Category Archives: budget / tax policy

Obama’s Cat Food Commission, Alan Greenspan, and the Dancing Grannies for Medicare

President Obama’s Deficit Commission is all smoke and mirrors. Its members are making a big show of laboring over “painful” choices and considering all options in their quest to bring down the deficit. But  inside the Beltway everyone knows what’s going to happen: The commission will reduce the deficit on the backs of the old and the poor, through cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Some opponents have taken to calling it the Cat Food Commission, since that’s what it’s victims will be forced to eat once the commission gets done slashing away at their modest entitlements.

In fact, the true intent of the Deficit Commission was evident before it was even formed. That intent was only driven home when Obama appointed as its co-chair Alan Simpson, who is well known for voicing, in the most colorful terms, what Paul Krugman calls the “zombie lie” that old-age entitlements will soon bankrupt the country.

So why the big show? Because neither Obama nor the Congress wants to get caught cutting Social Security and Medicare in public, certainly not before the November elections. (Medicaid will be cut as well, but politicians tend not to worry so much about poor people, since they don’t go to the polls in the numbers we geezers do.) So instead, they are foisting off this unpleasant task onto the Deficit Commission, showing what the lawyers call “due diligence,” sucking their thumbs and pretending to study how to cut the deficit. They’ve got $1 billion in walk-around money to pay for propaganda so the PR industry ought to be plenty happy. So too, should billionaire Pete Peterson, as he and his foundation lackeys push forward towards a victory in their longstanding attack on entitlements.

Quite frankly, if the Republican Right could get itself together and shove the Tea Party nuts back into their cave–as Reagan did with the crackpots hanging around him–they too could reap the benefits of the Cat Food Commission’s work. Ever since the New Deal, the Right has been kicking and screaming about Social Security. Things just got worse in the 1960s with Medicare and Medicaid. And now, thanks to our supposedly “socialist” president, they are within a few inches of cutting a nice hefty hunk out of the largest social programs this nation has ever known.

As one Capital Hill player recently wrote me: “Unfortunately, everyone in a position of power up here knows full-well the connection between Peterson, the commission and Simpson.  They either don’t care or are too afraid to say anything because they’ll appear ‘soft on deficits.’  It’s no different than their Iraq war votes…they believe they’ll appear ‘weak’ if they don’t jump on the bandwagon. The Democrats, (with the exception of Nancy Pelosi and only a handful of others–including commission member Jan Schakowsky), have no intention of taking on Peterson’s crew.  Congress may be  a lost cause on this issue, if the voters don’t get pissed off about the Commission fast.” 

Will enough voters get pissed off enough, soon enough to slow down the anti-entitlement juggernaut? It’s a long shot, at this point. There are signs of something like a small movement growing around the Cat Food Commission idea, and scattered protests (among them a demonstration dubbed the “Dancing Grannies for Medicare.”)

But it’s going to take a lot to waylay the likely course of future events:  The Cat Food Commission will undoubtedly recommend, and a lame duck Congress will pass, legislation that looks fairly innocuous: trimming Social Security a bit, maybe by upping the age by a few years, and cutting a little from Medicare–none of it affecting anyone who is over 65 right now. That will enable the politicians now in office to look like they are protecting seniors and fending off any drastic cuts, while at the same time appearing “tough” on the deficit. But the legislation, in the usual Washington mode, will gradually widen as the years go by, so that by the time this bunch of pols are retired (on their fat pensions) and out of the fray, the new rules will be eating  into entitlements in a big way.

The other side of this Faustian bargain would appear to be Congress passing some tax increases. “In setting up his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform,” William Greider recently wrote in The Nation, “Barack Obama is again playing coy in public, but his intentions are widely understood among Washington insiders.” As Greider puts it, “The president intends to offer Social Security as a sacrificial lamb to entice conservative deficit hawks into a grand bipartisan compromise in which Democrats agree to cut Social Security benefits for future retirees while Republicans accede to significant tax increases to reduce government red ink.”

It remains to be seen how “significant” those tax increases actually turn out to be. But even former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan seems to be on board with this general plan. Greenspan’s credentials include chairing the first major entitlement-cutting commission back in the 1980s, as well as promoting the Bush-era tax cuts that helped the deficit grow to its current proportions. He still says that reductions to Medicare benefits are necessary–but in a recent interview in the New York Times, Greenspan also says that he now wants to remove all the Bush tax cuts. Seeing as it comes from the champion of “let them eat cake” economics, this pronouncement must be seen as predictor of how conservatives could end up voting. In short, the old and the poor will have to eat cat food, but the rich might kick in a few crumbs as well.

