Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Obama Ignores Third Rail in SOTU Speech

"The Third Rail" is a metaphor for any issue so controversial that any politician who dares to broach the subject will invariably suffer politically. The metaphor was first used by Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill during the Reagan presidency in reference to cutting Social Security.

In Obama's 2015 State Of The Union Address, despite the GOP's plan to defund disability, raise the retirement age again, and possibly privatize Social Security, here's all Obama had to say on the subject:

"At every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot. We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity."

Obama didn't even come close to the third rail. Prior to his speech, Crook and Liars asked: "Will he stand firm and defend the popular program, or step aside and let the [GOP] attacks continue?" Obama completely ignored the subject, and let the attacks continue.

Martin Feldstein, the President Emeritus of the NBER, recently promoted the idea of gradually raising the eligibility age for full Social Security benefits to as high as 70. [He claimed] that would it increase the labor-force participation rate among people older than 65 (and expand the economy).

But raising the retirement age would also add to the strain on the disability fund, which has had to cover more workers longer, ever since the retirement age was raised from 65 to 67. And because of age discrimination, anybody over 50 knows how hard it is to find a job (especially since the Great Recession).

And then there's the new rule change regarding the transfer of funds from the regular Social Security trust fund to the disability fund to keep it solvent. An analysis by Social Security’s chief actuary, Stephen Goss, suggests there’s less to the new House rule than meets the eye. That’s because the point of order is triggered only if lawmakers exceed a “0.01 percent” threshold, which equates to a $38.6 billion cap on what any one Congress can move from the retirement fund. That leaves too little room for some long-term, multi-year reallocation of payroll tax revenues but it is enough to get past 2016.

Gross says, “We’re projecting disability trust funds will be depleted in December of 2016. The shortfall for the ensuing 12 months would come to about $29 billion. What that means is that we could have a tax rate reallocation that could apply in 2016 — or 2016 and 2017 that would generate up to $30 billion, or even $35 billion, transferred to the disability trust fund, which would at least extend its reserve depletion date for one more year.”

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who promoted the rule change as chairman of the Social Security panel on the House Ways and Means Committee, will relinquish his role to the new Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has already installed his own staff on the committee. Now, Ryan (who wanted vouchers for Medicare) would like to be the architect for "reforms" in the social safety net. (He'll probably outlaw hammocks too.)

I'm guessing that many uninformed Republican voters — who currently rely on Social Security, or who will need it in the future if they ever become disabled, or who would ever like to retire before the age 70 — might be thinking twice about who they just voted for in the last mid-term elections.

My other recent posts:

History of the GOP's War on Social Security

Disability Fraud: Facts and GOP Fiction

Republicans Going ALL OUT Against Social Security

The Republican's Attempted Murder of Social Security


  1. UPDATES //////////////////////////////// Read both articles...

    L.A. Times: "Is this Social Security trustee trying to undermine Social Security?"

    "Watch out, grandpa! Republicans are coming for your Social Security!"

  2. Bud, Republican voters have a problem thinking at all. They will blame Obama for this and keep voting against their own interests.

  3. 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.