Today more than 150 members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) protested the deficit commission's proposed cuts to Social Security outside of the DC offices of Morgan Stanley. One might ask, why did union members protest outside of a big bank's office when it is the President's commission that is proposing to cut Social Security?
UE Director of Organization Bob Kingsley had the answer. "We are gathered here at the scene of the crime," Kingsley said. "Morgan Stanley and the other big banks are the source of the plan to privatize and cut Social Security."
Union members also noted that Erskine Bowles sits on the board of Morgan Stanley. Erskine Bowles is co-chair of the bi-partisan "National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform," whose mandate is to find ways to reduce the federal deficit, but which has instead made Social Security its primary target. According to liberal activists, the deficit commission is widely expected to come out with recommendations after the election -- too late for voters to have a say -- and to call for raising the retirement age to 70 and other cuts in Social Security benefits.
In the late 1990s, Bowles served as President Clinton's White House chief of staff. Bowles negotiated with Newt Gingrich a plan to partially privatize Social Security. That deal fell apart in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal when Republicans called for Clinton's impeachment according to Steven Gillon, author of The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry that Defined a Generation. A decade later, Erskine Bowles has been assigned to the Deficit Commision in order to build support among his former Democratic colleagues for cutting Social Security in order to lower the deficit.
Chris Townsend, UE Political Action Director disputes the claim that Social Security contributes to the deficit. "Social Security pays its own way with a dedicated revenue stream and a trust fund of $2.5 trillion. On the other hand, Morgan Stanley -- Mr. Bowles' bank -- received $10 billion in the TARP bailout money after it took part in the financial orgy that dragged the entire economy into crisis."
Leaders of the Deficit Commission, including Erskine Bowles and its Republican co-chair Alan Simpson are saying that cutting Social Security is necessary in order to cut the deficit and get the economy under control. Townsend has his own political prescription for how to get the economy moving again: "No cuts to Social Security, and no increase in the retirement age. Remove the income 'cap' on FICA taxes so the wealthy pay their fair share. And make banks like Morgan Stanley pay to clean up the economic mess they've made."