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How We Pay Wall Street to Screw Us

Our taxes, paid into the public treasury, have gone to bail out Wall Street. And what do bankers  do with the taxpayers’s money? They turn around and lobby for more. It’s called the “never give a sucker an even break” strategy. These statistics, prepared by Public Citizen, speak for themselves:

  • Amount financial industry has spent on lobbying this year: $251 million
  • Amount Citigroup spent on lobbying during the first half of 2010: $3 million
  • Amount Goldman Sachs spent on lobbying in the first half of 2010: $2.7 million
  • Amount Bank of America spent on lobbying in the first half of 2010: $2.1 million

 

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The Annual Social Security Bash-a-thon Is About to Begin

Ida May Fuller receive the first Social Security check in 1940.

 Today is the big Day for Social Security bashers. The trustees of the nation’s retirement system will be releasing their annual financial report, and you can bet that no matter what it says, politicians from left to right will use it as the pretext for a smackdown, reluctantly and oh so sorrowfully concluding that Roosevelt’s New Deal project is about to cause the nation to go broke. The only thing to do, they will lament, is to cut Social Security as a small step in curtailing entitlements and thereby eventually balancing the budget. 

The biggest suckers in the Social Security takedown are not the politicians or policy wonks, but the journalists–and in particular, the gaggle of screaming pundits on cable TV–who lap up their spoon-fed pablum without casting anything remotely resembling a critical eye. They apparently consider the idea of reporters doing their homework as a quaint habit of bygone days. Otherwise, they would know that–as two longtime experts on Social Security write–our leading old-age social program, which is celebrating its 75th year, is actually “an essential program in admirable fiscal health.” 

In preparation for the coming attack, the Nieman Foundation at Harvard has asked Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson–both former staff of the Greenspan Commission that studied Social Security back in the 1980s, who have been tracking the program ever since–to write a primer to help the general public make sense of charge and counter charge. Altman and Kingson, who currently co-chair the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, call their report “Newsflash! Journalists prepared to once again utterly misread annual Social Security Trustees report.” I am reprinting salient points from the piece here. 

Thursday’s report will once again describe an essential program in admirable fiscal health. But every year, journalists twist the facts to fit a narrative favored by the political elite: that the program is in crisis. Rather than manufacturing a false drama that shakes people’s confidence about their future benefits, two Social Security experts write, reporters should stick to the facts. 

….. Social Security is the most fiscally responsible part of the budget, projecting income and outgo three-quarters of a century into the future — longer than private pensions or even the social security programs of most other countries. When projecting out over such a long time period, it will sometimes project deficits, providing considerable lead time for Congress to make adjustments that are needed from time to time. This careful monitoring and close examination of Social Security should provide the American people with confidence that the program will always pay benefits on time and in full, as it always has. Instead, the non-news in the report is spun every year to make the program appear headed toward bankruptcy — an impossibility, given how the program is financed. The natural result of that story angle is to shake the confidence of hardworking Americans who have contributed and earned benefits and to frighten those who currently receive benefits. 

Here are some questions reporters should ask about Social Security in order to accurately report the news. 

Q. What does the report say about the current and near-future state of Social Security? Doesn’t it reveal, just as last year’s did, that Social Security is currently in surplus? Doesn’t it say that Social Security has an accumulated surplus of over $2.6 trillion, which will grow to over $4 trillion by the 2020s, and can pay all benefits in full and on time for a quarter of a century? How much, or little, is today’s situation like that of 30 years ago, the last time Congress acted to eliminate a projected deficit?  

This year’s Trustees Report will make 100 percent clear that Social Security is in strong financial shape, notwithstanding the projection of a moderate shortfall still decades away. It will show that we are not in any way facing the type of financing crisis experienced by Social Security in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Back then, Social Security faced large, immediate shortfalls. If Congress had not passed and if President Reagan had not signed legislation early in 1983, then some time later that year, Social Security would not have been able to pay all benefits as promised. Nothing like this is remotely possible today. In fact, the Social Security actuaries’ low-cost optimistic assumptions will project, as last year’s did, that Social Security faces no shortfall at all. These projections are simply not consistent with the claim that Social Security is in crisis. 

