by Joe Shea
May 20, 2013
DEVASTATION IN MOORE, OKLA., DEFIES DESCRIPTION
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It would stand to reason that if you won a presidential election by a solid margin campaigning against cutting Social Security and Medicare - something that has wide support among Americans - that you wouldn't make that the cornerstone of the first budget proposal of your second term.
Yet President Barack Obama still wants to cut Social Security and Medicare in the fiscal 2014 federal budget.
Given his record of compromising with Republicans before negotiations ever begin, this not a shock. The Affordable Care Act is Exhibit A of President Obama being so hellbent on achieving a "grand bargain" with Republicans that he ended up with a deeply flawed health insurance plan that only nibbles around the edges of the many problems facing our health care system.
No, the bigger shock is that President Obama would go on record as the first Democratic president to propose cuts to the cornerstone programs of the Democratic Party.
Some say that Obama's decision to support changes in the way that cost of living increases for Social Security beneficiaries and calling for means-testing for Medicare in exchange for new taxes is a moot point, since the Republicans in Congress will not support any tax increases, even if it means achieving something that they've always wanted - cutting Social Security and Medicare.
That's probably true, but to me, to see a Democratic President who campaigned on protecting these two programs now offer to throw them under the bus is simply unacceptable.
Why would the party that created Social Security and Medicare, and has long defended these programs from the Republicans who've wanted to dismantle them, suddenly decide to give up? Especially when substantial majorities of Americans want Social Security and Medicare bolstered, not dismantled?
Let's begin with a sentence that I have written far too often over the past two decades. Social Security does not contribute to the federal deficit. It is one of the most effective, best-run government programs ever created. That is why Republicans have tried to kill it since the 1930s.
Also, it is an obscenity that programs for the elderly, for veterans, for the sick and the poor are targeted for cuts while corporate welfare is preserved and our military consumes more and more of the federal budget.
Yet, under the broad terms of the "grand bargain," Social Security will be cut while military spending keeps increasing to pay for weapons we don't need to wage wars we don't have to fight.
Preserving Social Security is simple. Apply the payroll tax to all income, rather the first $113,700, and the program will be able to pay out benefits in full for the next 75 years.
There would be even enough money to pay for what should be done now, lowering the eligibility age for collecting partial benefits from 62 to 55, so older workers can retire early and open up jobs for younger workers.
Lower the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 55, and the result would be an expanded pool of people paying premiums into the program and receiving preventive health care that would catch and treat medical problems before they become expensive chronic-care conditions. Doing this would have the added benefit of being the first test of what health care reform should have been at the start - an expansion of Medicare to cover Americans of all ages.
And freeing up money for social needs is an equally simple task. Just cut corporate welfare, raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations, cut the defense budget, and get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, we know that too many Democrats actually believe the federal deficit hype, and are willing to sell out the vulnerable to look like they are doing something about the deficit.
But President Obama's plan has backfired on the Democrats.
Republicans quickly attacked the President for cutting Social Security and Medicare, even though many in their party want to eliminate both programs altogether.
The GOP is cynical enough to campaign on the theme of "the Democrats want to take your Social Security" in 2014, and any Democrat in Congress who is dumb enough to back the President's play will end up losing.
This is all a distraction from the real problems going on in this country.
There are still 11.7 million Americans who are looking for jobs and can't find them. The budget cuts caused by the gutless sequester bill are starting to bite at the local level, particularly for programs that help the poor and sick. And the continued worship of austerity by our policy makers threatens to needlessly keep our nation mired in recession for years to come.
These are all bigger problems affecting our nation's economic health than Social Security, which isn't broke and isn't contributing to the deficit, and Medicare, which has problems that are fixable.
But as long as the Obama Administration and Congress refuses to deal with the problem of long-term unemployment, refuses to invest in fixing and upgrading public infrastructure, and refuses to take action against a corporate class that has all but turned its back on American workers, our country will be a mess.
There is talk about mounting primary challenges against any Democrat that supports cutting Social Security and Medicare. That should be the starting point. It is time to put the wood to any Democrat who refuses to reject austerity and refuses to support pro-growth spending.
Let them know that if they don't, they will pay a political price.
And it is time to put pressure on Congress and President Obama to stop this nonsensical obsession over the deficit, and start doing what's needed to lift our nation out of its economic slump. For working Americans that's entering its fifth year with no end in sight.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A .from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.