If you folks are anything like me, you need to lose some weight and get your blood chemistry under control. Your doctor has probably (many times by now) advised you to get some exercise, prescribed you some medication, and told you to eat more green leafys and less fast food. With just over three weeks separating America from its New Year’s resolutions, you are probably still trying to do the right thing. That won’t be the case for much longer though. When most of us give up the diet in a few weeks however, it won’t be because we think that french fries and inactivity are better for us. We the people are far too intelligent to fall for that kind of emotion-driven, fact-defying thinking. Aren’t we?
All of this effort, it should be noted, is directed at fulfilling the rational solution to a well-defined problem; we are overweight because we take in more calories than we burn. Our arteries are clogged because we take in more fats than we can process. It sounds simple, but we the people have a disturbing tendency to disregard facts we find uncomfortable. And we are perfectly willing to listen to people who spew utter nonsense, so long as the nonsense is wrapped in a tasty package. It only makes sense that we would follow the same logic in our democracy as that which we adhere to in our dietary lives. Currently, the preeminent peddler of nonsense in a tasty wrapper is John Boehner. Now that he is the Speaker of the House, it seems natural for America to go on the diet of the combative Ohio Republican; The Boehner Diet.
As he led Republicans into the early stages of last year’s midterm political cycle, Mr. Boehner galvanized the anti-deficit (and therefore theoretically anti-Democrat) crowd by promising massive cuts in “entitlement” spending. He went on the record supporting the raising of the Social Security age to 70 (for those citizens currently 50 or younger), and emphatically supported the budget prescriptions of the conservative world’s intellectual flavor of the month, Paul Ryan. While he has backed away from his earlier and more specific plan for Social Security, the Speaker still thinks it logical to have Social Security on the table when the nation’s deficit is considered. But why?
Philosophy and sociology, creative writing and interpretive dance; these are all subjects where the facts are defined in the perception of the observer. Beauty, in those pursuits, really does lie in the eye of the beholder. The federal budget, like the budget of any other enterprise, is not well-suited to this kind warm and fuzzy, “your special and I am special”, dare I say “liberal” interpretation. Numbers matter and the bean-counters ought to have the final say. In the tricky world of 21st Century conservatism however, accountants and economic modeling only seem definitive when the results match Republican ideology. Social Security has been a model program; our nation’s retirees get paid on time, and the totals have never crashed in times of crisis (in other words, how did your 401k look in 2008 or 2000).
More importantly, Social Security is solvent; full benefits can be paid, every month and to every beneficiary, until 2037. These payments will be made without any payments from the federal treasury; in other words, Social Security does not now and will not for more than two decades, play any role in the federal deficit. Social Security does not affect the budget deficit…period. So why are Republicans (and Democrats who enjoy the vicarious thrill of “fiscal responsibility” that comes from being labeled a “deficit hawk”) so interested in “addressing” the deficit via Social Security?
This site has addressed the notion before, and noted economists like Dean Baker have hammered away at the idea for years, but many in the supposedly liberal mainstream of American media remain sadly ignorant of basic arithmetic. Pundits and columnists from all over the mainstream continue to digest and regurgitate the spoon-fed nonsense of individuals like Peter Peterson and Grover Norquist, and politicians like our new Speaker are then allowed to restate complete fallacies without challenge. We watch and read, almost daily, a perpetual moving target of newly designed politi-math. See if you can stay with the “logic” below:
- Using estimates from Moody’s and the CBO, conservatives attack the cap and trade legislation as a deficit-busting tax on the working class.
- Using estimates from the CBO, conservatives attack the original health care reform bills in the House and Senate as deficit-busting government takeovers of the people’s health care.
- Ignoring estimates from Moody’s and the CBO, conservatives attack the Stimulus as a deficit-busting bill guaranteed to fail.
- Ignoring estimates from Moody’s and the CBO that state the stimulus worked, conservatives attack Democrats who voted for the measure, and we the people believe them.
- Ignoring estimates from CBO that state the Affordable Care Act cuts the deficit, conservatives attack Democrats who voted for the measure, and we the people believe them.
- After saying that the CBO is simply “entitled to their opinion”, Speaker Boehner and the Republicans have no qualms about using statements in the CBO report on the Affordable Care Act to manufacture a claim about job loss.
- Ignoring estimates from the CBO that state the repeal of the Affordable Care Act will add almost one quarter of a trillion dollars to the deficit, House Republicans pass their repeal legislation.
- Despite reports from CBO, the Medicare actuaries, Moody’s, and multiple private surveys, all of which say escalating health care costs are the principle threat to the United States over the next half century, Republicans still have no concrete suggestions on how to address the problem.
Of course the Boehner Diet has stated that the market should be left alone to fix the problem, and intellectual heavyweights like Rush Limbaugh have suggested there really is no problem; “Move along people, nothing to see here…just ignore the wreckage and human tragedy…” Of course the Democrats (much to my surprise) actually summoned the intestinal fortitude to pass a law that does address the principal problem (see above, where Republicans are trying to repeal that solution). It would be curious, if the financial trail wasn’t so easy to follow, how Republicans could find it so easy to ignore a program and industry that so desperately needs revision, while attempting to fix one that works just fine. But the more than $1 trillion annually raised by the FICA tax (a regressive tax…it goes down as income increases), would look really sexy on the balance sheets of Wall Street firms.
Social Security has been an unqualified success, and stands as a model for the world. It is a secure retirement program fully funded by its beneficiary’s, not a social entitlement program. The rapacious greed of those politicians who would raid the program, and the repugnant ignorance of those pundits who support them, are the only real threats to the retirement security of the working class. As January ends and the diet resolutions of the New Year fade, lets take the opportunity to give up this most damaging of fad diets. It is far easier to eat the hearty nutrition of our democracy, then it will be to reap the artery choking rewards of the Boehner Diet.