Q. If most of Social Security’s revenue in the future will come from future contributions of workers and their employers, and if the Trustees Report indicates that, even with no change whatsoever, three-fourths of all benefits can be paid on time for the next 75 years and beyond, why do so many young people think they will never get a penny from the program? Why aren’t politicians correcting this mistaken view?  

The undermining of confidence in Social Security’s future is central to the attack on the program, as it softens resistance to radical changes that would greatly reduce benefits, especially for middle aged and young Americans. After all, if these citizens can be convinced that Social Security is unsustainable, that it will not be there for them, then they will be more likely to embrace reforms, even if these reforms drastically reduce the benefits they are earning. 

Q. If there is no immediate problem, why has President Obama empowered a deficit commission — which lacks a single commissioner or even staff member whose primary expertise is Social Security — to propose changes to Social Security? And why has the Congressional leadership agreed to an up-or-down vote in a “lame duck” session, should the commission reach consensus? (See our earlier article for NiemanWatchdog.org, “Has Obama created a Social Security ‘death panel’?) 

Frankly, we do not know, though it seems that some political elites want to do something deeply unpopular, yet avoid political accountability. Poll after poll on the subject reveals that overwhelming percentages of Democrats, Independents, Republicans, the young, the old, Tea Partiers, union households and everyone else do not want benefits cut or the full retirement age increased. To close the projected shortfall, they want new revenue, preferably from progressive sources such as increasing or eliminating the maximum amount on which contributions are assessed (and benefits calculated). Seemingly, some among the elites think they know best, but can’t explain it and don’t want to take the heat from simply going against the will of the people. (In the past, Social Security legislation has always gone through regular congressional processes with review, amendment and debate by members of Congress, especially those serving on committees that have jurisdiction over the program.) 

Some politicians — the so-called “deficit hawks” — view the confluence of Social Security’s projected shortfall with the serious long-term fiscal imbalance in federal spending as providing an opportunity to position themselves as being “tough” on the deficit. Most concerning, the same forces that brought us unsustainable long-term federal deficits — the ones that passed tax cuts for the rich, that brought us into two unfunded wars, that deregulated the banks and mortgage systems, nearly collapsing the economy and then had the temerity to give themselves huge bonuses beyond what ordinary Americans can imagine making in a lifetime — these same forces are now trying to pin this deficit on the most cautiously financed program the nation has. 

To put things into perspective: Social Security’s entire projected shortfall is just 0.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product — about the same amount it would cost to extend the top Bush tax cuts for the top one percent of the nation’s wealthiest persons. 

Q. Is it accurate to say that Social Security is, for the first time, taking in less in payroll tax contributions than it is paying out in benefits?  

It is the first time since 1983 that it is paying out more, but 1983 marked the beginning of a period during which Social Security started building large surpluses in anticipation of the retirement of the baby boom. There is nothing new or surprising about Social Security’s benefits exceeding the so-called payroll taxes. Benefits exceeded payroll tax contributions in 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983. The sky did not fall. Indeed, the trust funds acted as intended, providing a margin of safety so that benefits could be fully paid, even in very difficult economic times. (see Table 4.A3–Combined OASI and DI, 1957-2008 in the Social Security Administration’s Annual Statistical Supplement, 2009). 

Most important, though not well understood, payroll taxes are only one of Social Security’s three revenue sources. Payroll taxes are the mandatory contributions, deducted from the wages of workers, and matched by employers. But Social Security also collects interest on the surpluses it has invested in certificates of obligation and bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury. And the program also collects income taxes on the Social Security benefits of those with higher incomes. These three sources of revenue, taken together, exceed the cost of all benefits and associated administrative costs in 2010 by a projected $138.4 billion, according to the 2009 Trustees Report

Q. And finally, why is all the attention focused on sustainability, instead of celebrating on this 75th Anniversary how this program has, through good and bad times, protected working Americans and their families and given expression to widely held values — rewarding hard work, caring for parents, neighbors and ourselves? 

Today Social Security is America’s most important source of retirement income protection. It is also the country’s most important disability protection and life insurance protection, especially for all our children. Given the unpredictability of disability and premature death, and the insecurity of employer-sponsored retirement arrangements, stocks, home equity, and other savings, Social Security will be an even more important source of income for tomorrow’s workers. Adequate financing is obviously very important, but it is not an end in itself.

