Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New GOP Congress Launches First Strike

HuffPo Hill: Democrats and Social Security advocates are accusing House Republicans of trying to kneecap Social Security on the very first day of the new Congress, and in sneaky fashion.

The House passed a rules package for the year that Democrats say would prevent lawmakers from enacting a routine reallocation of Social Security payroll streams to shore up the ailing disability insurance trust fund. The rule, which Democratic aides said was amended late Monday night, says it would be out of order for Congress to reduce the actuarial balance of the Social Security retirement account, which is what Social Security advocates would like it to do to prevent a 20 percent reduction in benefits for 10 million disability recipients next year.

The alternative, of course, is for Congress to do something to specifically reform the disability program (for instance, by slashing benefits). Many Republicans have lamented the rise in disability rolls, which they have suggested is something of a welfare sham. A summary of the rule from the GOP side of the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees Social Security, says the proposed rule prevents a raid on retirement insurance.

"It prevents a diversion of funds from the Social Security retirement program, which is already facing a huge unfunded liability," the summary says. "Importantly, this rule sets the stage for reforms to the DI program that will make it work better for future beneficiaries." Yet Democrats and Social Security advocates argue the reallocation has been done 11 times in the past. "Rather than solve the short-term problems facing the Social Security Disability program as we have in the past, Republicans want to set the stage to cut benefits for seniors and disabled Americans," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said in a press release.

The new House rule will hurt vulnerable disability beneficiaries: "Most DI (disabled) recipients are older people, so helping DI helps seniors. The risk of disability rises with age, and most DI beneficiaries are older. Seventy percent of disabled workers are age 50 or older, 30 percent are 60 or older, and 20 percent are 62 or older and would actually qualify as early retirees under Social Security."

Rep. Tom Reed (Republican - New York) said he sponsored the provision in an effort to force Congress to find a long-term solution to the disability program's financial problems. (Tom Reed scored an 80% loyalty rating from the Tea Party).

This is Tom Reed: He once ran a debt collection businesses...

During his first term in Congress, Reed proposed a resolution that would install a national debt clock on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Reed also focused on bringing attention to "wasteful government spending" and supported budget amendments that he claimed "saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars" by eliminating government funding for projects.

He also voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and supported the Budget Control Act of 2011.

After his reelection to Congress, Reed drafted the Promoting Assistance with Transitional Help Act. The bill would "modify" the Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF) program by introducing a 5-year limit on welfare payments to individuals. Reed hopes that requiring the program to provide only temporary emergency relief will reduce dependence on government assistance.

In 2013, Reed offered amendment 103 to the House Farm Bill (H.R. 1947), which would have imposed a lifetime ban on food assistance through SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for life for people convicted of certain violent offenses. Of the 1.6 million people in state or federal prison, about one in six were convicted of offenses targeted by this amendment, with African Americans and Latinos disproportionately affected.

But this isn't just about Tom Reed, this is who we have running Congress now. Besides cutting benefits for the disabled, the new GOP Congress is also looking for ways to cut taxes, to deliberately lower tax revenues, so they can force cuts in other social programs (e.g. Social Security, TANF, food stamps, etc.) This has been the GOP's "Starve the Beast" strategy.

A Republican Ruse to Make Tax Cuts Look Good -- "The Republicans’ interest in dynamic scoring ... comes from political factions convinced that tax cuts are the panacea for all economic ills. They will use dynamic scoring to justify a tax cut that, under conventional scorekeeping, loses revenue. When revenues do in fact decline and deficits rise, those same proponents will push for steep cuts in government insurance or investment programs, because they will claim that the models demand it. That is what lies inside the Trojan horse of dynamic scoring."

Without (or with a severely limited) social safety net, we'll need many more and better-paying jobs. But a new study claims that just since 2007, 1.5 million LESS Americans and 2 million MORE immigrants are working in the U.S. From The Atlantic:

Does Immigration Harm Working Americans? -- "At the top of the income distribution, wages are rising. In the middle and bottom, wages stagnate. Jobs are created, yes—but native-born Americans are not hired for them. Last month, the Center for Immigration Studies released its latest jobs study* [and] found that even now, almost seven years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, 1.5 million fewer native-born Americans are working than in November 2007, the peak of the prior economic cycle. Balancing the 1.5 million fewer native-born Americans at work, there are 2 million more immigrants—legal and illegal—working in the United States today than in November 2007. All the net new jobs created since November 2007 have gone to immigrants. Meanwhile, millions of native-born Americans, especially men, have abandoned the job market altogether. The percentage of men aged 25 to 54 who are working or looking for work has dropped to the lowest point in recorded history." (* Note: It's a long article because it goes into great depth as to cause and effect. (Wiki: About The Atlantic / Wiki: Criticism of the Center for Immigration Studies / About the Center for Immigration Studies / Daily Beast: The Immigration False-Fact Think Tank / Wiki: About The Daily Beast)

But with or without any more immigration — (read this next): Where will all the Workers Go? -- “The risk is that robotics and automation will displace workers in blue-collar manufacturing jobs before the dust of the Third Industrial Revolution settles ... But, unless the proper policies to nurture job growth are put in place, it remains uncertain whether demand for labor will continue to grow as technology marches forward ... Even that may not be sufficient, in which case it will become necessary to provide permanent income support to those whose jobs are displaced by software and machines.”

American Workers are the "Beasts"

Now we have the GOP's "Starve the Beast" strategy — to starve tax revenues to force cuts in government spending, usually on social programs — because we (the American people) are the beasts of burden to be starved. So all-in-all, this is the top 0.01 percent's End Game:

1) Deny Americans good-paying jobs and force them into low-paying jobs, or
2) Force unemployed Americans onto the government dole, and then...
3) Manipulate the tax base in such a way so that the government can't afford to pay permanently displaced workers who were forced onto the government dole — thereby starving the beasts to death.

