Tag Archives: John Boehner

Behind the Battle Over Social Security

As the midterm elections near, the future of the Social Security system has become a hot-button issue–and a confusing one. A number of Republican politicians have hit on it as yet another way to undermine Obama and the Democratic leadership, by criticizing their supposed fiscal irresponsibility. Some must also see victory at hand in the conservatives’ longstanding battle to destroy one of the most hated remnants of the New Deal. These include the GOP’s chief architect of change Paul Ryan,who wants to turn Medicare into a voucher program and privatize Social Security. He is backed up by House minority leader John Boehner, who, if the Republicans take the House, could become the next speaker. 

Some Democrats have risen to defend the best–and most solvent–anti-poverty program the nation has ever known. But for other Democrats–including those in the White House–the response is more triangulation. It was Obama who set in motion the Fiscal Commission, supposedly to study the deficit but in fact, as just about everyone in Washington knows, to pare entitlements, cutting Medicare and Social Security. Originally, this commission was thought ready to propose lifting the limit at which one could draw Social Security from 62 to 67. Now scuttlebutt  is that the entry age should be 70. Our supposedly “socialist” president has placed the country’s premier social program in the hands of Alan Simpson, a Republican crank who views old people as the new welfare queens. 

It’s not surprising, then, that a lot of older voters don’t know what to make of it. A piece in Sunday’s New York Times reported on “tales of political burnout and withdrawal among older voters” in one swing county in Colorado. Many in this consituency, which can usually be counted upon to vote in large numbers, seemed to be withdrawing altogether from the fray. Others were preparing to shoot themselves in the foot:

Bill Benton, 79, a lifelong Colorado resident who described himself as an Eisenhower Republican, supports Mr. Buck and believes that his comments suggesting that the private sector could perhaps do a better job with Social Security were “just talk.” Mr. Buck has said that despite his comments, he would not support privatizing the retirement program. “I like him, but he says some dumb things,” Mr. Benton said.

With all the rhetoric flying out of Washington, it’s likely that some older people have come to view the whole topic of Social Security as the centerpiece in a Washington charade of boasts and lies, another turn in the game of smoke and mirrors, much in the manner of the shouting match over health care. It turns the stomach, feeds the hate against Washington, and sends people fleeing to escape a nightmare they can’t understand–sometimes, it appears, right into the arms of the Tea Party.

And in fact, people who suspect a smoke-and-mirrors game are pretty much on the money. Social Security’s elevation to a central political debate is tied to another hot-button issue: The future of the Bush tax cuts. Those tax cuts, which benefit the very rich—the people who pump cash into a candidate’s campaign—are set to expire next year. “In 2010, when all the Bush tax cuts are finally phased in, a staggering 52.5 percent of the benefits will go to the richest 5 percent of taxpayers,” according to Citizens for Tax Justice, the Washington-based  public interest group that follows and analyzes tax policy.

The impact of these cuts on the national treasury–and the deficit–cannot be overestimated: “The tax legislation enacted under President George W. Bush from 2001 through 2006 will cost $2.48 trillion over the 2001-2010 period,” Citizens for Tax Justice reports. “This includes the revenue loss of $2.11 trillion that resultsdirectly from the Bush tax cuts as well as the $379 billion in additional interest.’’

Obama has declared his opposition to extending the tax cuts for the highest income brackets. But some conservative Democrats will have other ideas. And if the White House’s resolve fails, as it often does, there’s another deficit-cutting alternative at hand in Medicare and Social Security. It’s a lot easier for politicians to talk about paring down entitlements than it is to attack the rich on whose largesse they depend.

Kagan on Health Care

Undercurrents in Elena  Kagan’s improv performance suggest that if the new health care law comes before the courts, she might be partial to one part of it. Of course, knowing what she thinks about most anything is a guessing game. Anyhow, I note this entry from the Kaiser Health News, the invaluable service that aggregates news in the health sphere every day. 

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan suggested at her confirmation hearing Tuesday “that a controversial requirement in the new federal health-care law that most Americans obtain insurance has a legal basis — a question that is likely to come before the courts.” In answering Republican senators, Kagan “signaled” that she supported “enacting a health-care law that for the first time will require most legal residents of the United States to obtain insurance. Some Republicans contend that such a mandate is unconstitutional, and GOP-led states are threatening to file lawsuits challenging the provision,” according to the Post. “Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) asked Kagan whether she supports the argument that the mandate is allowed under the Constitution’s interstate-commerce clause. Kagan declined to address the requirement but made clear that she supports an expansive reading of Congress’s regulatory authority”

No sooner had  I read this, than Kaiser recorded a string of planned Republican challenges along with nutty Tea Party stuff: Minority Leader John Boehner and Whip Eric Cantor want to repeal the act. California  GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina is against it. Rick Barber, the nut case congressional candidate in Alabama, said the new law was “slavery.”  And naturally, Sarah Palin was saying how horrible it all is because it raises costs, especially for children with special needs (proponents, of course, say it will lower costs).

Anti-Abortion Amendment Puts Church Before State

It’s a little difficult to believe, but the shrieking anti-abortion Protestant nutcases seem to have had less influence over the current health care legislation than the the more sedate, no-nonsense bishops of the Catholic Church. The Stupak Amendment, which promises to limit access to abortion in ways the Hyde Amendment never could, was promulagated by a devout Catholic Democrat, who managed to persuade 63 other members of his party to vote along with him. Some were apparently willing to scuttle the whole bill unless they got their anti-choice measure included. According to a Politco report, the Conference of Catholic Bishops was very much involved behind the scenes:  

“Pelosi wasn’t the only one getting pressure on the amendment. As rumors spread that Republicans might vote ‘present’ in order to scuttle the entire bill, even Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called Republican leader John Boehner to make sure the GOP didn’t play any games with the Stupak (abortion) amendment, sources said.”  

Does this mean that in addition to the insurance industry, big Pharma, the doctors and hospitals, and the like, we must wait for His Holiness to weigh in?

While waiting for things to sort themselves out, it’s well worth reading the statement issued Saturday evening by Center for Reproductive Rights  in New York on the potential impact of the Stupak Amendment:

This evening, the House of Representatives voted for health care legislation that requires women who are insured through the Exchange to purchase riders for coverage of abortion services and eliminates abortion coverage in the public option altogether. Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, issued this statement in response:

Tonight’s vote in the House is a stunning assault on women’s health and rights. In a matter of hours, our elected officials have fallen hook, line and sinker for the anti-choice position, dispensing with a credible compromise on abortion and adopting a bill that would leave millions of women worse off than they already are today.American women demand that members of the Senate refuse the political bait which sullied the House vote and protect women’s health. Health care reform is supposed to provide affordable health care coverage to all Americans. Yet for women, this legislation gives with one hand and takes away with the other, forcing millions to buy insurance that does not meet all of their medical needs.