March 30, 2005

Reichert's Social Security Forum

Pacific Views was lucky to receive the write-up of a second correspondent regarding the Social Security forum held last night by Dave Reichert (R- WA, 8th CD). And speaking of additional accounts, Josh Marshall links to a couple more reports, including one by the King County Journal.

By ben

Despite being billed as a community discussion on Social Security, the event turned out to be a panel propaganda session on the Republican Party/Bush Administration position on "Retirement Security." There was little actual discussion, considering the right-wing panelists did little more than push the Administration line on SS privatization, with Reichert looking on and offering little more than platitudes as the evening wore on. All questions were on cards, as Reichert said to ensure everyone had a chance to weigh in. Most thought it was a way to avoid loud and obvious disagreement from the 75% of the 350 people there who were against this madness.

The panelists were:

- Rob Nichols, former aide to Dunn & Gorton, and now in public affairs for the Treasury
- Sally Canfield, assistant to Dennis Hastert & policy director for Social Security & Medicare
- Paul Guppy, research director at Washington policy Center, a right wing local think tank

The questions and moderation of the crowd vs. the panel was done by James Vesely, the Seattle Times editorial page editor, who opened the session with the comment that his Editorial board disagreed with Bush on this issue. Nearly the whole room erupted in cheering with that remark. He was the crowd's only ally in this event.

Reichert opened the meeting by saying this was an issue _the president_ wanted to address. He's not sure it's a crisis. Change makes everyone nervous, which he illustrated in a simpleton story about how he brought tough change to the Sheriff's office, forcing officers to get off the night shift despite their preferences, and how they thanked him for this later on. Very telling how this is likely to turn out.

Nichols spewed the usual Bush positions on everything, after saying on the onset that nothing is off the table (except of course Bush's redlines). He was jeered at the onset when he stated that SS would be bankrupt in 2041, when a dozen people howled he was forced to admit that other organizations have come up with other estimates. (Of course there is the small detail that this so-called "bankruptcy" doesn't mean SS dies then & there, or that the estimates are based on a GDP so low it has never been the case in the history of the country, or that this date has been revised outwards farther and farther every time it is evaluated, for the past 30 years...) There was another uproar when he said there was no trust fund, taking the accountant view that a shoebox full of IOUs does not equal an asset. No one on the panel was willing to admit that the political cost of not paying benefits far outweighs any dollar amount on any trust fund, though there was a stupid discussion on whether SS was a legal program to have in the first place. He did say the government would not default on the obligations implicit in the revenues already on the books and pledges already made. SMART MAN!

Later on he said there would be NO COSTS to begin the private accounts, since again accounting-wise there was no expenditure involved in borrowing 600 billion over 10 years. More screams from the crowd on that low-ball figure and the notion that more debt is cost-free. One guy asked what the interest rate on that was, 0%?! The last of his amazing statements was that the new Medicare Drug Benefit was expected to offset the medical costs for seniors' care, since I guess he thinks you can take a pill rather than have surgery. Many puzzled looks and catcalls for that one. Then he uttered the words "tort reform" and the yelling continued, this guy must think we were as dumb as his boss. I screamed liability lawsuits are 1% of healthcare costs! I work in healthcare, believe me, it costs big bux for far more simple/obvious reasons. Finally he admitted that the unfunded liabilities for Medicare far exceed those of Social Security.

What was Reichert's answer to why we were looking at SS instead of the already-in-deficit Medicare? We can only focus on one problem at a time, and Medicare is too difficult and will cost too much money to fix. Really, that's what he said. We can make adjustments now to SS to fix it, even though his panel seemed against that approach.

Canfield was essentially just a sooth-sayer/apologist for the House, saying she was there to listen and that they were considering all options. She would not commit to anything and lied that that they were still open to all ideas, though she did mention that the top issue for several House members was the trillions required to start private accounts. Her most unbelievable statement was that raising the payroll tax would hurt low-income people the most, the first I have ever heard anyone in her party say. They don't get tax cuts, but they sure get audited when they claim the EIC. When as Vesley said 50 people asked when the trust fund would be repaid, she seemed at a loss to decide what federal spending we should cut to offset the expenses the federal budget owes the SS trust fund (funding for schools, hospitals? she wondered. [since when does the Fed pay for hospitals?] The crowd had a loud answer for her: THE WAR!) I think those damn Bush Tax cuts they want to make permanent would be a great start.

Paul Guppy was the far-right shill for the evening. He wants privatization for everything, SS, medicare/healthcare, you name it. He made it clear several times that nothing we could do, raise taxes, raise the 90K cap, adjust the retirement age, none of it will make any difference. ONLY privatization. And we must have a permanent fix, right now. Kicking the can down the road has never worked (wrong!). [Ed. - I think he may also have been trying to sneak in a reference to the old children's game 'kick the can' to appeal to listeners of a certain age by making little in-group references.] Taxes are the enemy he says, claiming that you reach a saturation point in which taxes are so high no jobs can be added. We just found out last week that this is NOT TRUE, nations with higher and lower tax burdens than us did as well or better with jobs than we did!

He doesn't believe the government will pay its obligations. (Evil government strikes again).

Reichert refused to answer when the government would pay back the IOUs to SS. He said that was a question for the experts. No, my dear congressperson, that is a question for you in your role as a legislator. You are letting your voters down.

No one acknowledged the recent Bush admission that private accounts would not fix the solvency issue, the obvious disconnect that diverting funds away from the trust fund makes the problem worse, not better. Indeed, everyone, especially Guppy was sure that privitization was the solution to everything, since the government never did anything right. This was after both he and his other panelists said quite clearly that SS was the best and most successful government program in the history of our nation. These guys can dance, that's for sure!

In addition to Reichert being largely an observer at his own event, I found him to be quite haughty and disconnected from his constituents. Before the event got started, a person on the aisle of risers not 20 feet from Reichert down front waved a question card, hoping to get someone to pick it up. Reichert noticed this, as his aides were busy, but rather than come over to get the card and meet one of the people he is supposed to represent, he went over to the door and grabbed one of his aides to go over and get the card for him. Is he that afraid of the public? Has he been cautioned to stay away from the crowd? Does he miss his riot gear?

Later, after several howls from the crowd over the lies being spewed by the panel, an elderly man in a wheelchair down front was shouting in obvious indignation about the proceedings, and rather than lend him a sympathetic ear for a short time (as Vesley did several times, and like all other public servants I have observed over the years), Reichert told him to write his question on a card, that he wasn't going to be treated special. It didn't look to me like the man could write easily; I found this insistence on his protocol to be overly punitive, grossly insensitive, and completely missing the point of what was being discussed: a safety net for people who have real problems and sometimes need a break or a hand. Reichert's personal veneer of being a people person seems awfully thin when he's out of his comfort zone.

Reichert closed by wondering if we could agree on one thing: that we care about this issue and want to make it better for us and our children. Many people around me wondered what the point of such an obvious statement would be, considering we weren't exactly there on a stormy, cold night because we could care less??! Though he said we should probably do another of these, I can't believe he will. He was clearly annoyed with the repeated outbursts as they intensified towards the end, stopping his closing remarks with a very dour expression on his face after a very minor comment from someone among the 99% of those in attendance whose question was not answered in the 80 minutes. His panelists were shouted down numerous times, and he left with a stack of question cards that looked at least 3 inches thick. He can't believe that implementing this plan will insure him re-election; from my vantage point, it would be political suicide.

a child of social security
who stayed in school and ended up going to Berkeley
because SS was there when his father passed away
at age 12, saving his family from starvation on the street

Posted by natasha at March 30, 2005 12:41 PM | | Technorati links |