They’re Making Love to the Third Rail: What Are We Gonna Do About It?

By Joe Firestone

OK, the President has officially proposed the “chained CPI” cut to Social Security in opposition to what the heavy majority of American voters want him to do and in contradiction with promises he and Joe Biden made during their re-election campaign. So, what punishment should we exact from this Administration, and what should we do to prevent cuts from happening in addition to signing petitions, and calling Representatives and Senators?

Immediate Punishment for Lying

President Obama and Vice President Biden clearly lied to our faces about what they would do when the Republicans came for Social Security if they were re-elected. I know politicians lie frequently during campaigns. But, I think that if we want to make them accountable, then we need to develop zero tolerance for that. A politician’s word has to become his/her bond; or he/she must be defeated as soon as we can make it possible. That has to become both the perception of politicians and the reality of how our system operates, if we’re going to save our democracy.

Accordingly, I propose that a Democratic Congressperson introduce a bill of impeachment in the House for this President as soon as possible. The grounds for impeachment could include failure to prosecute the torturers from the Bush Administration, failure to prosecute the control frauds in the FIRE sector, as well as the charge that the President lied to the American people about his intentions on SS policy in the last election campaign, in order to deceive us into re-electing him. I think that’s fraud.

It’s essential that a Democratic Congressperson introduce the bill of impeachment. Otherwise, the first step in making it clear that the party has repudiated its leadership on the safety net issue will not be clearly made. Of course, the more Democrats who sign onto the bill, the more the point of repudiation will be made. If a majority of Democrats can come together to this, then candidates of the Party will be free to run against the President on the chained CPI in 2014.

There’s certainly a reasonable chance of indictment in the House and conviction in the Senate for failing to prosecute in the first two areas mentioned, provided that the public can mount an impeachment movement (a long shot, certainly). But whether or not the President could ever be convicted in the third area of lying about SS is less important than that the issue be vetted in public at length. We need to have a debate about politicians lying to the public in order to get elected. An impeachment forum is probably the only vehicle that can teach them a sufficiently searing lesson.

Even though the Vice President guaranteed no cuts to SS even more strongly than the President, I don’t propose that he be impeached. The reason is that the fish rots from its head, and that the disposition to mess with SS surely comes from the President, completely apart from whether or not Joe Biden was lying when he delivered his flat-out guarantee, or was just acting as a tool for his boss.

Yes, yes, I know. I’m not a Very Serious Person (VSP) for making this proposal. It has no chance to pass, and little chance of getting anywhere in Congress unless people become so angry that a real movement for impeachment begins. So why do it?

I say do it to express the anger of the base. And do it to introduce the possibility of impeachment. And do it to make the point that the President and the Democratic Party are doing things that the base will never accept. The issue of “chained CPI” will be an issue of betrayal to the base for years to come, unless it fails to pass, and even then it will leave a legacy of distrust, unless the Party resists this President. And, if it does pass, then, eventually, either it will be replaced by the CPI – E (CPI for the elderly), or the Democratic Party will be replaced by another that will take this up as a cause.

Punishment for Democratic Party Openness to Cuts

The majority of the Democratic Party in Congress seems to be “open” to discussing SS cuts. Some pretty much back the President, others are haggling over price, i.e. the tax increases they can get in return for cutting entitlements. Relatively few are saying that SS cuts are DOA and, in the Senate, that they will be opposed by (coordinated?) filibusters that will doom any measures including SS cuts.

So, a second element of punishment that may motivate a movement for impeachment is a moratorium on contributions to the Democratic Party, or any of its various committees, or to any Democratic office holders and candidates who will not make a pledge of unconditional opposition to the President’s proposal, until the effort to cut SS is defeated. This must be done immediately so that contribution statistics show that such a moratorium is in place, and that the Party and its candidates are falling far short of its monthly goals.

That kind of punishment for the Party will send our message of anger loud and clear, and will motivate opposition to SS cuts on the part of key Senators and Congresspersons. If the anger of the base is reflected in contribution totals, then, as the months go by, opposition will build to any deal that involves SS cuts. By this summer, before any deal is likely to be concluded, the handwriting will be on the wall. Namely, if the Democrats support the President on any cuts to SS, then they can kiss the 2014 election, and perhaps even the Democratic Party, goodbye.

