Posts Tagged ‘Medicare’
The president’s new budget proposal includes both Chained CPI, a cut in Social Security benefits, and cuts in Medicare benefits. As Shawn Fremstad notes, the White House’s assurances that the ‘most vulnerable’ will be protected are not to be taken seriously.
It’s troubling for any number of reasons, including that the defenses offered are nonsense. Chained CPI is arguably a more accurate measure for working people, but the existing measure clearly underestimates inflation for seniors, who spend far more of their income on health care, where costs are rising faster. Social Security doesn’t contribute to the deficit, which doesn’t matter (at least at the moment), and no one actually cares about it, and Medicare costs could be dealt with through costs controls rather than benefit cuts. Read the rest of this entry »
Here are your top five posts from the last year, based solely on page views. The biggest thing driving traffic – one or two people who have a bigger megaphone than me passing it along. (My thanks to those people). Was there anything else they shared in common? Let’s take a look.
Also, don’t miss Top Five Posts that No One Read: 2012.
Means testing of Social Security or Medicare is a bad idea. It doesn’t generally save that much money and it undermines the very logic of social insurance–universal coverage paid for by dedicated taxation, thereby spreading risk over the whole population, protecting everyone. Means testing is a way of welfarizing social insurance, that is, associating it with the poor (read : undeserving) Most people, even politically active people, don’t understand the idea of social insurance, either its policy or political logic.
That said, I’ve found the idea is one that many liberals seem drawn to. I’m not talking about neoliberals who are really skeptical of social insurance. I mean people who are primarily concerned with inequality, who have no ideological skepticism toward government. And I don’t mean the politicians and think tanks that are pushing it. I mean why people think it sounds like a good idea.
The Michigan legislature, still held by Republicans, although their House majority was reduced in the recent election, has been rushing through all manner of ALEC-sponsored legislation, including the No Rights At Work law, harsh abortion restrictions, and an emergency manager law that had just been overturned by initiative. (They are being encouraged by billionaires who know their power is at a high point and voters’ at a low one).
In the meantime, at the federal level, after a campaign where both sides accused the other of wanting to cut Medicare, both sides are scheming to cut Medicare–hopefully in a way that ensures that no one takes the blame (i.e. bipartisanship). This is important because such cuts are deeply unpopular among practically all voters, regardless of party or age. Whipping votes is easier among those members of Congress who were defeated or retiring, many of whom have already lined up lucrative post-Congress employment and may just have some interest in mind other than the public’s.
The time between an election and when the next legislature is seated is perhaps the moment of the lowest ebb of democratic accountability, because of the presence of lame duck members, because the public is exhausted from the non-stop, soul-crushing, circus that is the modern election season, and because it is the time when the possibility of citizens angrily voting against them is furthest off. And many politicians seem hell-bent on making the worst of it.
Obviously, the lame duck sessions aren’t the only culprit here. The Republican Party’s lurch to the right has been a product of organizational politics that serve to insulate it from electoral control, and the vast role of money in politics serves to make legislators in both parties dependent on the funders rather than the people (a problem that has gotten worse in recent decades but is not exactly new either–funders have usually set the bounds within which popular politics can operate, as Thomas Ferguson has argued). There are also almost no independent organizational structures that allow regular people to effectively pressure their representatives. There are plenty of other undemocratic practices and rules we need to target together, as part of a larger democracy agenda.
Sill, what possible purpose does the lame duck session serve? Elite Washington loves the lame duck session, because what ever little impact the public has on policy in normal circumstances, they would prefer to operate with even less popular interference.
But if you actually care about democracy, how to you justify it? The answer is clear. You can’t.
No more lame ducks.
Trial balloons are central to American politics, yet the idea gets very little attention from political scientists. The basic point is simple–the administration anonymously floats an idea, for example, a name for a political appointment. This can be done by a source that can’t speak on the record, or by writers who are close to administration, portraying it as the writers idea. Once the idea is put out there, the administration waits to see the reaction. If the name is greeted with praise, or at least indifference, the name is a safe one. If it’s greeted with attacks, depending on their intensity and from who they come, the administration knows appointing the individual will cause trouble, and another name can be chosen since they never admitted they were even considering the person in the first place.
