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Social Security Is Off the Table... For Now

Preserving Social Security should never have been all that difficult.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and his Republican counterpart Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY). (Photo: Newscom)

But it took Harry Reid to settle the issue —at least as regards the miserably long and absurdly inappropriate debate of 2012.

“We’re not going to have any Social Security cuts,” the Senate majority leader said on the floor of the chamber Sunday. “It’s just doesn’t seem appropriate at this time.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had attempted Saturday to use the “fiscal cliff” fight to advance a proposal to adopt a chained consumer price index—“chained CPI”—scheme that would slash cost-of-living increases for Americans who rely on Social Security and other government programs. The Obama administration had entertained the “chained CPI” switch earlier in December. But as the critical point when a deal to cut Social Security might have been made, Reid said “No.”

That simple rejection of the false premises of Paul Ryan and all the other fantasists who have tried to push Social Security over the “fiscal cliff”—and into the grips of the Wall Street speculators—confounded the political pawns and the “expert” pundits who imagined that “entitlement reforms” (Washington for Social Security cuts) were “inevitable.”

Within hours of Reid’s Sunday announcement, McConnell and the Republicans backed down and it was clear, finally, that Social Security was “off the table.”

Reid’s firm rejection of any cuts actually moved the negotiations forward — making clear to the Republicans that they would get no deal on Social Security.

“I was really gratified to hear the Republicans have taken their demand for Social Security benefit cuts off the table,” said Reid, the wily Nevadan who has repeatedly defied political expectations to save his own seat (in 2010) and then to increase the Democratic Senate majority (in 2012). “The truth is they should never have been on the table to begin with.”

True enough.

But it took Reid’s rejection of the Republican proposal to foreclose any more wheeling and dealing with the economic security of Americans who rely on Social Security to make ends meet.

Groups that have battled to save Social Security hailed Reid Sunday night.

“Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats are to be applauded for standing up for the American people by standing firm against cutting Social Security,” said Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works. “Social Security has no place in this fiscal showdown. It does not and, by law, cannot add a penny to the federal debt. Republican policymakers are wrong to try to ram through unpopular cuts, ones which are opposed by the vast majority of Americans they have been elected to serve.”

Altman was right to hail Reid, who was certainly not the only Democratic absolutist in the Social Security fight but who took the critical stand at the critical moment.

Reid deserves the praise. But it is important to remember that all he did was embrace economic, social and political reality.

Social Security does not contribute a penny to the federal deficit. “In fact,” as the coalition explains, “it currently enjoys a $2.6 trillion surplus that will grow to $4.3 trillion by 2025. Social Security has its own dedicated revenue stream described above. And Social Security is forbidden by law from borrowing, so it cannot deficit spend.”

Cutting Social Security, especially using the privatization schemes outlined by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan and other fiscal fools, would undermine the current recovery and threaten prospects for long-term economic stability.

The Social Security program is fiscally sound, efficiently run and it works. In the most recent year for which premise statistics are available, Social Security lifted 19,808,000 Americans out of poverty.

And Social Security is popular.

Extraordinarily popular. “When asked which was more important, 70 percent of respondents said that protecting education, Medicare and Social Security was more important than broad cuts to reduce the deficit,” notes the AFL-CIO’s analysis of a post-election poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research on behalf of Democracy Corps and Campaign for America’s Future. “More than half—58 percent—of the overall sample said that they felt strongly about opposing such cuts. Only 17 percent of the survey said they felt strongly that across-the-board cuts were important enough to cut the popular programs.”

With numbers like that on his side, Harry Reid did not take a political risk Sunday night.

He simply did the right thing.

That settled it for 2012.

But what of next year?

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which did so much to strengthen the backbones of Reid and other Democrats, responded in with the proper mix of celebration and resolve.

“Democrats stood firm — and Harry Reid declared from the Senate floor that no deal would pass this year that touched Social Security,” declared PCCC co-founders Stephanie Taylor and Adam Green in a message to the hundreds of thousands of PCCC members who contacted Congress with messages opposing any cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. “Today’s victory shows that activism works. In 2013, we’ll keep fighting any proposed cuts to these benefits.”

Social Security was worth fighting for in 2012.

And because activists prevailed—with an assist from Harry Reid—it will be worth fighting for in 2013.

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