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Dana Milbank Likes Folksy Establishment Politicians Who Want to Ruin People’s Retirement

Dana Milbank comes up with some compelling logic to indemnify Alan Simpson for his comments about Social Security: he’s been biased against the program for 20 years, so what’s the problem?

In 1992, Sen. Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, complained in a speech to the National Conference of State Legislatures about how Social Security, veterans benefits and other programs had made America “like a milk cow with 250 million tits.” As best I can tell, the remark drew no attention or complaint.

Simpson reprised the line two weeks ago, updating it only for the population count. In an e-mail to the head of a Social Security advocacy group, he said that, in America, “We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits!” This time, it was an udder debacle.

Milbank definitely has a career in writing puns for cow calendars (“Udder nonsense!”). But because he’s a firmly ensconced member of the Village establishment, he doesn’t look far beyond his nose at Simpson’s complaint, accepting that an off-budget retirement plan that people pay into and benefits for young men and women sent off to imperial adventures and unnecessary wars are the main drivers of our fiscal woes.

Milbank says that “If the commission does its job right, it will recommend cuts across the government — the Pentagon, social programs, entitlements, veterans’ benefits — as well as tax increases.” He must have been busy searching for new uses of that “udder” joke and shooting new editions of “Mouthpiece Theater” to recognize all the rumors – that the commission will largely look at Social Security and call it a day. That’s because the overwhelming majority of members of the Cat Food Commission support benefit cuts and oppose tax hikes. Their public statements over their entire careers offers a bit of a clue on this.

According to Milbank, if veteran’s benefits and Social Security are sacrosanct “we’ll have an economy like Greece’s.” Except our Social Security benefits rank 25th out of 30 industrialized countries, in an OECD survey. And our veteran’s benefits cost so much because 1) our health care system is unsustainably expensive and 2) we go to war whenever another country looks at us funny, helped along by the likes of Dana Milbank.

Milbank loves Simpson because he gives good quote, because he’s “colorful,” and when he calls Social Security recipients “greedy geezers” he should be cut some slack, because hey, alls fun in impoverishing seniors and war. And anyway, you people should be happy you’re getting any of the money you’ve paid into the system your entire working life:

Simpson is exactly the right man for the debt commission: a dealmaker. His proposal for Social Security is hardly the most radical. Who would liberals rather have representing the Republicans on the debt commission? The Senate nominee from Alaska, Joe Miller, who says “we’ve got to transition out of the Social Security arrangement”? Kentucky Senate nominee Rand Paul, who calls Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” from which people should “opt out”? Colorado Senate nominee Ken Buck, who calls Social Security “horrible, bad policy”? Or Nevada nominee Sharron Angle, who wants to “phase Medicare and Social Security out in favor of something privatized”?

So STFU and enjoy your benefit cut when you get it!

Milbank should stop admiring his own likeness in the WaPo and turn over to Ezra Klein, who did something remarkable for a Post reporter – he looked at the numbers, the ones not contained in Milbank’s mash note.

The size of that fix is significant, but not astonishing. Over the next 75 years, the shortfall will be equal to about 0.7 percent of gross domestic product. How much is 0.7 percent of GDP? To put that in perspective, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that it’s about as much as Bush’s tax cuts for the rich will cost over the same period. Saying we can afford those cuts—which is the consensus Republican position—but not Social Security’s outlay is nonsensical […]

Start with the basic rationale for raising the retirement age. Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.) has argued that when Social Security was signed into law, the retirement age was 65 and life expectancy was 63. “The numbers added up pretty well back then,” he said on Fox News. But that’s misleading. That figure was driven by high infant mortality. If you were a white male who’d made it to age 60 in 1935, you could expect 15 more years going forward. If you’re a white male who lives to 60 today, you can expect 20 more years going forward.

Moreover, those averages conceal a lot of inequality. In 1972, a 60-year-old male worker who made less than the median income had a life expectancy of 78 years. By 2001, he had a life expectancy of 80 years. Meanwhile, workers in the top half of the income distribution shot to 85 years from 79. Insofar as the argument for raising the retirement age is that “Social Security beneficiaries live a lot longer today than they did in 1935,” it should be restated as: “Social Security beneficiaries tend to live somewhat longer today than they did in 1935, and that’s much more true of rich beneficiaries than poor beneficiaries.”

Wrong, Klein, that wasn’t folsky enough and you didn’t insult seniors or use a cow metaphor. Back of the line for you.

As this Twitter user says, “I can’t think of a better confirmation that Alan Simpson needs to go than Dana Milbank praising him.”

UPDATE: And plenty more from Glenn Greenwald.

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David Dayen

David Dayen