Tag Archives: Paul Ryan

Brookings, Social Security, and the welfare state

We’ve had the evidence before us for a long time: Social Security is the most effective—and cost-effective—US anti-poverty program, both for adults and children. So why do recent writings by scholars at the Brookings Institution ignore it?

“Evidence-based decision-making” may be the most popular catch phrase in Washington. The Big Data revolution has convinced The Village—OK, and lots of other strongholds of mainstream consensus thinking—that everything can now be measured, and that the metrics can yield smart, “actionable” decisions. “Evidence” appears to center-right Democrats as the talisman that will bridge the partisan divide and coax Republicans to play nicely with them.

I’m not writing this to step all over the need to measure program effectiveness—like every other secular religion of the past 200-some years, it’s probably true to some extent, just not as true as the true believers often think. What puzzles me, however, is why some evidence grabs the spotlight and some doesn’t.

Continue reading Brookings, Social Security, and the welfare state

It’s All About the Taxes

It’s a simple question that progressive types – and many non-Washingtonians, for that matter –ask themselves all the time: If Social Security needs more money in coming decades, why not just raise the payroll tax? It’s how we’ve done it in the past, why can’t we just do it again? The reason is that the far right and the center-right – Washington’s Very Serious People – have agreed that the low-tax regime they’ve collaborated on putting in place for the affluent is here to stay, along with the income inequality it’s helped to spawn.  There will be no further increases, even in a comparatively un-progressive levy like the payroll tax, they insist.

It’s not news that you can’t mention the words “tax increase” in Washington without someone attaching an epithet like “job-killing” or “politically unpopular” to them as a matter of reflex. This goes for the payroll taxes that fund Social Security as for any other tax. House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan says Continue reading It’s All About the Taxes

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

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

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 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”

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

Hail Mary! Co-Chairs Spin While Deficit Commission Staggers Toward Deadlock

I’ve been saying for months that the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is probably doomed. The co-chairs, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, appear to agree.

So my first real question is, What have these people been doing with $500,000 of the taxpayers’ money for the past nine months? Lori Montgomery in the Washington Post reports that many of the commission’s 18 members were “startled” by the Bowles-Simpson plan, which Bowles himself called a “starting point.”

Starting point? Are you kidding? This commission was empaneled in February and held its first – official – meeting in May. It’s now less than three weeks Continue reading Hail Mary! Co-Chairs Spin While Deficit Commission Staggers Toward Deadlock

A Short Guide to Social Security Doublethink

Figuring out what Social Security’s critics really want is sometimes difficult. They’ve become so afraid of being tarred as “privatizers” that they’ve developed an elaborate vocabulary of code words to soften the edges of their positions on the issue. A closer examination clears away some of the fog, however.

The polite way to describe them is “terms of art.” George Orwell came up with a cruder but more forceful alternative: doublethink. Either way, the language that Social Security’s critics use to state their position is calculated to calm the fears of the vast majority of Americans who don’t want to see the program privatized. This has been going on for at least 15 years, ever since the first serious proposals to carve private accounts out of the program were tabled on Capitol Hill and Democrats pounced on them. Today, if use of the term “privatization” is the litmus test, there’s only one lawmaker in Congress Continue reading A Short Guide to Social Security Doublethink