Throughout this week, we’ve talked about Tuesday’s Presidential Fiscal Commission meeting, debt, deficits, and Social Security. At this point, it’s fair to ask, why would Social Security become the primary target for this commission? Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says,“That’s where the money is” but we also looked to history for the answer.
"The promise of secure benefits is a “hoax”, the taxes paid into the trust fund are “wasted” by the government rather than prudently invested and “the so-called reserve fund…is no reserve at all”.
Sound familiar? That’s because it is. You’ve heard the same core argument made by President George Bush,
now multi-billionaire and fiscal hawk Peter Peterson, David Walker, and countless other conservatives on Fox News and Capitol Hill. However, this particular statement was made by Republican presidential hopeful, Alf Landon, before the first Social Security check had even been delivered.
Regardless of the decade or the specific approach, the underlying message continues to be the same. “Social Security won’t be there for you”…“Social Security is flawed” and the newest deficit-hawk incarnation…“we can’t afford Social Security”. This, in spite of the overwhelming facts to the contrary.
Creation of a fiscal commission has been a top priority for those leading the anti-Social Security clarion call, namely David Walker and the Peterson Foundation. Wealthy financier and former Nixon Commerce Secretary, Pete Peterson has invested $1 billion dollars of his personal fortune to convince the nation that Social Security and Medicare are to blame for our current fiscal woes. A good chunk of his change was spent hosting yesterday’s Peterson Foundation Summit where the same old tried-and-true “we can’t afford Social Security” message was wrapped in a cloak of fiscal responsibility.
Incredibly, the Commission’s co-chairs and several of its members were headliners at this event, the Peterson Foundation will help fund the Presidential Commission’s Town hall meetings and helps pay the salary for one of the Commission’s three staffers.
Peterson is no stranger to the battle against America’s retirement safety net. He’s called the current cost of living increases in Social Security, which provide adjustments of roughly 3% a year, (it was zero this year) “one of the greatest fiscal tragedies of American history” because he considers them excessive. At the same time, Peterson steadfastly defends a controversial private equity tax break that benefits America’s wealthiest investors. So much for fiscal responsibility.
So what do these “fiscal hawks” really want for Social Security? Robert S. McIntyre, Director of the Citizens for Tax Justice offered this analysis:
“Along with tax cuts for the rich, he explicitly endorses tax increases for the poor and the middle class as well as sharp reductions in what average families receive from the government. But because Peterson cloaks his goals in the rhetoric of progressivity, the press has fawned over him. The misleading notions that entitlements are running up the deficit, stealing from future generations, and maintaining the elderly in affluence while young people suffer, have become received wisdom for many.”
Pete Peterson, a long time advocate of turning Social Security over to Wall Street, said this before the last major Social Security reforms were enacted:
“…even if Social Security were able to survive indefinitely, the time would be ripe to re-examine its premises…If we were starting fresh today, a different system would deserve serious consideration—one in which each generation of workers, individually and through public taxes and funds, saved amounts that were adequate to support its own needs during retirement.”
“Social Security, one of the principal legacies of the New Deal, must be rescued and transformed during the next few years. Otherwise it will visit upon our children the same conditions of economic chaos that attended the system’s birth.”
So when someone tells you “we can’t afford Social Security” remember the countless Washington think-tankers, Social Security foes and their allies in Congress who have spent their careers and millions (eventually billions) of dollars selling us that exact message.
Ultimately, American workers and their families must sort the facts from the fiction and in the end we must not Buy the Lie.