This makes sense, given a central problem for all actors in the political system–nobody knows exactly what everyone else in thinking, or how strongly they feel. Watching how other people react when ideas are floated provides that information. It lets you know if your position is popular (within elite circles in Washington, which is what matters for these things) or if a particular stand would mean that you were standing alone. It’s how the boundaries of what’s reasonable and what’s off the wall are drawn. It’s how you can tell if you will be called to account for your actions and whether you’ll be able to defend them if you are. Since organizing opposition takes time, you can be sure it either won’t happen, or at least won’t happen effectively, if people don’t begin mobilizing long before a final decision, whether that means an appointment, or a legislative vote.
What’s interesting about all this is that all these problems exist regardless of whether anyone intended to float a trial balloon. It doesn’t matter if reporting merely reflects internal deliberations, or if the story was only the result of a single disgruntled staffer. In the end, the reaction to the story serves the same function.
Powerful people in Washington understand all this. They pounce on people for merely suggesting anything that threatens their interests. That’s how they keep such ideas off the agenda, so that what is actually voted on is non-threatening, making wins and losses on the merits essentially beside the point. When Social Security and Medicare were untouchable, it was because the slightest whiff of a challenge to it would bring about a massive mobilization.
Since we can’t know whether an idea being floated in intended as a trial balloon or not–since the whole point of it is to deny responsibility–and since the impact is the same regardless, the answer is clear. Treat everything as a trial balloon. If someone tries to convince you otherwise, say when it comes to talk of undermining Medicare, they are either bad at politics or trying to keep you powerless.
Many people are taking heart in hard lines being drawn by progressives to oppose benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. As Alex Seitz-Wald notes, Politico is reporting a proposed deal to include $400 billion over 10 years in “entitlement” cuts. Keith Ellison, chair of the Progressive Caucus, said “Progressives will not support any deal that cuts benefits for families and seniors who rely on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to put food on the table or cover their health costs.” Outside groups were making similar noises.
“If this report in Politico is correct, then some ‘senior Democrats’ are sorely misguided about where their base stands. So let me be crystal clear. Any benefit cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, including raising the retirement or eligibility age, are absolutely unacceptable,” Ilya Sheyman, the campaign director at MoveOn.org told Salon. “More than 80 percent of MoveOn’s 7 million members say they want us to fight a deal that cuts those benefits, even if it also ends all of the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent. And that’s a mainstream position everywhere except in the lobbyist-cash-infused D.C. cocktail circuit,” Sheyman continued.
There will be consequences, he warned, for Democrats who support a deal that cuts entitlements. “Bottom line: Any Democrat who votes to cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits does so at his or her own peril, and shouldn’t be in the least bit surprised to be held accountable by MoveOn members in the next primary election.”
Unfortunately, such statements don’t mean much. Members of the Progressive Caucus have made threats not to vote for things in the past and then didn’t follow through. MoveOn and other groups have yet to show they have any ability to punish Democrats for betraying progressive values. It will be small consolation if Congress seeks benefit cuts which undermine social insurance and progressive groups demonstrate they can punish Democrats for it after the fact.
But there is a bigger problem. Even if the threat to punish Democrats for voting wrong could be credibly made, it’s not clear why that should work. Members of Congress all can look forward to well-paying lobbying jobs after leaving office.
The truly powerful don’t wait until the vote to flex their power. They go after people for merely suggesting things that deviate from their interests. They seek to pressure the first people to step out of line, long before a vote, to ensure that nothing threatening ever comes up for a vote. If anyone, whether Keith Ellison, MoveOn, unions, or activists, wants to demonstrate their credibility–in terms of their commitment to hard lines or their willingness to hold others accountable–they can do it now. They can do it by jumping on anyone who suggests that benefit cuts should be part of the deal, or who conflates benefit cuts with other spending cuts, or who (falsely) claims that Social Security is driving the deficit or that Medicare in inefficient, or otherwise use scare tactics to make cuts seems inevitable, should be viciously attacked. They could start with Dick Durbin or Chris Van Hollen (“Mr. Van Hollen also said changing Social Security and increasing the Medicare eligibility age above 65 should be part of negotiations.”). And when people say the right thing, that needs to be something that energizes us to demand that others do the same, not an opportunity to demobilize.