Blame It On the Geezers: Matt Bai’s Generational Theory of Politics

In Sunday’s New York Times, Matt Bai argues that it’s old people who are disproportionately driving the Tea Party Movement, and especially its anti-government venom and its strong racist element. “According to a survey by the Pew Research Center in June, 34 percent of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 — and 29 percent of voters 65 and older — say they agree with the movement’s philosophy; among Americans 49 and younger, that percentage drops precipitously,” he writes. “A New York Times/CBS News poll in April found that fully three-quarters of self-identified Tea Party advocates were older than 45, and 29 percent were older than 64.”
 
Based on this data, and on the history of the last 70-odd years, Bai constructs a theory that divides American politics largely along generational lines:  
[A] sizable percentage of the Tea Party types were born into a segregated America, many of them in the South or in the new working-class suburbs of the North, and lived through the marches and riots that punctuated the cultural and political upheaval of the 1960s. Their racial attitudes, like their philosophies of governance, reflect their complicated journeys…
 
In other words, we are living at an unusual moment when the rate of progress has been dizzying from one generation to the next, such that Americans older than 60, say, are rooted in a radically different sense of society from those younger than 40. And this generational tension — perhaps even more than race or wealth or demography — tends to fracture our politics.
 
These numbers probably do reflect some profound racial differences among the generations, but they are more indicative of how young and old Americans approach the issues of the day, generally. Older Americans now — no longer the New Deal generation, but the generation that remembers Vietnam, gas lines and court-ordered busing — are less enamored of expansive government than their parents were. They fear changes to their entitlement programs, even as they denounce the explosion in federal spending. They are less optimistic about the high-tech economy, more fearful of the impact of immigration and free trade.
So what’s wrong with this picture? Mostly, what’s wrong with it is what’s left out. Bai (who is 41) mentions that todays old folks “lived through the marches and riots that punctuated the cultural and political upheaval of the 1960s.” But who, exactly, does he think was carrying out the marches and riots? The exact same age group, of course–made up of my own generation and that of the Baby Boomers.
 
These people are today, for the most part, over the age of 60–the precise age that places our roots, Bai says, in a “radically different society.” Despite these apparently rotten roots, the generations that Bai criticizes (with a hint of oh-so-condescending compassion) managed to accomplish the following:
 
1. Launched and fought the Civil Right Movement, in which several dozen African Americans and a handful of white lost their lives, and hundreds more were beaten and arrested. Compared to this, the accomplishment of younger generations–voting for a black president–was a cakewalk.
 
2. Protested against and eventually shortened the Vietnam war. These protests were large, fierce, and widespread, and went on for years. Unless I somehow missed it, I’ve yet to see a comparable antiwar movement mounted today, among the young people Bai celebrates.
 
3. Supported the War on Poverty–not only with our rhetoric, but with our paychecks. (The top marginal tax rate in 1965 was 70 percent; now it’s 35 percent). In contrast, today’s Democratic party, starting with Clinton and continuing through Obama, has pretty much abandoned the poor to their fate. So today’s bourgeoise youth can declare themselves “progressive” without having to give up a thing.
 
The gist of Bai’s article is that our society will improve as we bigoted old geezers to die off, and make way for more broad-minded generations. But I wonder: Are there any among the younger generations who are going to fight the kind of fights we fought in this brave new world? If there are, they’d better stand up now. 

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Hey,You Liberal Dummies. It’s the Tenth Amendment

The mainstream press has been gushing on for months about the jobless economic recovery, when in fact, the recession never ended–just ask the people who have been on unemployment for well over a year and still can’t find jobs. The press and the pols say they’re just recalcitrant bums,too lazy to work, and all we’ve got to do is throw out the Mexicans and force our guys to pick up the broom. Maybe we can motivate the slugs by removing unemployment insurance.

  Of course, the government, in the manner of the socialist New Deal,could hire all these bums and put them to work rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure– for example, a nationwide rail system like they have in the French nanny state.God help us if that happened.Socialism would collapse into anarchism and lead to return of the unions.

  The right wing Republican solution to all this is states rights.Naturally they don’t call it states rights. It’s the tenth amendment, stupid.Can’t you read? In which case, this latest report from the liberal-minded (that is `socialist’) Center on Budget and Policy Priorities might be of interest. Here is a summary:

At least 46 states struggled to close shortfalls that totaled $121 billion when adopting budgets for the current fiscal year (FY 2011, which began July 1 in most states). These came on top of the large shortfalls that 48 states faced in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

Federal assistance has reduced the extent of state spending cuts and state tax and fee increases needed to close the shortfalls. But it now appears likely the assistance will end before state budget gaps have abated. If states get no further federal assistance, the steps they will have to take to eliminate deficits will reduce aggregate demand and weaken the economy at a critical moment in its recovery. Such measures likely will take a full percentage point off the Gross Domestic Product. That, in turn, could cost the economy 900,000 jobs next year.

