Wednesday, June 23, 2010

3-Card Monte

Michael Hiltzig continues hitting them out of the park from his business column in the Los Angeles Times. This time the subject is Social Security and the perennial attacks on one of the most successful federal programs in our history.

It's no surprise that the current crop of Republican candidates are taking aim at the program: their theory is that the government shouldn't be doing things that the private sector can do while making a profit. In other words, social security should be privatized (or, in keeping with politicians' love of euphemisms, "personalized"). That means betting on the honesty and integrity of Wall Street with money for retirement. We've recently seen what a good idea that was.

It's at this point that Mr. Hiltzig takes off:

In the past, one could count on the Democratic Party to stand firm against attacks on this most successful government program. There's reason to wonder whether this is still the case.

The instrument causing Social Security advocates anxiety today is the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which President Obama created in February to address the long-term budget deficit. Everything, including so-called entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security, should be on the table, he said, prompting some progressives to worry that he's plotting to offer Republicans cuts in Social Security in exchange for their agreeing to tax increases.

Created while Obama was still in his foursquare bipartisanship phase, the panel includes such Republican deficit hawks in sheep's clothing as Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin.

Then there's the panel's Republican co-chairman, former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming. Like Newt Gingrich, Simpson is one of those relentlessly partisan political insiders who casts an inexplicable charm over Washington denizens on both sides of the aisle.

Judging from a videotape of an impromptu interview following a recent commission meeting, Simpson has assiduously turned himself into a repository of every asinine misconception ever uttered about Social Security. Over the years I've accumulated a large collection of half-truths and outright lies purveyed about this program, but Simpson came up with a couple I'd never heard before.


While there is at least one sensible member of this misbegotten commission, Alice Rivlin, that isn't much, given the fact that the man who created the commission happens to be a Democrat who was elected by liberals who worked hard for him based on a whole lot of promises that have been conveniently swept aside because of ... well, pick the excuse of the day.

As a result, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are on the table when it comes to fiscal responsibility and the Pentagon's budget isn't. You see, Social Security has now been hung with the label "entitlement."

What utter nonsense.

When people like Simpson, Gregg, and Ryan denigrate Social Security as an "entitlement" program, check your wallet. You're entitled to Social Security because you've paid for it throughout your working life, not because you think you're entitled to get something for nothing.

Bingo.

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