Monday, August 16, 2010

Scaring Seniors

In the 1930s, liberals (not all of whom were Democrats) passed Social Security over conservative objections.  In the 1960s, liberals (not all of whom were Democrats) passed Medicare over conservative objections.

In the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s Democrats ran on Social Security and Medicare.  They claimed that if conservative Republicans ever took over Congress, those Republicans would slash or dismantle programs that benefited older Americans.  Republicans responded by complaining about the attacks; they acted extremely aggrieved, and claimed that this constituted foul play by the Democrats.

Upon winning majorities in Congress in 1994, Republicans promptly attempted to slash spending on Medicare.  Upon winning control of Congress and the White House a decade later, Republican President George W. Bush attempted to dismantle Social Security and replace it with a different program.  Most conservatives today seem to believe that the failure of Republicans to implement Bush's plan (along with their willingness to follow Bush in expanding Medicare) were terrible sins for which Republicans were justifiably bounced from their Congressional majorities in 2006.

And yet those same conservative Republicans still seem to believe that it is somehow unfair for Democrats to point out that Republicans oppose Social Security and Medicare as they are currently constituted.  As Ezra Klein points out today, Paul Ryan manages to complain about being unfairly attacked for ending traditional Medicare in the very same piece that he demands an end to traditional Medicare.  As Klein says, "This might be a good reform or it might be a bad reform, but it's undoubtedly a wholesale transformation of Medicare. Ryan should argue that this is a good thing, rather than try to obscure what he's attempting to do." 

There is, of course, a larger issue here.  Republicans are in fact trying to straddle the rhetoric of the Tea Party crowd -- the rhetoric of small government -- and the reality that most Americans basically like the current level of government programs and services, and Social Security and Medicare recipients love those two programs and don't want a dime cut out of them.  Democrats can get in trouble with that too (that's what the symbolic importance of the public option was all about), but it's pretty clearly true that at least for right now, and for a variety of reasons, Republicans are a lot more invested in keeping those who hold unpopular conservative ideas happy than Democrats are in keeping those who hold unpopular liberal ideas happy.  Republicans may think it's unfair that Democrats attack them for the positions they take as a result, but it's not exactly clear to me why neutral observers should respect those complaints.

5 comments:

  1. Yeah, but what about the muslims???

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  2. Standard playbooks for the parties.

    Dems play scare politics.
    Reps play obfuscation politics.

    The reasons are obvious. Dems play scare politics because the idea proposed by the GOP base are downright scary. Reps play obfuscation politics because it's easy to misrepresent their ideas in a way that sells.

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  3. " Most conservatives today seem to believe that the failure of Republicans to implement Bush's plan (along with their willingness to follow Bush in expanding Medicare) were terrible sins for which Republicans were justifiably bounced from their Congressional majorities in 2006."

    I have never heard anyone say that about the SS proposal. I have heard a few people say that about Medicare drugs. Most of the talk is about earmarks like the Alaska bridge to nowhere or spending in general.

    I think since 2003 when taxes were cut and the Medicare drug law was enacted the GOP has been incoherent on fiscal matters.

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  4. Very disappointed that the for/against medicare/SS fails to address the underlying problem; Dems have outright lied for generations that these are 1) insurance programs, rather than entitlements funded out of the currect budget (washed through phony "trust" fund gov't issued bonds!), 2) NOT sustainable under current fiscal policies. It's fine with me to want to support these programs in any form you wish, but please explain how one worker will support each retiree soon, w/o ridiculous tax increases or means testing???
    Best Regards,
    Mike
    PS: thanks for post good questions for all . . .

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  5. Mike,

    "Entitlement" just means that the law says that people who qualify will receive the benefits. I don't see that anyone has particularly lied about that. And as far as SS being sustainable...well, the actuaries say it's fine for the next almost thirty years. After that, it's true, their best guess is that there's a relatively minor problem, but I don't think anyone has lied about that. Indeed, most young people now believe that they'll get nothing from SS, which is (unless someone changes the program dramatically) totally unwarranted -- even after ~2040, revenues will cover ~75% of expected benefits.

    Medicare, OTOH, is a big problem, sort of, although it's more accurate to say it's part of a much more serious problem of skyrocketing medical costs -- it's unsustainable for the Federal budget, but it's also unsustainable for individuals. The ACA helps, but how much is a matter of quite a bit of dispute, of course.

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