Hiltzik: GOP hasn’t learned its lesson on Social Security


You might have thought that the repulsive Republicans received in the recent election would have prompted party leaders to think more carefully about promoting policies that sicken the voting public.

You would be wrong. We know this from an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal under the name of Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah). The piece appeared on Nov. 10, two days after the vote, when the congressional leadership was still up in the air.

However, the smart money was already betting that the Democrats would at least keep their majority in the Senate, and that while the GOP could win a majority in the House, it would not be nearly as large as expected.

Republican and Democratic governments ran budget deficits for most of the postwar period, [which] requires the debt ceiling to be raised regularly.

— Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, September 2021

Nevertheless, Romney once again invoked the traditional, and discredited, Republican shibboleth to attack Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as “entitlements” that have caused inflation. The truth is they are nothing of the sort, but when did that matter to the GOP?

Now that the Democrats have retained their majority in the Senate, the chances of the benefits of these programs being cut back on a large scale have diminished for the time being.

But since Republicans regained their majority in the House, the possibility still looms that they will try to hold the US economy hostage to force some kind of compromise on the programs, however hostile it may be to the general public .

More about that later. But if Romney’s outlook, often portrayed as a “moderate” or “reasonable” or at least “no-crazy” Republican, mirrors that of the party’s more centered bloc, we need to do something about it now.

Oddly enough, despite the GOP’s disappointing performance on November 8, Romney is taking an even tougher stance on social insurance programs and an even more ignorant explanation for inflation than his party colleagues have put forward.

Romney’s focus is on federal spending, which Republicans, he says, have tried to rein in for years.

“Two-thirds of federal spending isn’t even approved by Congress,” he says. “It’s rather automatic ‘non-discretionary’ spending on entitlements, such as Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, and on paying off the debt. … Excessive spending not only adds to the national debt, it is also highly stimulating and inflationary. The Fed is stepping on the brakes while the administration and Congress are stepping on the accelerator.”

Is that right? Consider the contradiction in these words for yourself: Romney says the spending he’s complaining about hasn’t even been approved by Congress, but he blames the administration and Congress for “pushing the accelerator.”

He explicitly links the rise in inflation to what he calls ‘the rights crisis’.

Let’s stop there. Spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid isn’t a “crisis” for someone who doesn’t have more than $85 million in net worth or—as Romney did at one point, anyway—six homes.

Rather, government statistics show that Medicare is a lifeline for 64.5 million older Americans and Medicaid provides coverage for 83.5 million low-income Americans (including 7.1 million children).

Social Security provides retirement and disability benefits to 65 million people, including 50 million retired workers and their dependents, 6 million survivors of deceased workers, and 9 million disabled workers and their dependents.

Social Security is the most effective anti-poverty program in US history. It accounts for at least 50% of income for about half of all recipients and more than 90% of income for about one-fourth of all senior citizens.

Romney says spending on these programs is “very stimulative and inflationary,” but that’s utter nonsense. Benefits continue to lag inflation year after year. It’s true that Social Security checks will rise 8.7% next year thanks to the program’s annual cost-of-living adjustment, but that’s barely enough to cover an inflation rate that’s been over most of this year. 8% on an annual basis.

In any case, it is well understood by economists that inflation this year and last year was driven by many factors other than federal spending. Among them were the stalling of import shipments in US ports, a product of the reopening of the US economy as the pandemic subsided; and excessive corporate profits. In any case, inflation has been declining in recent months, a trend reversal that is expected to continue.

Romney uses his falsification to argue that “a mix of changes in earnings, benefits and eligibility is necessary.”

Let’s unpack this verbal wolf in sheep’s clothing: he talks about cuts in benefits. Romney’s mention of changes in revenue is just a hand gesture — he knows the GOP congressional caucus wouldn’t stand for revenue increases because that always means tax increases.

That leaves changes in benefits and eligibility. Does anyone really think he’s pleading increasing benefits? Of course not; the GOP has been fighting any proposal to improve Social Security benefits for years.

The most recent Republican Social Security bill, introduced in 2016 by former Representative Sam Johnson (R-Texas), would have cut retirement benefits almost across the board, cut annual cost-of-living adjustments, and increased spousal and children have decreased.

Johnson is also said to have raised the retirement age, which is part of Romney’s formula. Make no mistake: Raising the Social Security retirement age (which currently rises to 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later) or the Medicare eligibility age (currently 65) cuts benefits.

Romney promises that “current and near-retirees won’t be affected” by any changes, but this is an old, well-known scam.

It is designed to appease older workers, who tend to go to the polls more reliably, while retaining younger workers, who will generally have to spend years or decades thinking about how they will become after retirement. maintained and therefore hopefully will not. paying some attention to how their post-career years will be impoverished by Republican cuts in benefits.

Which brings us to what the GOP hopes will be its leverage in any debate over Social Security benefits: the federal debt ceiling, which must be raised early next year to avoid a potential government shutdown or even an unprecedented Treasury bill default. .

We’ve reported on this variety of brinkmanship before – in fact, almost too many times to count. This time around, the GOP has gotten more specific about what it expects to achieve by holding the economy hostage: cuts in benefits.

As we said, the debt ceiling is the most infantile feature of US policymaking. It is also one of the most misunderstood. Republicans argue that the cap, which limits the Treasury’s issuance of federal debt but can be raised through a congressional vote, places a hard cap on federal spending and that raising it leads to more waste.

That’s not true at all. The debt ceiling was not originally intended as a restriction on the Treasury’s power to issue debt, but rather as a way to Lake room to borrow. It was passed in 1917, when Congress grew tired of having to vote on every proposed bond issue, which it found a pain in the neck. So it chose to give the Treasury general authority to float bonds, subject to a temporary restriction.

No serious economic policymaker in Washington believes that a confrontation over the debt ceiling is an effective way to rein in spending or reduce the federal deficit, or that it is anything but a threat to US financial stability.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has advocated for its abolition. In congressional testimony in September 2021 (weeks before the final deadline for an increase), she pointed out that “Republican and Democratic governments have run budget deficits for most of the post-war period,” requiring “regular increases in the debt ceiling. ”

Failing to do so, she told lawmakers, would be “catastrophic” for the economy: interest rates on mortgages, credit card debt and other household loans would skyrocket, benefit checks would be delayed and government services suspended. With those consequences in mind, she said, “the debt ceiling has been raised or suspended 78 times since 1960, almost always on a bipartisan basis.”

The prospect that a Republican party organization with its back to the wall could try to use its only weapon to force changes in Social Security programs that would harm millions of Americans points to the need to act urgently — particularly during the lame duck session of Congress that meets after Thanksgiving, with Democrats in control of both chambers.

That may be the last chance in at least two years to abolish the debt ceiling once and for all. Congress should remove this weapon from the Republican arsenal before it is too late.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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