Tag Archives: Social Security

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 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

Of Carrots, Sticks, and Disability

In the world of Washington, incentives—carrots and sticks—seem to be the answer for everything, including how to get people on disability back to work. But a new study suggests the problem is the same one the Americans With Disabilities Act identified 25 years ago: discrimination.

I took a certain amount of impolite criticism for my last post, in which I decried the “veritable national jihad” against disability fraudsters. The amount of abuse in Social Security’s Disability Insurance (DI) system isn’t anything like the monster it’s made out to be, and it’s unfortunate, to say the least, that the just-passed Bipartisan Budget Act throws more resources at ferreting out fraud and creating stiffer penalties for false benefit claims. For calling the vast overreaction to disability fraud a jihad, I was accused of insulting conservatives and indulging in hyperbole.

I’m not sorry to have used strong language to describe a years-long campaign against DI that’s out of all proportion to the size of the problem (would that as much effort was going into exposing and cracking down on the Pentagon’s cozy relationships with its contractors) by people who seem to have no idea of the challenges facing working people with disabilities. (The Washington Post was at it again today.)

But if the goal is to get people back to work who have something to contribute and would be better off for it, the real issue is where “incentives” ought to be applied: to disability recipients? or to their potential employers? Continue reading Of Carrots, Sticks, and Disability

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

Social Security’s future is being written in the streets of Ferguson

Bernie Sanders’s confrontation with members of Black Lives Matter should teach a lesson to everyone engaged in the struggle to defend Social Security: Unless the campaign for economic equality recognizes the need to prioritize racial equality as well—that racial and economic issues are not separate—preserving and expanding Social Security will become increasingly difficult.

In politics, context is everything. The most passionate advocacy, even for an utterly righteous cause, can sound presumptuous when the advocate ignores another issue more important to the same audience. Witness Sen. John McCain’s recent humiliating treatment by the Navajo, who chased him off their reservation on August 16, when he came to discuss a feel-good memorial to the World War II Code Talkers—but refused to address complaints that he had failed to protect tribal water rights or to oppose a copper mine that’s about to be built on Oak Flat campgrounds, an area of spiritual significance to the Apache.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Sen. Bernie Sanders recently received a similar lesson. On July 18, Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted a Netroots Nation forum in Phoenix Continue reading Social Security’s future is being written in the streets of Ferguson

A Lifeline, Not a Safety Net

What’s the biggest source of income for Americans in the last years of their lives? Whether you live to 65, 75, or 85-plus, no matter if you’re married or single, the answer is the same: Social Security. And in the you’re-on-your-own, 401(k) era, this hard fact is only becoming more so.

More Americans are elderly—over 65—today than at any time in the nation’s history, and more of these older people are living to a really advanced age than ever before. It’s safe to say we collect more data on them than ever before, as well. That means we’ve never had as good a chance to study the financial health of the elderly.

Using data from University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study (HRS), sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, the Employee Benefit Research Institute has just released a fascinating analysis of individuals who responded to the HRS survey in 2010 and died before the next, 2012 survey. Continue reading A Lifeline, Not a Safety Net

Mario Cuomo was not a “liberal beacon”

The former New York governor, who was laid to rest yesterday, is being mourned as a “forceful defender of liberalism.” In reality, he was a creator of the Democratic center-right and consistent supporter of anti-entitlement crusades.

For anyone who’s followed American politics closely for the past 40 years or so, the headlines following his death were enough to set your teeth on edge: “Mario Cuomo, Ex-New York Governor and Liberal Beacon” (New York Times); “Three-Time Governor; Liberal Leader” (Wall Street Journal). This image of the late politician is even enshrined in Wikipedia: “Cuomo was known for his liberal views and public speeches.”

None of this has much to do with the truth, or Cuomo’s place in history. Indeed, the notion that he was any kind of liberal stems almost entirely from a single speech he delivered at the Democratic National Convention in 1984. The substance of his career tells a different story. So let’s look at the facts.

Continue reading Mario Cuomo was not a “liberal beacon”

Social Security’s enemies, in search of the politically “doable”

In Washington, it’s fashionable to bill oneself as a pragmatist, attuned to political realities and more interested in finding politically doable solutions to practical problems than fighting unwinnable wars. But there’s a double standard in what The Village defines as “realistic.”

C. Eugene Steuerle is a bona fide member of the Washington policy elite. A former deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for tax analysis and a longtime fellow at the Urban Institute, he is considered one of the architects of the 1986 tax reform and, on the center-right, a Social Security guru. With two other think-tank researchers, Benjamin H. Harris at the Brookings Institution and Pamela J. Perun of the Aspen Institute, he recently co-authored a major paper for the Pension Research Council at The Wharton School on Social Security and retirement policy, titled “Entitlement Reform and the Future of Pensions.”

Continue reading Social Security’s enemies, in search of the politically “doable”

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

GOP to block Dem nominee to protest troubles with GOP program

That’s right: Republican senators are upset about delays and cost overruns on a new computer system at the Social Security Administration—so upset, they want to block the president’s nominee for commissioner. The only the trouble is, the new computer system was planned and ordered up by the prior commissioner—a Bush appointee.

The 11 Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee were in high dudgeon last week when they released a letter to Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security and President Obama’s nominee for a six-year slot as commissioner, regarding the troubled implementation of a new computer system for processing disability benefit claims.

We have received information from whistleblowers that the ongoing investigation [of the computer system] has centered around the activities of certain members of your immediate office, including several high-level agency officials. Therefore, it is essential to address your role with respect to this inquiry before each of us can make an informed decision on how to vote for your nomination once it reaches the full Senate for consideration.

A lot of this is simply hyperventilating. It’s not clear that the GOP senators “received information from whistleblowers,” as they claim. What happened for sure was that Continue reading GOP to block Dem nominee to protest troubles with GOP program