Dick Durbin, doing his best to undermine social insurance and the long-term viability of the Democratic Party, is seeking to convince progressives to demobilize rather than fight attacks on Social Security and Medicare.
A top Democrat pressured fellow progressives Tuesday to support – rather than fight – a far-reaching budget deal that includes cuts to entitlement programs after resolving the upcoming fiscal cliff.
“We can’t be so naive to believe that just taxing the rich will solve our problems,” said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “Put everything on the table. Repeat. Everything on the table.”
This is nonsense. Why on earth should everything be on the table? Even if it was true that deficits were out of control (they aren’t) and that we had to act now to address them (we don’t), things that don’t contribute to the deficit at all – like Social Security – shouldn’t be part of the conversation. But beyond that, it’s just false. Vastly popular, wildly successful programs that happen to be unpopular with elites shouldn’t be “on the table.”
This is how Social Security and Medicare ends – with false progressive officials, supposedly liberal commentators like Kevin Drum, and compromised organizations like the AARP all shifting the terms of the debate so we’re only talking about how to cut benefits not whether, let alone how to expand these programs.
As I said in my last post, never trust anyone who extolls the value of a political deal without talking about the substance of the deal.
If people like Durbin can float these sort of claims without being punished for it, everyone in Washington will know that they can go after these programs without consequences. If, on the other hand, he is made suffer, few will want to be next in line. Social insurance is only vulnerable if we fail to mobilize to protect it. Which is why this sort of thing is unforgivable.
For what its worth, Durbin holds the number two position in the Senate. As the whip, his job is to get Democrats to vote correctly. He represents everyone else in the caucus. It strikes me that every member of the Democratic caucus should face angry constituents demanding that they condemn him.
Kevin Drum wants liberals to calm down about the possibility of a deal to address Social Security.
If we extended the solvency of Social Security for the next century, it’s true that the Cato Institute would be back the next day complaining that this wasn’t enough. After all, they’re ideologically opposed to the whole idea of Social Security. It might take the Heritage Foundation a little longer, but they’d get right back into the fight pretty quickly too.
But the Washington Post wouldn’t. The Pete Peterson folks wouldn’t. The truth is that all the earnest, centrist, Very Serious People who want to reform Social Security don’t want to starve your granny. They don’t have a problem with the concept of a guaranteed retirement program. They just want it to be properly funded.
They just want it properly funded? The chorus of people who keep falsely claiming we must deal with “out of control entitlement spending” leading to an “exploding deficit” thereby conflating Medicare spending, which is increasing because medical costs are increasing, although more slowly than in the private sector, with Social Security spending, which is not rising at nearly the same rate and contributes nothing to the deficit? Anyone who’s paying attention can see all the very serious people have been emphasizing the alleged threat of social insurance to the budget deficit. Read Dean Baker to see the endless attacks on Social Security from all these VSP – including the Washington Post.
The fact is, as Andrea Campbell and Kimberly Morgan (pdf) have shown, that elites turned against the social insurance model in the 1970s, while the public has remained supportive, wanting expansions of these programs rather than cuts. Given the vast unpopularity of that position, as opponents have long realized, the only way to undermine Social Security and Medicare is by claiming that changes are needed to protect it – that is, by constructing threats to the programs. The incentive to lie is obvious.
Of course, those of us who want to expand Social Security and Medicare are fine with reforms like ending the cap on payroll taxes which will bring in more money. But why talk of a deal instead of the specifics? Are cuts or benefits interchangeable?
Never trust anyone who extolls the value of a political deal without talking about the substance of the deal.
