So that fiscal cliff wasn't much of a ride, was it? We went over that cliff for a day and a half, and nothing much happened. Then Obama signed the "American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012," and we are off and running to the next artificial crisis with even more escalating rhetoric, brought to us by the dealbreakers in D.C. Before we declare victory, we might want to step back and recognize that the fiscal cliff deal essentially codified into permanent law the Bush tax cuts of 2001. And we know where that led to... So this negotiation ended up as an affirmation of George Bush's reign of error. He must be enjoying the show at his gentleman's ranch in Crawford.
What's next? The debt ceiling. Now how dumb is that, to even play with the Republicans about this? Let them bring government to a halt, and see what the American people have to say about that. So instead of "negotiating" about what to give away to raise the debt ceiling, let's start advancing some progressive policy ideas.
At the top of the list is Social Security, which has become ever-more important as the private sector has failed to provide adequate retirement benefits. Instead, the financial sector has taken savings and assets meant for retirement and turned it into debt to be paid, NOW or else. They have taken educational opportunity and turned it into decades-long student debt. They have underfunded and undermined defined benefit retirement plans, shifted all risk and responsibility to workers in deferred compensation plans, and flat-out denounced their own participation in their employees' future economic security.
So we need Social Security now more than ever. And now that the Social Security FICA tax holiday is over, we should demand incremental increases in benefits. We don't need to get caught up in the 75 year actuarial horizon, or the "we are going to run out of money in 20 years." First of all, these projections are on such a long timeline they are largely guesswork. Secondly, no other government program operates with those strictures -- all the rest are financed by taxes and by debt. Thirdly, the money is there -- $2.6 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund. We are paying for Social Security, so let's get some more mileage out of it. Here are some proposals:
• Change the COLA formula to CPI-E, to accurately reflect inflation for seniors (E stands for elderly)
• Extend student benefits from age 18 to age 22. We used to do this, and it was taken away at the start of the Reagan administration.
• Treat same-sex couples the same as heterosexual married couples.
• Increase the base payment to 100 percent of the first $791 of average indexed monthly earnings.
• Decrease the number of years in the formula for benefits from 35 to 30 years. The average number of years for women is 32, meaning that many receive three big "0"s in calculating their benefits. Dropping the number of years to 30 would zero out those zeros.
• Scrap the payroll cap on Social Security, so rich CEOs pay their 6.2 percent just like the minimum wage worker does.
• Invest the Social Security surplus in state and local bonds. That would stimulate infrastructure development in the states, and get the Social Security money away from Boehner's hands, or whoever else wants to run off with it.
There is a lot more we should do. And there is legislation for many of these proposals. Let's shift the rhetoric and the negotiations to our side, and actually make some progress in 2013. These congresspeople, these senators, the president -- we have to make them work for us. It's a lot better than playing defense.