Two different views of last night’s SOTU response by Rep. Paul Ryan:
… was as bad as you might expect. Lots of breast-beating about deficits; you’d never know that no leading Republican, Ryan very much included, has offered a serious proposal to cut the deficit. Some cooked statistics about federal spending. And then there was this curious assertion:
Just take a look at what’s happening to Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other nations in Europe. They didn’t act soon enough; and now their governments have been forced to impose painful austerity measures: large benefit cuts to seniors and huge tax increases on everybody.
Greece maybe fits that description. But if you’d read anything about the euro crisis — like this article — you’d know that Ireland was running a budget surplus on the eve of the crisis, and had quite low debt. Its problems now have nothing to do with fiscal irresponsibility in the past; they’re the consequence of weak financial regulation and the government’s too-generous bank bailout.
If you were a visitor from Mars, watching tonight’s State of the Union address and Paul Ryan’s Republican response, you would have no reason to think that the looming insolvency of our entitlement system lies at the heart of the economic challenges facing the United States over the next two decades. From President Obama, we heard a reasonably eloquent case for center-left technocracy and industrial policy, punctuated by a few bipartisan flourishes, in which the entitlement issue felt like an afterthought: He took note of the problem, thanked his own fiscal commission for their work without endorsing any of their recommendations, made general, detail-free pledges to keep Medicare and Social Security solvent (but “without slashing benefits for future generations”), and then moved swiftly on to the case for tax reform. Tax reform is important, of course, and so are education and technological innovation and infrastructure and all the other issues that the president touched on in this speech. But it was still striking that in an address organized around the theme of American competitiveness, which ran to almost 7,000 words and lasted for an hour, the president spent almost as much time talking about solar power as he did about the roots of the nation’s fiscal crisis.
Ryan’s rejoinder was more urgent and more focused: America’s crippling debt was an organizing theme, and there were warnings of “painful austerity measures” and a looming “day of reckoning.” But his remarks, while rhetorically effective, were even more vague about the details of that reckoning than the president’s address. Ryan owes his prominence, in part, to his willingness to propose a very specific blueprint for addressing the entitlement system’s fiscal woes. But in his first big moment on the national stage, the words “Medicare” and “Social Security” did not pass the Wisconsin congressman’s lips.
Regarding Social Security, read this from The Daily Howler:
Correct on every point: In our view, Bob Herbert’s column about Social Security is correct on every point.
That leaves one problem with Herbert’s column—it won’t help matters at all.
On what points is Herbert’s column correct? It’s true—there really are “demagogues” who “would have the public believe that Social Security is unsustainable, that it is some kind of giant contributor to the federal budget deficits.” It’s true that these claims are false. It’s true that “there is no Social Security crisis.” And we’d almost agree with all this:
HERBERT (1/25/11): Beyond Medicare, the major drivers of the deficits are not talked about so much by the fat cats and demagogues because they were either responsible for them, or are reaping gargantuan benefits from them, or both. The country is drowning in a sea of debt because of the obscene Bush tax cuts for the rich, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have never been paid for and the Great Recession.
Let’s assume every word in this column is accurate. Will it help convince people that there is no Social Security crisis?
Almost certainly, no. Here’s the reason:
People believe that Social Security is facing a crisis due to a decades-old propaganda campaign. The talking-points which have misled the public are slick, convincing, skillfully drawn. But uh-oh! Herbert mentions none of these familiar points; doesn’t explain where these points have come from; and makes no attempt to help people see past them. He simply ignores the skillful claims which have driven the public’s mistaken belief. Instead, he offers us this:
HERBERT: The demagogues would have the public believe that Social Security is unsustainable, that it is some kind of giant contributor to the federal budget deficits. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the Economic Policy Institute has explained, Social Security “is emphatically not the cause of the federal government’s long-term deficits, since it is prohibited from borrowing and must pay all benefits out of dedicated tax revenues and savings in its trust funds.”
How do we know that the program is sustainable? Of course! A think tank said!
Large majorities believe that Social Security won’t be there for them. At this site, we’ve endlessly described the talking-points which have thus convinced them. Unfortunately, people like Herbert have endlessly failed to help the public unravel these claims.
Large majorities still seem to believe that Social Security won’t be there for them. (In August 2010, 70 percent of people aged 18-49 told CNN that the system “will not be able to pay you a benefit when you retire.” The hapless work of liberal “intellectual leaders” explains why this is the case.
Alas, poor Herbert: Groan. Herbert quotes a think tank referring to the program’s “trust funds.” But why do people think the program won’t be there for them? Because they’ve been told, for the past thirty years, that these “trust funds” don’t really exist!
Herbert shows no sign of knowing that this basic problem exists. But then, this is the way our “leaders” have “argued” over the past thirty years. In response, we angrily call average voters stupid!
It’s pretty obvious to me after last night’s speech that Obama agrees we should all be eating catfood in golden years, he just doesn’t want to take the blame for it. I was wondering if he was trying to sucker the GOP into trying to cut SS benefits so he can veto the legislation.
I have now reached the conclusion he just wants to be “forced” to put old people out on the ice floes.
Neither side will admit it but we’re going to get screwed. On the bright side it will be a bipartisan effort.