The only thing that protects these programs is that the public would mobilize if they realized what was really going on. There was a time when the mere whiff of a mention of cuts would have led to DEFCOM 5. The whole idea of Social Security as the third rail of politics was that it was unacceptable to even speak of cuts. When Bush sought to privatize Social Security, the Democrats were a united front against any changes at all. Nancy Pelosi famously said “We have a plan. It’s called Social Security”. This time there is far too much talk about cuts, even from people who stood against Bush. Even the AARP has been wishy washy on this score. This talk removes the chief barrier protecting these programs – keeping it off the agenda.
We don’t need to chill out. We need a massive mobilization. We need everyone to take clear, repeated, bold stands against any benefit cuts, for whatever reason. We need to press politicians for merely talking about austerity, or a so called entitlement crisis.
And anyone who claims otherwise, regardless of their intentions, is working to “starve your granny.”
Greg Sargent has the story on how some of the largest unions, which also are among those who are closest to the White House and most inclined towards emphasizing supporting the Democrats as their central strategy, ‘have the President’s back’ when it comes to taxes and social insurance.
Along those lines, I’m told that SEIU, AFSCME, and the National Education Association are putting together a major push, including TV ads, to pressure Congress to adopt a fiscal cliff approach that doesn’t do any harm to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — and includes higher taxes from the wealthy. If necessary, the campaign might target Dems who stray from these principles.
“We believe this election was a crystal clear expression by working people in this country that the rich need to pay their fair share,” SEIU president Mary Kay Henry told me in an interview. “The new majority needs to continue to hold everyone accountable — Democrats and Republicans — by making sure we back the president’s vision for the country.”
So if it’s necessary, these unions might pressure Democrats. Let that sink in for a moment. (Glenn Greenwald gives a good indication of what will likely happen given past history. Step one is that liberals declare that they won’t accept any cuts. It’s never good when he’s insufficiently pessimistic.) The phrase ‘doesn’t do any harm’ concerns me quite a bit as well. A better one would be ‘absolutely no benefit cuts.’ That’s the people’s vision, something I’d say is far more important than the president’s vision.
I saw Sargent’s story passed around this past week, and most people seemed to take it to mean these unions were ready to play hardball with recalcitrant Democrats. No doubt this is what they would like people to believe. But that isn’t what the story says.
Interestingly enough, these were some of the same unions that took out loans in the waning days of the campaign to add to the large sums of money they had already spent to support Senate Democratic candidates. The Democrats did maintain ‘control’ of the Senate, and even extended their majority. But unless they jettison the indefensible and unconstitutional filibuster, it’s not clear how valuable a few extra seats are.
Whether Democrats will return the favor, leaving aside whether they are capable of doing so, is another matter. As Mike Elk put it,
But while labor spent heavily to re-elect Barack Obama, it’s not clear that Obama will return the favor. From failing to pass labor’s key priority, the Employee Free Choice Act (which would have made it easier for workers to organize), to freezing the pay of federal workers, to signing free trade treaties with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama (and now in the process of negotiating the largest free trade treaty ever, the Trans Pacific Partnership, which involves most of the nations on the Pacific Rim), Obama has hardly been labor’s strongest champion. Indeed, rumors are swirling around Washington that Obama might use his second term to strike a “Grand Bargain” in which he would agree to cut Social Security in order to raise taxes and reduce the deficit.
The last sentence is hard to square with Sargent’s story. The reality is that the White House, along with key Democrats, have been making noise about a Grand Bargain since before Obama took office. A number of Democrats have been incoherent and shifting - appearing to take stands that would halt this nonsense and then backing away. Digby has been all over this story from the beginning. Regardless of the reasons for this, it makes organizing opposition difficult, in a way that taking a clear position would not. Indeed, Democrats in office as well as commentators have often not been clear on the difference between cutting costs, which is both necessary and popular, with benefits cuts, which are neither. That said, as Corey Robin pointed out, on election night Obama “claimed that reducing the debt and the deficit—elsewhere they call that austerity—will be a top priority of his second administration.”
It’s also worth noting to that this list of Elk’s is not simply about failing to enact legislation, but includes active efforts by the White House to enact anti-worker policies. And he doesn’t even mention the most important positive step to support working people the White House could take, yet has failed to – fair contracting. Among other things, it could actually help to reverse the decline in union density by providing protections for workers in areas not covered by federal labor laws.
