Obama and the Grand Bargain

It is appalling to see president Obama once again offer cuts in Social Security and Medicare in order to get a budget deal. He seems to be really eager to give the Republicans not only something that is opposed by his supporters, but also something that will be used as a cudgel against the Democrats in future elections, when the Republicans can run on the platform that it was the Democrats who wanted to cut these prized programs.

The only hope for averting this is if the Democrats in Congress completely stymie this move and refuse to go along, though even then the damage will be significant. But the party has a way of caving

The oligarchy knows that they can only get cuts in social services when Democrats propose them, as when Bill Clinton instituted welfare ‘reform’. It is the same thing with assaults on civil liberties, wars, and the like. Many Democrats simply cannot bring themselves to voice harsh criticisms of their party leader even when he does egregiously wrong things, as this list of Obama’s reprehensible actions shows. They act like the characters in this Tom Tomorrow cartoon.


  1. Ben P says

    this may be the wrong place to debate this, but I think there’s some genuine issues here. Take, for example, the recent NPR feature Unfit for Work: the startling rise of disability in America

    Because disability comes out of Social Security funds, I think this is precisely on point. The feature starts by talking about a town in poor rural alabama where 25% of the population is on disability, the various afflictions that are claimed (like High blood pressure and diabetes) and a doctor that fills out disability paperwork in part because he thinks these people simply don’t have other opportunities.

    Then you get to states that deliberately shrink their own welfare rolls by paying consultants a per-head basis to comb state TANF and other similar program recipients, interview them and find reasons why those people should be on Federal Disability funds rather than state welfare funds.

    Then in my work, (as an attorney for a state government agency) I see case after case, where either with elderly or children, that all sorts of problems exist because the whole family relies on Grandma’s disability check, when benefits for the parents or others have run out because the parents have never held down stable employment and/or have drug convictions.

    I think it’s a good thing that we, as a society, guarantee some minimum level of income, but I think there are pretty clearly some problems with this program.

    I’ll take it for granted that some people (particularly here) may well respond that this a feature not a bug, and we should cover people even more broadly, but if you’re realistic I think you have to recognize that if we’re going to offer that kind of welfare coverage we have to pay for it, and that (a) we’re not even fully paying for what we offer right now, and (b) achieving the revenue necessary to pay for that kind of welfare is a political impossibility.

    I’n not so stupid as to offer partisan snark about welfare recipients, but there are definitely problems that need to be solved.

  2. Mano Singham says

    I don’t think that anyone would dispute that with any program there needs to be checks against abuse. And there will always be people who game the system for their own benefit. I heard the NPR series but it is only fair to point out that it has been strongly criticized in many quarters (such as this one) for a highly misleading distillation of the facts.

    I worry that people will use the NPR series to create this generation’s ‘welfare queens driving around in Cadillacs’ mythology.

  3. Ben P says

    I’m not sure I see the argument that “we already knew lots and lots of additional people would claim disability and this isn’t far from our predictions” as a valid counterargument, given the simulations themselves predict the need for cash infusions to the program within the next 5-8 years.

    I can actually tell a couple “welfare queens driving around in cadillacs” stories from first hand knowledge, (for example, I handled a case last year with a family, mother, father, adult daughter in a household, father was disabled veteran, mother and daughter both on disability, collective payments were $105,000 a year) but I also know from first hand knowledge that they’re the exception rather than the rule.

    I don’t see a lot of deliberate gaming of the welfare system, on the other hand, I do see an awful lot of yeah, I’m on disability, but I do a little work for cash here and there. I think the article you link reinforces this, noting (as a defense) that only 30% of disability recipients are 60 or over, and 70% are over 50. That tells me that there are as many people under 50 on disability as there are over 60. It also tells me that 32% of those on disability claim their reason as mental disorders, 10% claim problems with the circulatory system, and 10% claim disorders of the nervous system, while only 4% cite physical injuries.

    The thing about SSI in the parts of the country the story referenced (like poor rural Alabama or where I work, poor rural river delta Arkansas) is that half the population qualifies for means tested benefits. That’s an entirely separate problem, that parts of this country live under grinding poverty.

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