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DCCC’s Chair Van Hollen Won’t Commit to Protecting Social Security from Cuts/Higher Retirement Age

MSNBC host Cenk Uygur gave Chris Van Hollen, the Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), multiple opportunities to state clearly that Democrats would oppose any cuts in Social Security, including in the form of delaying the retirement age. Van Hollen dodged and weaved, then cynically failed every test.

Cenk correctly asked whether van Hollen would commit to oppose such cuts, even if the President’s so called deficit reduction ("let them eat cat food") commission recommended them. Van Hollen refused to commit, implying instead that if cutting Social Security were part of a larger package of reducing deficits, he and other Democrats might support the commission’s recommendations.

Thanks for the warning, Chris. So if it wasn’t clear before, we can now place the Chairman of the DCCC, the body that allocates your campaign contributions to House Democrats, in the same column as John Boehner and Alan Simpson when it comes to [not] protecting Social Security. That’s the list of clowns who wrongly insist we have a deficit/debt crisis (we don’t), that Social Security’s finances are a contributing factor to that crisis (they aren’t), and that cutting Social Security benefits can and should be part of the debt crisis solution (wrong again). Wrong on all counts, Chris, and thanks for making the DCCC’s principles clear.

I can’t think of a single reason why any caring American should contribute a dime to the DCCC. But if you think dissemblers like Van Hollen and the Blue Dogs to whose campaigns he distributes your dollars are good for America, let alone America’s seniors, what can I say?

As Dean Baker, the EPI, Paul Krugman and others have noted, extending the retirement age to 70 would constitute an effective 19 to 20 percent cut in benefits to future seniors. But far too many Democrats are trying to obscure that point by not calling an age eligibility extension a "cut" in benefits, or, like Van Hollen here, they deflect attention to Republican efforts to "privatize" Social Security. [Update: Logically, if you reduce a future retiree’s benefits by 20 percent, that means to stay even then, they’d have to start socking away part of their incomes into private savings account now — stocks, 401k, 457 accounts etc. Isn’t that the equivalent of "privatizing" social security?]

From Krugman’s column today, Attacking Social Security:

But the program is under attack, with some Democrats as well as nearly all Republicans joining the assault. Rumor has it that President Obama’s deficit commission may call for deep benefit cuts, in particular a sharp rise in the retirement age.

Social Security’s attackers claim that they’re concerned about the program’s financial future. But their math doesn’t add up, and their hostility isn’t really about dollars and cents. Instead, it’s about ideology and posturing. And underneath it all is ignorance of or indifference to the realities of life for many Americans.

About that math: Legally, Social Security has its own, dedicated funding, via the payroll tax (“FICA” on your pay statement). But it’s also part of the broader federal budget. This dual accounting means that there are two ways Social Security could face financial problems. First, that dedicated funding could prove inadequate, forcing the program either to cut benefits or to turn to Congress for aid. Second, Social Security costs could prove unsupportable for the federal budget as a whole.

But neither of these potential problems is a clear and present danger. Social Security has been running surpluses for the last quarter-century, banking those surpluses in a special account, the so-called trust fund. The program won’t have to turn to Congress for help or cut benefits until or unless the trust fund is exhausted, which the program’s actuaries don’t expect to happen until 2037 — and there’s a significant chance, according to their estimates, that that day will never come.
. . .
It would be easy to dismiss this bait-and-switch as obvious nonsense, except for one thing: many influential people — including Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the president’s deficit commission — are peddling this nonsense.

And having invented a crisis, what do Social Security’s attackers want to do? They don’t propose cutting benefits to current retirees; invariably the plan is, instead, to cut benefits many years in the future. So think about it this way: In order to avoid the possibility of future benefit cuts, we must cut future benefits. O.K.
. . .
The currently fashionable idea of raising the retirement age even more than it will rise under existing law — it has already gone from 65 to 66, it’s scheduled to rise to 67, but now some are proposing that it go to 70 — is usually justified with assertions that life expectancy has risen, so people can easily work later into life. But that’s only true for affluent, white-collar workers — the people who need Social Security least.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

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