For me Social Security and Medicare have literally been life saving programs. Social Security benefits comprise a large slice of my retirement income, while Medicare paid for my Heart Transplant and pay for the otherwise too expensive anti-rejection medication that keeps me alive. So when issues regarding those two programs are raised at political debates I listen closely. Arguably these are the two most successful Federal government programs. Their administrative costs, meaning what it costs to run them are also very low. Social Security admin costs have been less than 2% since 1973. Medicare “are only about 2 percent of operating expenditures. Defenders of the insurance industry estimate administrative costs as 17 percent of revenue.“ It is important to look at the costs involved because both of these excellent programs are under attack by a bi-partisan group of fiscal conservatives, whose aim is to cut program benefits and eventually to privatize these programs. The reason for the interest of these groups, who pose as “fiscal watchdogs”, is the age old one of profit. These programs have revenues in the hundreds of billions each year from taxes and so would represent a new profit center for the corporatist advocates of privatization.
In the Vice Presidential Debate and in the third Presidential Debate questions were raised regarding Social Security and Medicare. They were posed in this format by Chris Wallace in the third debate and in similar formats in the Vice Presidential debate:
“The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has looked at both of your plans, and they say neither of you has a serious plan that is going to solve the fact that Medicare’s going to run out of money in the 2020s, Social Security is going to run out of money in the 2030s.” Mr. Wallace went on to suggest that only a “grand bargain” c ombining tax increases with Medicare and Social Security benefit cuts could slve the problem .”
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget is one of those Washington non-profits, with a supposedly non-partisan cast of characters, whose Board Members comprise a rich mixture of movement Conservatives and Democrats connected to the Democratic Leadership Council and its Neo Conservative viewpoint. In other words this is an entity representing the right of center corporatist agenda for privatizing this country and creating an American Empire through military power. Because those in our Corporatist news media give credence to that tricky aura of non-partisanship they accept pronouncements from groups like The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget as if they were factually neutral, therefore reliable as truth.
Those who are denizens of the Beltway group think look at the idea of being Non Partisan as a preferable political mindset. In reality the whole idea of someone being Non Partisan is a falsehood. All of us have a point of view and thus an agenda. The whole idea of Non-Partisanship derives from official Washington and the Cold War that began with the USSR at the end of World War II. In that era of Senator Joe McCarthy’s communist witch-hunts, political people felt constrained from criticizing the military and foreign policy of the United States. To avoid being called a “Red”, or Commie Sympathizer, even people who were powerful politically became non-partisan by refusing to speak out against the dangers of America’s Cold War policies and the imminent danger of nuclear holocaust for the world.
Sadly, the Cold War may have gone away, but the cover of Non Partisanship remains as a tool to pretend that ones’ selfish interests are strictly altruistic. Our gullible mainstream corporate media swallows the pretense whole because that way they don’t have to risk their careers by taking a journalistic stand. Let’s look at the reality of what Chris Wallace’s Third Debate question on Social Security and Medicare was really about.
In his New York Times article The Entitlement Myth Mark Schmitt wrote:
“Now that the full cycle of debates has come to an end, there is at least one clear winner: the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Two questions in the vice-presidential debate, along with two from Chris Wallace in last night’s presidential showdown, referred to the committee, which is devoted to deficit reduction, and treated its analyses and proposals as matters of settled fact.”
“The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget is an eminently respectable organization, led by distinguished former members of Congress, and its analyses of budget data are sound. I often agree with the organization’s viewpoint.
But it is a viewpoint, and it is hardly the only one. Countless economists, budget analysts and other experts would argue that long-term shortfalls in those two programs can be addressed by controlling health care costs and raising the cap on the Social Security tax, so that higher earners pay a little more.
Others would point out that “entitlements,” which are simply a budget category, have no special status on the chopping block, and cuts to military spending, for example, could achieve the same purpose. And other economists argue that any aggressive move toward deficit reduction would be unwise while the economy is still fragile.
These are no less responsible views.”
Mr. Schmitt is correct in stating that “entitlements” are simply a budget category but might have analyzed the use of the word “entitlements”. As Wikipedia puts it: ”
“An entitlement is a government program guaranteeing access to some benefit by members of a specific group and based on established rights or by legislation. The term may also reflect a pejorative connotation, as in a “sense of entitlement”.”
