April 16, 2013

Goodbye Social Security


During the Sex Pistols’ final show on January 14, 1978, singer Johnny Rotten, in a last ditch snarl of punk-rock defiance, asked the crowd, tauntingly, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
I could put the same question to supporters of Barack Obama.

President Obama’s proposed budget, which he unveiled this past week, calls for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. This makes Obama the first Democratic president in history to officially propose cuts to the cherished programs—often considered the political apex of liberalism. An editorial headline in the latest issue of The Socialist Worker (04/10/2013) sums it up best: “With friends like this, who needs Republicans?”

While liberals and many congressional Democrats cried out in dismay, Obama’s latest political maneuver should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. The president first offered Social Security and Medicare cuts during 2011’s debt negotiations as part of a so-called “Grand Bargain” with House Republicans. A Grand Betrayal is a more accurate term.

Yet most liberals must have missed this story two years ago, because protecting social programs was THE major reason progressives cited for backing Obama’s re-election last fall. “If you care at all about the social safety net,” the argument went, “you will vote for Obama.”

The Portland Phoenix summed up this liberal hyperbole in their endorsement for Obama’s re-election (“The Obama Imperative,” 10/31/2012), which the editors called one of two things “stand[ing] between almost certain economic and social catastrophe.” (The other thing, they claimed, was the Democrats “maintaining—or expanding—their majority in the Senate.”)

Well, turns out we got both those things and we are still headed for catastrophe. But remember: Mitt Romney would have been so much worse…!

As always, it is instructive to observe how the corporate media are spinning Obama’s budget. In fact, many liberal pundits are praising Obama’s “compromise” as a laudable “move to the center,” in an effort to stake out the politically coveted “middle ground.”

This is precisely how NPR’s Cokie Roberts portrayed the budget last week on Morning Edition(04/08/2013). “This is a move towards the middle,” she said, “to getting those independent voters who he [Obama] lost in the last election…by emphasizing deficits which is something they say they care about.”

Over at The Washington Post, meanwhile, Dana Milbank mocked socialist independent Sen. Bernie Sanders for his vocal denouncement of Obama’s plan to cut social services.“For Sanders,” Milbank writes, “…the betrayal stung so badly that he literally took to the streets, joining left-wing activists for a protest…outside the White House” (04/09/13).

By casting Sanders and any other progressives who would dare oppose the president’s budget as part of the “extreme left,” Milbank insinuates this is merely another traditional “left-right” issue—with “centrist moderates” presumably approving of the plan. He writes:

[I]n reality, the progressives’ street protest did Obama a favor. He needs to have the likes of Bernie Sanders against him. It strengthens his hand and helps him negotiate a better deal with Republican leaders, who can now see that liberal backbenchers and interest groups can sometimes be as intransient as conservatives.

Milbank goes on to claim Obama’s proposal “restores his credibility on the budget.”

“His previous budgets, which skirted entitlement cuts, weren’t taken seriously,” he writes. “Now Obama, by publicly defying liberals in his party, looks like the reasonable one…”

But “reasonable” to whom…? Poll after poll shows the majority of Americans—liberals, conservatives and independents alike—strongly support Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. In fact, a poll in Milbank’s own paper last summer (08/21/2012) found a mere 17 percent favor cuts to Medicare, while 21 percent support cutting Social Security. In other words, there is no middle on this issue. It is the president’s budget that is extreme—not those opposing it.

News surrounding Obama’s social services slashing comes as Wall Street hit record highs last week. USA Today, without a hint of irony, marked the occasion with the exclamatory headline (03/29/13), “We’re Feeling Rich Again.” Well, I’m glad someone is. Wish I could say the same, myself. Warren Buffett was right: “It is class warfare, and my class has won.”

Here is what readers need to know about Social Security and other earned income benefits, err… I mean “entitlements.”

Social Security does not contribute one dime to the federal deficit. And contrary to Washington talking points, there is nothing wrong with Social Security’s overall sustainability. (It may need some minor tweaking down the road, but the program is structurally sound.) Medicare, likewise, is projected to remain financially viable until at least 2024 and even then there will still be enough in the fund to pay 87 percent of benefits.

Even if these social programs did add to the deficit (which, again, they don’t)…So what? The deficit is a red herring—a distraction. The notion that, in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, we must focus solely on paying down the national debt is idiotic. Paul Krugman is (mostly) right: The U.S. government should be paying more money to stimulate the economy and encourage job creation—not looking to cut benefits Americans have paid into all of their working lives.

The debt is a problem to be certain and we should deal with it at some point. Right now, however, it is a major distraction from our nation’s real dilemma—mass unemployment.

Meanwhile, as working-class, elderly, poor and disabled Americans are being asked to sacrifice these earned income benefits, corporations like General Electric and Pfizer continue to enjoy myriad, extravagant types of corporate welfare in the form of bailouts, subsidies, off-shore accounts and tax-cuts. As I write this, it is Tax Day and G.E. has not paid any income taxes since 2010—possibly even earlier. And G.E. is just one of dozens of other multinational corporations that make record profits but pay virtually no taxes. But you and I still have to.

Liberals’ feigned outrage over Obama’s budget is just that. The president is merely doing what he has, for two years now, said he would do. Chris Hedges is right: The liberal class believes in nothing. And now, it appears it is getting what it paid for.

Adam Marletta is a writer, activist and coffee-fiend. He is the former chair and current secretary of the Portland Green Independent Committee and editor of the political commentary blog, Guerrilla Press. He lives in Portland, Maine and supports all things Green Party.