Drawing Lines on Social Insurance: Turning Tough Talk into Pressure
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.