It is obvious to anyone who has followed American politics that “entitlement” has become an entirely pejorative term for government benefits. Moreover the word connotes people of color and “poor people”. The idea is that these people are non-productive to our society as Mitt Romney and most conservatives put it. Mr. Schmitt continues by providing an analogous question that might have brought out a more indignant response by many:
“Imagine a question such as this: “According to the nonpartisan Sierra Club, unless we reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, climate change will be catastrophic. What kind of carbon tax or cap-and-trade plan would you propose to avoid this result?” This is a trick question of sorts, because in five hours of debate, not one question about climate change was asked.But if it had been, this perfectly reasonable inquiry would have been denounced as leading, accepting the argument of an advocacy group, and presuming the appropriate policy solution, just as Mr. Wallace’s question did with the “grand bargain.””
Mr. Schmitt’s hypothetical question would indeed have drawn fire for being “partisan”thus somehow unfair, but in fact it would have been a far more factual question that the one on “entitlements”.
“For several years, this dogma about “entitlements” has held the status of received fact among journalists and pundits. It’s hard to think of another interest-group argument that has had such influence on conventional opinion. And usually politicians have followed along, notably President Obama, who spent much of the middle period of his presidency in search of the “grand bargain” suggested by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Remarkably, though, neither candidate last night played along. Donald Trump blustered that his tax cuts would generate economic growth of “5 or 6 percent.” Hillary Clinton rejected Social Security benefit cuts, arguing that no more than a modest increase in the cap on payroll taxes was needed. And she promised to reduce Medicare spending by going after the “drivers” of health care costs, to “increase value, emphasize wellness.”
The debate moderators have not caught up, but American politics has finally turned away from the suffocating belief that cuts to the two largest programs in the entitlement category of the budget are the only way to ensure long-term economic health. Only one presidential candidate has a realistic alternative, but nonetheless, it’s a breakthrough.”
Note: Mark Schmitt is the director of the political reform program at “New America.”
What makes Mr. Schmitt’s essay particularly interesting is that the group he works for New America:
“is a non-partisan think tank in the United States. It focuses on a range of public policy issues, including national security studies, technology, asset building, health, gender, energy, education, and the economy. The organization is based in Washington, D.C., with additional offices in New York City.”
Curiously, or maybe not so curiously “the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget was a part of New America until it separated to become the Fix the Debt campaign. “From 2004 through 2013, the organization was based at the New America Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan, Washington, D.C.-area public policy “think tank.” Maya MacGuineas, President of CRFB, was also the Program Director of New America’s Fiscal Policy Program, and most of CRFB’s staff were also co-appointed to positions at New America. As of January 2014 the organization no longer has ties I reject the whole conservative corporatist meme with the New America Foundation.”
You can draw your own conclusions about why Mr. Schmitt sees to rebut the position of CRFB on “entitlements” but mine are that when it comes to Washington Think Tanks and non partisan non profits, beware of hidden agendas. I’m sure if I investigated further I might come up with some idea as to why there is this seeming split, if there in fact is one. To me though that is really not important. What is important though is that I reject the entire “entitlement” and “budget deficit” memes as merely smokescreens for the oligarchic intention to “Corporatize” America. These “memes,” connoting that somehow unworthy “leeches” are sucking their tax money dry are really bigotry designed to get average people to vote against their own best interests.
Social Security and Medicaid are simply government-run insurance programs, that I and many millions of others, have paid for. Any purported deficits in the programs come from the fact that the wealthy in this country do not pay their fair share, be it income taxes, social security taxes and medicare taxes. Make the corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share of income taxes, Remove the social security income cap and these programs will be fully funded in perpetuity. The issue of the rise of the Federal Budget is only important to some when it comes to their agenda of their “War on the American People”. That “war” is all about making this country into an aristocracy of wealth and privilege. After all, without poverty you can’t have serfs. Without serfs, who would there be for the rich and privileged to lord over and make them feel really important? You want to reduce the deficit, cut military spending you greedy bastards, but that cut you see would affect your own precious bottom lines.