There have been many unlikely things that have happened this past month or so: some of them appearing as legislation, some of them appearing in the form of Republicans who set new records for running away from the words they used to get elected, and some of them appearing in the markets, where, believe it or not, many Europeans finds themselves wishing for our economic situation right about now.
There are even improbable sports stories: our frequently hapless Seattle Seahawks, the only team to ever make the NFL Playoffs with a losing record, are today preparing to knock the Chicago Bears out of their bid to play in the Super Bowl, having crushed the defending holders of the Lombardi Trophy just last week before the 12th Man in Seattle.
But as improbable as all that is, the one thing I never thought I would see is Barack Obama getting into a political argument with himself over Social Security, and then losing the argument.
Even more improbably, it looks like there’s just about a week left for him to come to a decision. It looks like you’re going to have to help him make up his mind.
“He who was prepared to help the escaping murderer or to embrace the impenitent thief, found, to the overthrow of all his logic, that he objected to the use of dynamite”
—From “The Dynamiter”, by Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Van De Grift Stevenson
The State of the Union address is coming up fast (January 25th, in fact); obviously Social Security could become a hot topic during the speech. If it does, here’s what’s potentially going to occur:
- The President will announce a spirited defense of the program, and tell the world that he will not support any cuts in your benefits, and that we’ll clear up the funding issues by raising the cap on the payroll tax.
- He’ll announce that he has decided to support cutting your benefits by backing proposals that would again raise the retirement age and would cause the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to go up by less than the actual cost of living…which is just another way of sneaking in a cut to your eventual benefits.
I’m told that option number one is the least likely of the two, which is something you might not expect, especially if you were paying attention to what Obama was saying about Social Security when he was out looking for our votes in 2007 and 2008.
Here’s a good example. In November of 2007 he appeared on “Meet the Press”
“…and when you look at, how we should approach Social Security, I believe, that, uh, cutting retire—, uh, cutting benefits, is not the right answer…I meet too many seniors all across the country who are struggling with the limited Social Security benefits that they have…that raising the retirement age is not the best option, particularly when we’ve got people who ware [sic] still in manufacturing…”
There’s more: Candidate Obama wrote an op-ed piece (”Fixed-income seniors can expect a tax cut”) in September of 2007 for the Quad City Times that was designed to influence the way Iowa voters thought about his chances of being President one day. Here’s what he had to say then:
“Second, I do not want to cut benefits or raise the retirement age. I believe there are a number of ways we can make Social Security solvent that do not involve placing these added burdens on our seniors. One possible option, for example, is to raise the cap on the amount of income subject to the Social Security tax. If we kept the payroll tax rate exactly the same but applied it to all earnings and not just the first $97,500, we could virtually eliminate the entire Social Security shortfall.”
This is what he told the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) on the occasion of the group’s 50th anniversary, just about two months before the ‘08 election:
“…but John McCain’s campaign has gone even further, suggesting that the best answer for the growing pressures on Social Security might be to cut…cost of living adjustments or raise the retirement age. Now let me be clear: I will not do either.
…I think that’s why the best way forward is to first look to adjust the cap on the payroll tax. 97% of Americans will see absolutely no change in their taxes under my proposal. 97%. What it does allow us to do is to extend the life of Social Security without cutting benefits or raising the retirement age.”
Naturally, if you looked at all this and said: “Well, what’s the big deal, exactly?” you’d be making a reasonable point. But the problem, from what “background” conversations are suggesting, is that there is an effort afoot to get the President to agree to these cuts as part of a “Grand Bargain” that might include an extension of the debt ceiling, which is going to have to be voted on before March, and possibly other elements of dealmaking as well.
And naturally, if you watched how the President negotiated issues like the “public option” and the tax cuts last December, well, a reasonable person might worry that the same kind of deal is about to be made right now.
To make things worse, there are stories afoot that suggest this President is looking to cement a legacy here, and a legacy that consists of “I rescued Social Security” would be a fine narrative for the 2012 campaign as long as the “rescue” isn’t accomplished on the backs of those who can afford cuts the least.
“But what I’m going to continue to insist on is that the reason we need to fix it now is precisely to protect our senior citizens and maintain not only Social Security as a social insurance program, but also make sure that the benefits are sufficient so that we don’t have seniors in need.”
—Barack Obama, on “Meet the Press”, November 11, 2007
So what’s to be done?
As you can imagine, this is the time to start flooding the White House switchboard (202 456 1212) to let them know that you want the President to listen to his own best arguments and stick with raising the payroll tax cap.
This is also the time to get your Members of Congress and Senators on the phone—and whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, it’s not going to be hard to remind them that if they screw this one up they’re going to make permanent enemies out of millions of registered voters.
So get to it.
We have about a week, and if you want to save your own Social Security future you better get up and make it happen.