This problem is not limited to certain unions. It can also be found in many liberal constituency groups, like the AARP. They often share this perspective–that unqualified support for Democrats in both elections and policy will cultivate insider connections, under the belief that this is the most effective route to power. But if you’re unwilling to challenge those you are negotiating with, how is there any power? While some believe that Social Security remains the third rail of politics, in part because of the power of the AARP, I think that’s no longer true. Throughout the election, the AARP ran commercials about the potential for changes in these programs. You might have thought their opening position was to oppose any and all cuts. Instead, the commercials insisted that retirees deserved the facts, deserved clear answers about what was going to be done. Another version said that you’re earned your say, that politicians should listen to retirees, without specifying what exactly they were saying. These are fairly low bars, and aren’t even close to being met. But the AARP remains fairly quiet. And they are not alone.
Part of the problem here is that the whole premise of the policy problem, accepted as unquestionably true by elites, is complete and utter nonsense. Jamie Galbraith explains what is going on.
That the looming debt and deficit crisis is fake is something that, by now, even the most dim member of Congress must know. The combination of hysterical rhetoric, small armies of lobbyists and pundits, and the proliferation of billionaire-backed front groups with names like the “Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget” is not a novelty in Washington. It happens whenever Big Money wants something badly enough.
Big Money has been gunning for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for decades – since the beginning of Social Security in 1935. The motives are partly financial: As one scholar once put it to me, the payroll tax is the “Mississippi of cash flows.” Anything that diverts part of it into private funds and insurance premiums is a meal ticket for the elite of the predator state.
And the campaign is also partly political. The fact is, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are the main way ordinary Americans connect to their federal government, except in wars and disasters. They have made a vast change in family life, unburdening the young of their parents and ensuring that every working person contributes whether they have parents, dependents, survivors or disabled of their own to look after. These programs do this work seamlessly, for next to nothing; their managers earn civil service salaries and the checks arrive on time. For the private competition, this is intolerable; the model is a threat to free markets and must be destroyed.
The media’s constant drum beating on this issue reminds me of the push for war in Iraq. All pretense of objectivity and neutrality is out the window as they relentlessly push for a policy lacking public support but enjoying broad elite support.
We’re heading in exactly the wrong direction. We should be expanding Social Security and Medicare, not cutting them. And if unions were interested in garnering more public support, in demonstrating that they will fight for everyone not only their members, taking a strong stand–one that was maintained throughout the process–against any and all cuts would be a great place to start. Either way, for those of us who care deeply about the idea of social insurance, it’s not enough to get periodic reassurances that someone might not allow cuts to happen or plans to fight them. We have to push all the players to take clear, unambiguous stands. That means getting aggressive with those who are supposed to be allies.
The title of this post comes from an excellent diary at Daily Kos, that you should read. It’s great not just on it’s main point about Ayn Rand accepting Medicare and Social Security, but more generally. Hypocrisy arguments often end up failing to state what you are for. They can even come off as though you agree with the conservative principle, implying that it’s a good thing. But Scientician shows how to use such moments as a hook to make a larger argument that is rooted in our values. Those values include the idea that everyone deserves security and opportunity, by virtue of being a human being. Social insurance is designed to ensure our shared fate includes protecting against shared risk, risks that come about simply by living in our world.
That’s the failure here; Rand needed society’s help. Rand ran headlong into the very premise of why Medicare was created in the first place: The for-profit insurance market is terrible for the elderly and particularly to those already stricken with serious diseases. It’s not about chortling at Rand as yet another greedy right wing hypocrite, it’s about realizing she implicitly acknowledged the superiority of liberalism with her actions. This is her endorsement, and as Paul Ryan’s sort gears up to destroy Medicare, we shouldn’t hesitate to remind them that Ayn Rand, whatever her rhetoric and books, ended her life on our side.
To quote Will Ferrell: “That’s how you do it. That’s how you debate.” (Also, check out his blog, Autonomy for All).