Hundreds of thousands of Americans have now called for Senator Alan Simpson, co-chair of the White House deficit commission, to step down -- after he insulted the head of the Older Women's League, Ashley Carson, by implying that her dedication to protecting retirees was not "honest work" -- and then he revealed what he thinks of Social Security: "a milk cow with 310 million tits."
Simpson eventually apologized, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stood by Simpson, making it clear that the Obama administration would not send him packing back to Wyoming -- unless perhaps the clamor gets louder. At least Gibbs had the smarts to distance President Obama from the substance of Simpson's remarks. But the silence from commission co-chair Erskine Bowles and commission members like economist Alice Rivlin, Democratic Senator Kent Conrad and Republican Paul Ryan has been deafening. They should be a little worried about his obnoxious style, but the truth is Simpson speaks for a large number of deficit commissioners who want to cut Social Security.
So if the White House won't fire Simpson, the president should tell the deficit commission to take Social Security off the table.
The real problem is not Simpson. Most of the commission members agree with Simpson that Social Security benefits should be cut and the retirement age should be raised. They all know that Social Security has its own stream of revenue and contributes nothing to the federal deficit. But this conservative commission majority either wants to "send a message to the bond markets" that America is willing to whack seniors -- or they want to steal money from the trillions of dollars in the Social Security trust fund built up through years of extra FICA taxes paid by working Americans and use those savings to cut the deficit caused by tax cuts for the wealthy.
Simpson has just been blunter about the plan to steal money from the trust fund. In another hostile confrontation, Simpson told Alex Lawson of Social Security Works that the Social Security trust fund has been spent. Here's what he said, in his disrespectful style:
Simpson: Listen $2.5 trillion of IOU's which have been used to build the interstate highway system and all the things people have enjoyed since it was set up. Lawson: Two wars, tax cuts for the wealthy -
Simpson: Whatever, whatever. You pick your crap and I'll pick the real stuff. It was to do with the highway system; it was to run America. And those IOU's in there now, there's not enough coming in every month.
There it is folks. Deficit hawks like Simpson think it is way too hard to take their deficit mandated serious: finding revenues to pay for the deficits wracked up by years of tax cuts and military spending. Instead, they want to show they are tough by raiding the Social Security trust fund by cutting retirement benefits for future retirees who have been paying extra to keep our retirement system solvent.
The small number of progressives on the commission have made the case over and over again that Social Security contributes nothing to the deficit. But the hawkish majority, refusing to call for raising taxes on the rich or cutting the military budget, thinks going after the trillions of dollars in the Social Security trust fund is the "confidence-building" consensus accomplishment they will be able to unite around. But the American people won't let them. Poll after poll, including CAF/Greenberg, finds that Americans of all stripes, Democrats, Republicans, tea party supporters and young people HATE the idea of balancing the budget by cutting Social Security.
So please keep exposing Simpson as the undiplomatic spokes person for the deficit hawks. But this should be our new demand: If the White House Won't Fire Simpson, the Deficit Commission Should Keep Their Hands Off Social Security.
And let's keep telling the truth: Social Security contributes not a penny to the deficit; therefore reducing benefits won't reduct the deficit. Social Security's trust fund has enough assets to pay current benefits for the next 27 years. If needed, modest changes that will increase Social Security revenues could extend the program's solvency for decades into the future. But this Commission, stacked as it is with enemies of Social Security - and fronted by Alan Simpson, is not the appropriate vehicle for making those fixes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking at Netroots Nation in July, got it right:
When you're talking about reducing the deficit and Social Security, you're talking about apples and oranges. If we want to have a conversation about Social Security and how we keep it solvent, what are the things we can do to keep Social Security solvent way down the road so it's there for future generations, that I believe is an appropriate conversation. It shouldn't involve reducing the benefits or raising the limit or whatever, but you could talk about how you keep it solvent. To change Social Security in order to balance the budget; they aren't the same thing, in my view. That isn't what we should be doing. So, I will admit and accept the fact that as we make Social Security solvent--and it is solvent for the next into the 2030s--it will have a positive impact on the deficit, but we shouldn't be looking for reducing benefits and raising ages and all the rest, period, and we certainly shouldn't be doing it to reduce the deficit. Two different sides of the ledger.
Note: The Campaign for America's Future, which has helped lead the charge against Simpson, now has an action petition going to send this message: If the White House Won't Fire Simpson, the Deficit Commission Should Keep Their Hands Off Social Security. Click here.
Also, CAF is working with MoveOn.org Political Action, CREDO Action, Democracy For America, the Teamsters Union, and Social Security Works to encourage citizens to ask candidates for Congress to promise to oppose SS benefit cuts, retirement age increases and privatization. To see who has made the promise, go to www.handsoffsocialsecurity.org.