At least 46 states struggled to close shortfalls that totaled $121 billion when adopting budgets for the current fiscal year (FY 2011, which began July 1 in most states). These came on top of the large shortfalls that 48 states faced in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

Federal assistance has reduced the extent of state spending cuts and state tax and fee increases needed to close the shortfalls. But it now appears likely the assistance will end before state budget gaps have abated. If states get no further federal assistance, the steps they will have to take to eliminate deficits will reduce aggregate demand and weaken the economy at a critical moment in its recovery. Such measures likely will take a full percentage point off the Gross Domestic Product. That, in turn, could cost the economy 900,000 jobs next year.

You can read the full report here http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=711
or here http://www.cbpp.org/files/9-8-08sfp.pdf 11pp.

Well, as the Tea Party would say, it’s their own fault.

Meet the Real Death Panels: The Truth About Age-Based Health Care Rationing

The latest issue of Mother Jones includes an article by me about the controversy over age-based health care rationing, which got transformed by the right into government “death panels.” Unfortunately, liberals have fallen into a different trap, because they refuse to take on the real enemies of affordable health care for all: the insurance companies, drug manufacturers, and other profiteers of our private health care system.

As a result, old people are being asked if we would be willing to give up some expensive, life-sustaining treatment so that our grandchildren can have health care. This is a bogus question, and a bogus “choice.” The real question, as I say in the article, is whether we should give up the treatment “so some WellPoint executive can take another expensive vacation, so Pfizer can book $3 billion in annual profits instead of $2 billion, or so private hospitals can make another campaign contribution to some gutless politician.”

It’s a long article, and I’m including just the opening here, with a link at the end to continue reading at the Mother Jones web site. Or you can read the whole thing at MotherJones.com by clicking here. And if you’re one of those geezers who still likes reading print and turning pages, the July/August issue is on newsstands now.

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From Mother Jones, July/August 2010

There’s a certain age at which you cease to regard your own death as a distant hypothetical and start to view it as a coming event. For me, it was 67—the age at which my father died. For many Americans, I suspect it’s 70—the age that puts you within striking distance of our average national life expectancy of 78.1 years. Even if you still feel pretty spry, you suddenly find that your roster of doctor’s appointments has expanded, along with your collection of daily medications. You grow accustomed to hearing that yet another person you once knew has dropped off the twig. And you feel more and more like a walking ghost yourself, invisible to the younger people who push past you on the subway escalator. Like it or not, death becomes something you think about, often on a daily basis.

Actually, you don’t think about death, per se, as much as you do about dying—about when and where and especially how you’re going to die. Will you have to deal with a long illness? With pain, immobility, or dementia? Will you be able to get the care you need, and will you have enough money to pay for it? Most of all, will you lose control over what life you have left, as well as over the circumstances of your death?

These are precisely the preoccupations that the right so cynically exploited in the debate over health care reform, with that ominous talk of Washington bean counters deciding who lives and dies. It was all nonsense, of course—the worst kind of political scare tactic. But at the same time, supporters of health care reform seemed to me too quick to dismiss old people’s fears as just so much paranoid foolishness. There are reasons why the death-panel myth found fertile ground—and those reasons go beyond the gullibility of half-senile old farts.

While politicians of all stripes shun the idea of health care rationing as the political third rail that it is, most of them accept a premise that leads, one way or another, to that end. Here’s what I mean: Nearly every other industrialized country recognizes health care as a human right, whose costs and benefits are shared among all citizens. But in the United States, the leaders of both political parties along with most of the “experts” persist in treating health care as a commodity that is purchased, in one way or another, by those who can afford it. Conservatives embrace this notion as the perfect expression of the all-powerful market; though they make a great show of recoiling from the term, in practice they are endorsing rationing on the basis of wealth. Liberals, including supporters of President Obama’s health care reform, advocate subsidies, regulation, and other modest measures to give the less fortunate a little more buying power. But as long as health care is viewed as a product to be bought and sold, even the most well-intentioned reformers will someday soon have to come to grips with health care rationing, if not by wealth then by some other criteria.

