Grand Bargain or Raw Deal?

Many elderly Americans are close enough to poverty’s edge that Social Security cuts of any size could push them over the brink.

— By Peter Hart

Peter Hart

Following the government shutdown drama, politicians in Washington appear hopelessly divided, according to conventional wisdom.

Fair enough. But there’s at least one area where many politicians from both of the major parties agree — and many of the TV talking heads and newspaper pontificators are with them, too. Social Security, they insist, “needs” to be cut.

For the last few years, after a major standoff, the usual Beltway pundits have been talking about something they like to call the “grand bargain.”

That sure sounds like a good thing. Who doesn’t love a bargain? Well, here’s the question you should ask yourself: Who’s actually getting one? It’s more likely than not that the savings aren’t headed your way.

Fixing Social Security, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

In Washington-speak, a “grand bargain” means some kind of budget deal where everyone is forced to give a little in order to reduce the budget deficit and tackle the country’s debt. To get Republicans to agree to raise more revenue (i.e., taxes), Democrats have to agree to some spending cuts.

As with most things, the devil’s in the details. There’s essentially unanimous Republican opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy. That makes authentic bargaining tough. And on the other side, the cuts are intended for programs like Medicare and Social Security, key elements of the safety net and perhaps the most popular government spending programs.

Medicare and Social Security are remarkably successful in helping keep seniors and others in need out of poverty. But “households relying on (Social Security) for a significant share of their income often live dangerously close to the poverty line,” according to the Economic Policy Institute. That means cuts of any kind could jeopardize their living standards.

Pundits and journalists cheer this talk of a “bargain,” and they praise politicians — especially Democrats — who have the “courage” to back such cuts.

For the past few decades, politicians and pundits have ginned up a “crisis” over Social Security’s finances. At this point, you can say almost anything about Social Security and get away with it.

Right now, yet another wave of scare stories about Social Security has soaked the media. 60 Minutes recently did a segment about the allegedly rampant fraud in the Social Security disability system. But back in reality, disability benefits are difficult to collect, and the program is watched very closely for signs of cheating.

The Washington Post ran a big story about the problem of people collecting benefits for their deceased loved ones. Front-page news in the nation’s capital — but if you read closely, you would discover that we’re talking about 0.006 percent of the checks.

So long as the media can keep churning out this misleadingly alarmist Social Security coverage, more politicians will talk up the idea of “fixing” the program. When you hear them say this, you should know that they mean cutting benefits.

Be on the lookout: When the TV talking heads and politicians all agree that it’s time to strike a “grand bargain” to “protect” or “fix” Social Security, check the fine print. Someone’s getting a bargain, but it’s probably not you.


Peter Hart is the activism director of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. www.fair.orgCartoon Credit:  Fixing Social Security, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.   Distributed via OtherWords. (OtherWords.org)

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Rep. Amodei Hath Definitely Become Sharron Angle

Our federal government is being held hostage by a band of Republican extremists who want to radically reshape our country. But while Republicans have made high-profile attempts to defund President Obama’s signature healthcare law, that’s not their only target.

Fifty House Republicans, including Rep. Mark Amodei, just sent a letter to Speaker Boehner urging him to make cuts to Social Security benefits before the debt ceiling is raised and our government is reopened. That’s why I started my own campaign on CREDOMobilize.com, which allows activists to start their own petitions. My petition, which is to Rep. Amodei and the other 49 House Republicans who signed the letter, says the following:

Stop irresponsibly and recklessly demanding cuts to Social Security benefits as a precondition for ending the government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling. End the hostage-taking and leave Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits alone!

We can’t let them get away with it. Click here to tell Rep. Amodei that our Social Security system is not a ransom.

Sign-the-Petition-blu.fw

The letter Rep. Amodei sent to Speaker Boehner reads like a wish list straight out of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s playbook:

  • raising the retirement age
  • slashing annual cost-of-living adjustments through a new formula known as “chained CPI”
  • means testing for Social Security recipients
  • asking the wealthy to pay even less into the Social Security trust fund

Cutting benefits for those most in need just to give the very wealthiest Americans another tax break is outrageous enough. Demanding them as a precondition for funding the government and ensuring we don’t default on our national debt obligations is both reckless and irresponsible.

Our Social Security system needs to be expanded, not cut. Cost-of-living adjustments already struggle to keep up with the rising costs that seniors face every day. If these Republican extremists get their way, everyone who receives Social Security now — or who will receive it in the future — will see less and less in return for what they paid in over their lives.

I hope you’ll speak out today and tell these extremist Republicans to stop their hostage-taking.

House GOP-led Social Security Cmtee Proposing to Cut Benefits for Current Seniors, Veterans and the Disabled!

Draft legislative language released by the House Social Security Subcommittee last night would cut benefits for millions of middle-class and poor Americans still struggling in this economy by adopting a new formula to calculate cost of living adjustments.  Read more about the specifics in this DailyKos article.