Seventy-seven million baby boomers have entered or are approaching retirement. Social Security will make up the bulk of the income most of these seniors will have at their disposal. As our private retirement system continues to underperform and Medicare premiums rise, cutting Social Security COLAs based on a false premise is bad policy.
Fiscal conservatives around Obama have sold the president on the idea that nipping and tucking Social Security and Medicare is an easy way to get a lot of money, and doing it by the backdoor will entail a lower political cost to him. So far, he seems to have been proven wrong on all three assumptions. The Republicans haven't given an inch, the $270 billion in cuts undertaken so far this year under the January budget deal and the March sequester have cut the growth rate in half, and he is alienating core Democratic constituencies. One unanticipated benefit of Obama's stance is new, explicit pressure on Democratic House and Senate members, as well as candidates considering running for president in 2016, to pledge not to cut Social Security and Medicare. It would be so much better if this Democratic president were behaving as a progressive leader right now.
The Republican bargaining habit is well-established -- take Obama's "final" offer as the new starting point and demand further concessions. With this strategy, our president has let them take him to the cleaners for more than four years now, and is still hoping that sweet reasonableness will produce compromise. It never has and never will. If Democrats stand for anything, it is defense of Social Security and Medicare -- America's two most broadly beneficial and most beloved government programs -- and the president just gave away this last bit of product differentiation. In the past, Republicans have saved Obama from himself by refusing to consider any tax hikes. Now, I'm beginning to think, it's time for Democrats save him from himself. And the Democratic Party. And us.
On Tuesday, President Obama announced a federal effort to map the human brain in unprecedented detail. With any luck, it might help explain the kind of loopy thinking we saw demonstrated at the end of the week. On the one hand, we had the latest jobs report, which showed a country still in crisis, with the addition of only 88,000 new jobs, and the share of the population in the workforce falling to the lowest point in decades. Yet the leaked details of the president's new budget show a focus not on job creation but on cutting the deficit by $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years (in addition to cutting Social Security benefits). So amidst hard evidence of our profound and continuing economic crisis, we get a budget offering a solution to a different (and far less pressing) problem. It's enough to set what Obama called "the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears" spinning.
The vote on the Sanders Amendment should've been newsworthy. Here was an opportunity for all the senators who have explicitly or implicitly supported the adoption of the chained CPI to step up and say why the switch to the chained CPI was a good and necessary measure. However, not one senator was prepared to stand up and argue the case.
If you are under 40, your generation is getting utterly screwed compared to mine, and you should be in the streets. There are plenty of injustices in this country, but they have little to do with old versus young and everything to do with the one percent versus everyone else. You don't have to cut my Social Security benefits to give your generation a decent break. The secret sauce of my generation was that when I was young, prosperity was widely shared, ladders were plentiful, and tax rates were progressive. If gazillionaires pay their fair share, and we invest adequately in the young, there's no reason why Generations Y and Z can't enjoy the same economic tailwind that my generation did. That, however, will not just happen. It requires a politics -- and not the politics of young versus old, much less the politics of austerity.