New Messaging Strategy Opposed to Cuts

The most important reason why SS and other entitlement cuts keep coming up is because neoliberal ideology has become dominant in America since 1980. Its manifestation is the area of fiscal policy is so-called fiscal responsibility, meaning government austerity, deficit reduction and reductions in the debt-to-GDP ratio. Neoliberalism calls for deficits and debts, rather than full employment to be at the center of fiscal policy, and it calls for jobs, health care, the future, and even democracy to be sacrificed on the altar of its warped vision of fiscal responsibility. 

I’ve discussed neoliberalism here and here. I say that it kills and is against the public interest. I say that Obama’s chained CPI will kill more and more people as time goes on if it passes. It is not fiscal responsibility. It is the height of irresponsibility. Fiscal responsibility is assessing fiscal policy against its projected impacts on society and democracy. It is not about projecting its impact on the levels of the deficit, the debt, and the debt-to-GDP ratio.

We have to message that. We also have to make people understand that the Government is the money scorekeeper. It can never run out of points. It can always generate new money for any expenditure that it must make for public purpose. The Congress can certainly provide new authority to do that to the Treasury any time it cares to. But it has already provided the authority for the Fed to issue unlimited reserves for purposes of monetary policy; and it has also provided authority to the Treasury to create platinum coins with arbitrarily large face values specified by the Secretary, that can earn enough seigniorage to fill the public purse to any level needed to repay debt, and enable congressionally appropriated deficit spending.

We also have to message that the sequestration, debt ceiling, and budgetary crises being created by Congress are faux crises, shock doctrine being used by the neoliberals to create the crass darwinian social system they want to live in. There’s no need or reason for any of the crises we’re experiencing, because the Government is short of money only by the free choice of its various branches; not because there is any real scarcity of financial resources. And, as for real resources, those are sitting idle, because there’s no consumer demand to drive sales, which in turn can drive employment.

The Government can create that demand, but it has to use its financial capabilities to create money to do that. It cannot simply sit and wait for the private sector to decide that it can make more money by employing people than it can through financial speculations and control frauds. The Government doesn’t need increased taxes to provide that demand. It doesn’t need to cut SS or other components of the safety net to do that. It doesn’t need to borrow or cut present programs to pay for new programs for spurring innovation, reinventing infrastructure, creating new energy foundations, enabling green jobs, or implementing enhanced Medicare for All, or fixing our messed up public educational system. The Government can use its money creating power to accomplish all this without spending cuts or more borrowing if it wishes to do that.

Lastly, we need to message that we know all the above, and that our representatives in the Senate and Congress had better learn it too, and stop poor mouthing us. We need to tell the next Senator and Congressperson we talk to who tells us that his/her support for the chained CPI is necessary because we’re running out of money, that we know this line of talk is pure BS, and that we’re not having any. And we also need to tell them, that if they persist in their support of chained CPI then they will be primaried, and defeated; and failing that, defeated in the general election, and that their careers will be over, because they will have shown by their continued support that they are unqualified to represent the people either in Congress or in the Senate.

Supporters of Social Security and the safety net have been on the defensive now for years. They defend SS by pointing out that it is fully solvent and has contributed nothing to the present crisis. They defend it by pointing out that an easy fix to any “solvency problems” projected in 2033, 235, or 2037 as the case may be, is to remove the payroll tax cap. The defend it by pointing out that cuts to it would break promises made to the generation that has “bailed out” SS over the past 30 years, by paying double what was paid previously to 1983 in payroll taxes. Finally, they defend by pointing out the fictional character of the CBO-based projections that the claims of crisis are based on. But almost no SS supporters go beyond these objections to attack the very assumptions of neoliberal fiscal policy; specifically that the US has debt and deficit problems that SS and other entitlement programs will exacerbate in the future.

Instead, entitlement supporters either ignore the assumption, or, like Senator Bernie Sanders, start out their defenses by granting the neoliberal view of fiscal responsibility, but calling for higher taxes and reduced spending in areas they think are counter-productive. That has to stop! Messaging by supporters has to go on the offensive and deny that there is any problem of solvency, present or future, at all. That’s the way to win the current battle to save the safety net, as well as the coming battles to make it more generous and to make America a land of hope and opportunity once again.

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