How many Republican voters will also suffer at the hands of those they just elected to Congress? Don't any Republican voters also become unemployed, poor, disabled or old?


  1. "Research shows that when countries try to compete with each other by lowering wages and slashing the social safety net, the costs are high — both economically and socially — and why co-operative and regulated capitalism is a far better path ... It’s time to get rid of the myth that market competition is the overwhelming source of innovation (and competitive advantage). The truth is that the government plays a huge role as the ultimate risk-taker and financier and through social co-ordination (between firms and workers, firms and banks, and firms and the state)."



    Why Defending Social Security Needs to Be Next on Obama’s To-Do List --- House Republicans voted to block a financial fix to Social Security's disability trust fund, which runs out of money in 2016. That would result in a 20% benefits cut ... House leaders appear to be maneuvering to push through an SSDI fix during the lame duck session following the 2016 elections. Such an 11th-hour package would likely impose cuts to the retirement program, including higher retirement ages and reduced annual cost-of-living adjustments.
    Meanwhile, the increase in the full retirement age now under way, from 65 to 67, adds cost to SSDI, as disabled beneficiaries wait longer to shift into the retirement program. [Expanding Social Securtity] is not only doable, but it has overwhelming public support. A poll released last fall found that 72% of Americans think we should consider increasing benefits. Seventy-seven percent said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to finance expansion (a position embraced by 69% of Republicans, 76% of independents and 84% of Democrats). Congressional Republicans are way out of step with Americans on this issue, and so is the White House. The administration has been all too willing to flirt with benefit cuts as it chased one illusory “grand bargain” after another [like "chained CPI"].

    Social Security disability payments will be cut by a fifth if Congress doesn’t act --- Rep. Sam Johnson (Republican-Tex.) said that a reallocation [from the SS trust fund to disability] would only be a temporary solution that would avoid making real changes to "the fraud-plagued disability program." But fraud appears limited to relatively few cases in the disability program. A report by the Government Accountability Office found that about 0.4 percent of disability beneficiaries were likely receiving improper payments (because they were working before or after they began receiving checks.) Another report by Social Security's inspector general examined administrative law judges who were approving an unusually high proportion of disability applications and concluded that some of those approvals may have been mistaken. That group of beneficiaries also accounted for about 0.4 percent of all those receiving disability payments. And while it's true that more and more people are on disability, this is largely a result of the fact that the workforce is getting older and more likely to be hurt or sick.

  3. And yet more updates /////////////////////////////////////

    New Congress targets Social Security disability benefits --- The 114th US Congress completed its first two days by preparing the passage of regressive, anti-social policies, including measures that would defund Social Security disability insurance benefits, increase the number of hours that classify as “full-time” employment, and make it easier to pass pro-business tax cuts.

    The Coming Congressional War Over Social Security Disability --- A technical rule change engineered by House Republicans on the first day of the new Congress may signal the beginning of a major battle over the future of the Social Security Disability program—and, more broadly, other federal programs for people with disabilities ... In recent years, more workers have gone on the rolls. In part, this is because changing demographics have made more people eligible: As the Baby Boomers age, they are more likely to become disabled ... Until now, many disability advocates are been unwilling to engage in a debate over SSDI, fearing that any effort to reform the program would only result in benefit cuts. And some conservatives are indeed only interested in cutting the program ... The time for reaching a consensus is growing short. It is a critical opportunity for all parties to find ways to fix the program, not just cut it.

    The GOP's Social Security Assault Has a Human Cost --- The overall Social Security fund is well-funded for the next two decades or so (and easily remedied beyond that point), but the disability insurance trust fund needs a short-term cash infusion from the larger retirement account ... This isn't the first time Republicans in Congress have targeted the disabled -- children, the elderly, and other Social Security beneficiaries. They have insisted on cutting the Social Security Administration's already lean budget (even though it does not contribute to the overall Federal deficit) ... As a result of these budget cuts, the waiting time for a disability benefit appeal has risen to more than a year -- 396 days -- and is rising each year. For someone who's unable to work, the suffering caused by that delay is incalculable ... The Republicans insist that the disability program is riddled with fraud, despite evidence to the contrary. They claim that the program is "going broke," even though it has $2.8 trillion in its trust fund, can pay full benefits for the next two decades, and can be maintained for 75 years with relatively minor tweaks ... (The GOP's very wealthy campaign doners are pushing for this, so they won't have to pay more in taxes.)

  4. Senator Paul’s latest attack on Social Security disability was only the latest salvo in a decades-long attempt by the Republicans to defund, destroy or privatize our Social Security system. But Paul’s attack on Social Security and disabled Americans wasn’t only heartless and offensive, it was also untrue.

    According to a report released in November by the Social Security Administration’s Inspector General, fraudulent Social Security Disability Insurance claims are exceedingly rare. Dean Baker wrote a great piece, and says fraud accounts for just 0.02% of all payments. He also notes:

    "It is also important to note that there are undoubtedly people who should be getting disability who have been wrongfully denied benefit. We could have workers dying of cancer or unable to work due a heart attack or stroke or other disability who an a judge somehow decided was not eligible. If we put more pressure on judges to turn down claims then there will be more people improperly denied benefits."

    And as Social Security Works Executive Director Alex Lawson noted recently, “America has one of the strictest disability standards in the developed world.”

    This wasn’t the first time Senator Paul has attacked Americans living with disabilities. In a 2010 interview, Senator Rand Paul said he supports abolishing the Americans with Disabilities Act – the landmark 1990 legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability – because it isn’t fair to business owners.