The Democrats, the Deficit, and Social Security

It’s official: the Democrats are coming after Social Security and Medicare. How refreshing that all the backroom scheming and political conspiring is finally out in the open. Before, the corporate elite had been having this conversation in private, via right-wing think tanks and business journals. Now, mainstream media is promoting these ideas, including the Democrat’s media mouthpiece — The New York Times.

In a three-page editorial, entitled “The Truth about the Deficit,” The Times gives its solution to the country’s debt problems. The main idea is summed up here:

“To truly tame deficits will require serious health care reform [Obama’s plan slashes Medicare], the sooner the better. Other aspects of the long-term fiscal problem — raising taxes and retooling [reducing] Social Security — must take place in earnest as the economy recovers.” (February 7, 2010).

Later the article is clearer: “And then there is Social Security. What is needed is a combination of benefit cuts and tax increases that preserve the program’s essential nature.” Of course those surviving on Social Security already live in poverty and cannot afford “benefit cuts.” Also, to make a dent in the deficit, benefit cuts to social security will have to be quite substantial, to the point where the program’s “essential nature” will be destroyed.

The New York Times acknowledges that such a course of action will be completely undemocratic and unpopular, but that politicians “must gather the political will to do what must be done…”

How can politicians destroy these cherished social programs in the face of such popular resistance? By trickery, of course. And this is exactly what Obama has proposed with his “bi-partisan deficit-reduction commission.” This idea puts Democrats and Republicans together to create a plan to destroy social programs. This way both parties share the blame, so that no one is to blame. The New York Times reveals Obama’s hidden motives:

“The deficit commission that Mr. Obama intends to establish could be helpful in breaking this logjam [resistance to cutting social security], by calling for necessary changes that politicians would be loath to broach without political cover.”

Labor unions and community groups also understand Obama’s treacherous motives. Dozens of them — including the AFL-CIO and Change to Win — signed a statement condemning the goals behind Obama’s “deficit commission.” The statement included some politically savvy points, including the following:

“…the proposed budget commission — which will be viewed as a way to actually cut Medicare benefits, while insulating lawmakers from political fallout — could confuse people and undermine the reform effort. And an American public that only recently rejected privatization of Social Security will undoubtedly be suspicious of a process that shuts them out of all decisions regarding the future of a retirement system that’s served them well in the current financial crisis.”

The statement concludes: “We urge you to act decisively to prevent the creation of such an extraordinary and undemocratic budget commission.” (Huffington Post, January 20, 2010).

However, it is not enough for only the leaders of unions and community groups to pressure the Democrats over this issue, especially when Obama has made it clear that he prefers the advice of Wall Street CEOs. Unions and progressive groups must educate and mobilize their base to confront both the Democrats and Republicans over the protection of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

None of the major unions who signed the anti-commission statement have information about this plot on their websites; none are organizing their members to confront this plan — a plan that the entire political establishment is in agreement with. Nor are unions seriously proposing other ideas to fix the deficit, and the fixes are obvious.

The military budget must be gutted. Obama plans to spend over $700 billion in 2011 for the military — both Democrats and Republicans are fine with this. Most Americans are not.

More importantly, taxes on the rich need to be dramatically increased. The nation’s tax structure changed drastically under Reagan and the two Bushes, with taxes on the wealthiest Americans dropping from 70 percent to the present day 35 percent. Under Eisenhower, the richest Americans paid 90 percent of their income towards taxes. The loss in revenue that resulted from these giant tax reductions is one of the major contributors to the current deficit. It must be reversed in order to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

This is the solution that working-class Americans would prefer, rather than have their Medicare, Social Security, and public education destroyed. It is up to the union movement and community groups to unite and mobilize their members and all working people to demand this as a solution to the deficit and Great Recession.

Without a massive mobilization with rank-and-file participation, the corporate elite will continue to have their way unchallenged, with more bank bailouts and more war. A coalition of progressive groups with clear demands to address the recession will have the backing of the majority of Americans, while being resisted adamantly by both Democrats and Republicans.

Shamus Cooke

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action. He can be reached at


  1. MyLeftMind says

    Michaelc says:

    With a military budget more than the rest of the world combined you have to wonder why are other countries able to do with so much less defense spending? Exactly why are our military forces so much less cost effective than Canada or France or any other country?

    How do other countries keep their military costs down? I expect the 114 Billion the U.S. has given Israel might be how that country manages to maintain its military strength. Ever wonder how many rich corporations make money off Israel’s use of our money?

    Our basic problem is that regular Americans are no longer in charge of our government. Until we wrest back control, the oligarchs will continue to buy off our elected members of Congress and the middle class will be squashed until we’re on the level of poor workers in third world countries.

  2. says

    Social Security is in precisely as much trouble as the politicians want to have it in. They wanted to bail out Wall Street, so they did. They’re not so keen on bailing out Main Street, so they don’t.
    They get their special pensions plus corporate payoffs for being the selected oligarchs, so they don’t need Social Security. If they want to bail out Social Security (an action which arguably would be in effect precisely how Social Security got started in the first place), they can and will.

  3. says

    It is amazing to me how in all the discussions of responsible spending there is never a mention of cutting our “defense spending”. Even the Pentagon losing a couple of trillion a few years ago did not have any repercussions. Can you imagine the uproar if Medicare or Social Security lost a couple of trillion?

    With a military budget more than the rest of the world combined you have to wonder why are other countries able to do with so much less defense spending? Exactly why are our military forces so much less cost effective than Canada or France or any other country? We can’t claim our forces are so much more effective, since we had the worst domestic attack since WWII on our own soil less than a decade ago.

    Remember when the Berlin wall came down, and there was this silly talk of a peace dividend? There was over a decade between that event and the 911 attack and in spite of that the military budget decreased less than 1/8 during a Democratic administration. Of course now we have doubled the military budget of the 90s, even though the enemy now is a dispersed stateless one that a large military is useless against.

    If our 700+ overseas military bases are supposed to make us safer, why are we always the ones that Al Qaeda singles out for threats? Why aren’t they more pissed off at Canada, surely their gay marriage and just as numerous freedoms must be like a matador’s red cape to Al Qaeda?

    What if our protecting our military empire is the only reason we need a military empire?

  4. Marshall says

    Social security is in more trouble than we know. We are told that current collections are enough to pay current benefits with a little left over. That in a few years, collections will not be enough so we will dip into the trust fund, which will last until 2040 or so. Well the so is sooner than we think because the trust fund holds US bonds and no cash, the cash was spent each year on other things and replaced with a bond. So how are they going to send me cash if all they have are bonds? If they send me a bond, I would turn it in for cash. That is what the government will do, receiving cash by selling another bond. This musical bond game is going to add to the debt in as early as 2017. There is no cash in the trust fund, only bonds. They must reduce our benefits to lower the debt. If AARP had allowed us to put some social security aside in index funds, we would have had a little extra, too late now.

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