In a country that already spends more than 16 percent of each GDP dollar on health care (PDF), it’s easy to see why so many people believe there’s simply not enough of it to go around. But keep in mind that the rest of the industrialized world manages to spend between 20 and 90 percent less per capita and still rank higher than the US in overall health care performance. In 2004, a team of researchers including Princeton’s Uwe Reinhardt, one of the nation’s best known experts on health economics, found that while the US spends 134 percent more than the median of the world’s most developed nations, we get less for our money—fewer physician visits and hospital days per capita, for example—than our counterparts in countries like Germany, Canada, and Australia. (We do, however, have more MRI machines and more cesarean sections.)

Where does the money go instead? By some estimates, administration and insurance profits alone eat up at least 30 percent of our total health care bill (and most of that is in the private sector—Medicare’s overhead is around 2 percent). In other words, we don’t have too little to go around—we overpay for what we get, and we don’t allocate our spending where it does us the most good. “In most [medical] resources we have a surplus,” says Dr. David Himmelstein, cofounder of Physicians for a National Health Program. “People get large amounts of care that don’t do them any good and might cause them harm [while] others don’t get the necessary amount.”

Looking at the numbers, it’s pretty safe to say that with an efficient health care system, we could spend a little less than we do now and provide all Americans with the most spectacular care the world has ever known. But in the absence of any serious challenge to the health-care-as-commodity system, we are doomed to a battlefield scenario where Americans must fight to secure their share of a “scarce” resource in a life-and-death struggle that pits the rich against the poor, the insured against the uninsured—and increasingly, the old against the young.

For years, any push to improve the nation’s finances—balance the budget, pay for the bailout, or help stimulate the economy—has been accompanied by rumblings about the greedy geezers who resist entitlement “reforms” (read: cuts) with their unconscionable demands for basic health care and a hedge against destitution. So, too, today: Already, President Obama’s newly convened deficit commission looks to be blaming the nation’s fiscal woes not on tax cuts, wars, or bank bailouts, but on the burden of Social Security and Medicare. (The commission’s co-chair, former Republican senator Alan Simpson, has declared, “This country is gonna go to the bow-wows unless we deal with entitlements.”)

Old people’s anxiety in the face of such hostile attitudes has provided fertile ground for Republican disinformation and fearmongering. But so has the vacuum left by Democratic reformers. Too often, in their zeal to prove themselves tough on “waste,” they’ve allowed connections to be drawn between two things that, to my mind, should never be spoken of in the same breath: death and cost.

Click here to the rest at MotherJones.com.

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Petition to Stop the Entitlement-Cutting “Catfood Commission”

Readers of Unsilent Generation may be interested in a new online petition directed at members of Congress, concerning the work of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility of Reform, which I’ve written about here many times before. Here is the introduction to the petition, which was started by Alternet. You can read the text of the petition, and sign it, here at Change.org

Right-Wing “Deficit Hawks” and their enablers are on a march to destroy the social safety net we built for our seniors and retirees. Shockingly, some of the most notorious advocates are actually in charge of the presidential commission that will soon determine the future of Social Security and Medicare. We need to stop them in their tracks! Join us in calling on Congress to Stop the Catfood Commission.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has been dubbed by progressives the “Catfood Commission” because its goal appears to be cutting benefits so drastically that retirees will only be able to afford to eat pet food. It’s hard to tell exactly what the commission is planning because its meetings are closed to the public and the press. Based on past statements and the background of its members the proposals are likely to include raising the retirement age to 70, turning large portions of Social Security over to Wall Street, and cutting Medicare benefits.

The commission’s co-chairman Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, has stated he believes the founders of the Social Security program never expected anyone to actually live to 65 and collect. “People just died,” he has said. “Social Security was never [for] retirement.” Erskine Bowles, the other co-chairman, negotiated a secret but ultimately unsuccessful deal between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich to cut Social Security benefits. Any chances that the commission would make cuts to the US defense budget in its pursuit of fiscal responsibility seem slim owing to the fact that the CEO of Honeywell, a major defense contractor, is a member of the panel.

We can’t sit back and count on a Democratic-controlled Congress to protect our social safety net. Just a day before the July 4th holiday weekend, the House of Representatives passed a measure that would guarantee an up-or-down vote on the Catfood Commission’s recommendations in the current session of Congress if they pass the Senate. With this measure House Speaker Nancy Pelosi relinquished her power to prevent the vote from coming to the floor.

Your representatives need to hear from you NOW.  Let’s stop the Catfood Commission from raiding the Social Security trust fund and slashing medical benefits for current and future retirees.

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