” scheme. In fact, for those who truly want to achieve universal, affordable health care, Sanders’ path is the only realistic way forward.

“Be reasonable: demand the impossible.” So said revolutionary Ché Guevara. [NOTE: I’ve since been corrected; the origin of this slogan was not Ché, but a graffiti encountered during the 1968 Paris uprising. Check it out here.] It’s a lesson much of the Democratic Party establishment needs to relearn this election year.

For instance, Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution. One of the country’s top experts on social insurance and health care financing and a smart political observer to boot, Aaron ran a piece in Newsweek recently that took apart presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s health care reform plan as being “radical in a way that no legislation has ever been in the United States,” vague on details, and technically unfeasible. It’s “a health reform idea that was, is, and will remain a dream,” Aaron writes. “Single-payer health reform is a dream because, as the old joke goes, ‘you can’t get there from here.’”

Continue reading The realism of Berniecare

The Soft Underbelly

Having failed in numerous frontal assaults on Social Security, the Republican congressional leadership several years ago adopted a new strategy for dismantling the program: attack and demonize Disability Insurance, which they consider to be its soft underbelly. With this week’s passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, they drew blood.

We’ve been hearing it for years now: Disability Insurance is overgenerous, fraud-ridden, a well-intentioned program that’s mutated into a form of middle-class welfare. Criteria for awarding benefits need to be tightened, or the $150 billion DI trust fund will go bankrupt. The traditional solution for imbalances in Social Security’s trust funds—shifting money between the DI and the Old Age and Survivors’ (OASI) fund—shouldn’t be used unless “substantive reforms” are implemented.

How wonderful, then, that according to the Wall Street Journal, “Social Security will get its first upgrade since the 1980s to fix Disability Insurance,” thanks to a kumbaya moment between the White House and congressional Republican and Democratic leaders. The two-year Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, Continue reading The Soft Underbelly

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

Who’s Going to Defend Social Security?

Strangely enough, it’ll probably be the Republican right. Once again.

Congressional Republican and Democratic leaders have chosen the members of the “Super Congress” that will determine round two of the spending cuts – and, possibly, tax increases – under the Budget Control Act of 2011. As expected, the GOP members are all hardliners on taxes – so much so that they all received the blessing of Citizens for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist. (I mentioned tax increases above because the joint deficit committee has the right to include them in its legislation, not because there’s much chance it will.)

Most of the attention, therefore, has focused on the Democratic members. Continue reading Who’s Going to Defend Social Security?

The Truth Behind “Managed Decline”

“Managed decline” is one of the favorite catchphrases of the American right. Briefly, it’s an accusation that Democratic politicians and the Obama administration – i.e., the “extreme left” – have decided to let the U.S. decline economically and militarily, with government “managing” that process to protect special interests like unions and public employees.

This argument is now heard everywhere on the right, from radio talk-show hosts to semi-respectable academics to the text of Rep. Paul Ryan’s House budget resolution. Stripped to its specific public-policy recommendations, it’s an appeal to cut Social Security, Medicare, and other social spending and shift those resources to the military.

Let’s tale a closer look at the rhetoric. Because I’m going to make the case that there is some reality behind the notion of managed decline – just not the one most often fed to us. Continue reading The Truth Behind “Managed Decline”

The CLASS Act

The last time Washington created a new social insurance program, a backlash caused it to be repealed 14 months later. Because it’s voluntary, the new long-term health benefit might avoid that fate. But its chances of survival are still uncertain.

The most intriguing component of health care reform, to me, is the new long-term care program. As more and more families are finding out, this is a huge problem. People are living longer, households are debt-ridden, and that being the case, how do you take care of aging parents and other relatives?

More than 10 million Americans, mostly elderly, need long-term fare, according to a 2007 Georgetown report, but it’s expensive and most can’t afford it. Meanwhile, loosely regulated, mostly for-profit long-term care hospitals are popping up across the country, run on a shoe-string to maximize profits, often without much regard for patients’ welfare.

The new health care law incorporates a bill that the late Sen. Ted Kennedy introduced last year, Continue reading The CLASS Act