Tag Archive: Retirement

Mar 27 2013

Dick Durbin’s new Social Security reform commission

Have you heard about Dick Durbin’s proposal for a new Social Security reform commission?  It sounds remarkably like the failed Simpson-Bowles Catfood Commission, complete with special rules that allow its recommendations, if approved by the commission, to take the express route to the floor of Congress for a vote with no amendments and limited debate.  

The number two Democrat in the Senate championing this bipartisan bill was asked if this new commission would be like the Greenspan commission of the 1980’s and he said that he prefers to refer to it as similar to Simpson-Bowles.  One of the most interesting things about it is that this time, the commission won’t be dissolved after it finishes its work.  It comes back to life every ten years.

So while we are very happy that the Senate rejected Chained CPI in the budget that they passed last week, the reason why it was rejected is most likely because a separate commission for “reforming” Social Security is on the way, and there are other reasons to use caution while considering the weight and effect of the Sanders amendment.

In a recent article, Dean Baker wonders why the media elites did not find the Sanders amendment to be newsworthy.  I agree with his points about the national media corruption on the subject, and that they have been pushing their favorable opinion on cuts, and how the facts and arguments against the cuts have been curiously absent in their reporting and their programs.

Senate Unanimously Votes Against Cuts to Social Security: Media Don’t Notice

This is why the vote on the Sanders amendment should have been newsworthy. Here was an opportunity for all the senators who have explicitly or implicitly supported the adoption of the chained CPI to step up and say why the switch to the chained CPI was a good and necessary measure. However, not one senator was prepared to stand up and argue the case. Not one member of the senate wanted to go on record in support of this cut to Social Security.

With all the Republicans who pronounce endlessly on the need to cut entitlement spending, there was not a single Republican senator who was prepared to say that switching the Social Security COLA to a chained CPI was a good idea. And even though President Obama has repeatedly stated as clearly as he could that he supported the switch to a chain CPI, there was not one Democratic senator who was prepared to stand up and speak in solidarity with the president.

But let’s not get complacent. There is nothing that the media elite and the proponents of Social Security cuts would like more than for us to let our guard down and say “phew, now we can relax because the Senate said they oppose chained CPI cuts to Social Security.”  In fact, it would not surprise me at all if the reason that this amendment was allowed to the Senate floor by the Democratic leadership was that it might calm down the grassroots left and organizations like AARP and give us a false sense of security, resulting in less organizing, less protesting, while they form a new commission prepare the way for the cuts that they are clearly determined to impose.  

The people in power who want to cut Social Security have been working at this for decades, with renewed fervor in recent years, some of them spending millions for astroturf groups, propaganda campaigns, and influence over elected officials.  One non-binding amendment in the Senate is no hurdle for them and if anything, I believe they will try to use it to their advantage.

Some other cautions about the Sanders amendment:  

1) The amendment was framed as opposition to using chained CPI for veterans benefits.

2) The amendment is non-binding.

3) While Sen. Sanders tried to get a roll call vote, he was persuaded by Sen. Murray to accept a voice vote, so none of the Senators, except the sponsors of the amendment, are on the record. The sponsors are: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).  Four senators.

4) Sen. Burr of North Carolina is on the record as saying he “supported protecting veterans, but supported using chained CPI elsewhere”.