Friday, October 12, 2012

Biden-Ryan debate: Iran and the Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

Joe Biden's performance in Thursday evening's debate against Paul Ryan reminded me of Abe Lincoln's famous comment about General Grant: "He fights."

Bill Press picks up on that aspect of the debate in Bill says Vice President Biden saved the day 10/12/2012:

Since I can't offer a better analysis of what went right for Biden than Charlie Pierce, I'll refer you to his post from the early AM, VP Debate 2012: The Real Paul Ryan Is Bad for America 10/12/2012.

You know what's the difference between Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan?

There were some substantive problems with what Biden had to say, much as I enjoyed his clobbering the Ayn Rand fanboy. They were points on which the Romney-Ryan ticket is worse than the incumbent President's trajectory. But for those of us who don't look at national policy as purely a binary partisan matter, they're worrisome. (See the transcript for text.)

Biden used the Republicans' bluster against them on the subject of Iran. Biden said, "The last thing we need now is another war." And, "War should always be the absolute last resort." Peace is good politics. He also did a good job of debunking the scare talk about an Iranian nuclear weapon. I like that he said in this connection, "facts matter."

But he also said of the Iran sanctions, "These are the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions, period, period." That sounds an awful lot like being only one short step from war. The US policy toward nuclear nonproliferation is dangerously one-sided in the Middle East. Nuclear nonproliferation is extremely important. But it doesn't justify an unprovoked attack on Iran. "Aggressive war", aka, preventive war, is a threat to peace, international law and nuclear nonproliferation. The Obama Administration's Libya policy can also be faulted in that regard. Muammar Ghaddafi's regime had cooperated with the United States on nuclear nonproliferation and gave up their nuclear weapons program. Then the US sided military with rebels against that government.

The other big concern was Biden's weasily-worded comments on Social Security and Medicare. People following the grim negotiations on the "Grand Bargain" to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, what Biden said wasn't entirely reassuring, though he drew sharp and necessary contrasts with Ryan. David Dayen looks at those moments in VP Debate: The Constrained Discussion on Social Insurance FDL News Desk 10/12/2012:

... the myth that Biden didn't confront sprung from the very premise of the question.

"Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke and taking a larger share of the budget in the process," said Martha Raddatz, marring an otherwise good moderating performance. Social Security has nothing to do with the federal budget. It has a dedicated funding stream from the payroll tax, and is fully funded for the next two decades, which is more than you can say about pretty much any other government program. A good portion of Medicare comes from its hospital insurance tax, another dedicated funding stream. That Medicare is taking a larger share of the federal budget is an artifact of higher health spending in the United States generally, and Medicare is the least important driver of that. In fact, the antidote for higher health spending is more Medicare, a single payer program that can bargain down these higher costs. ...

But he didn’t challenge this premise, this idea that these vital programs are “going broke,” and that the role of government is just to hang onto them rather than design them in a more adequate way to increase security for older Americans. We need a Social Security system that increases benefits to those who need it. We need a Medicare program that covers really everyone, but certainly more people, to increase its bargaining power. But Biden, inside the contours of the question, and determined to maintain the wiggle room the President clearly wants, could only say that he opposed a voucher system for Medicare and privatization for Social Security. I agree, but that’s not the only answer.
The Obama Administration created a (still relatively small) exception to the very useful argument that Social Security does not draw on the General Fund budget. He and Congress financed the temporary payroll tax reductions by having the General Fund reimburse the Social Security Trust Fund for the cost. This always bothered me from the standpoint of defending Social Security. If it's supposedly going broke, why would we cut the taxes that pay for it? Well, the answer is that the General Fund is reimbursing Social Security. But that opens the program up for the Republicans to call it a "welfare" program that draws down General Funds. The obvious alternative would have been to provide those subsidies in the form of refunds coming directly to payroll tax payers.

Here's what Biden said:

Look, I was there when we did that with Social Security, in 1983. I was one of eight people sitting in the room that included Tip O'Neill negotiating with President Reagan. We all got together, and everybody said, as long as everybody's in the deal, everybody's in the deal, and everybody is making some sacrifice, we can find a way. We made the system solvent to 2033.

We will not, though, be part of any voucher plan eliminating the voucher says, Mom, when you're when you're 65, go out there, shop for the best insurance you can get; you're out of Medicare. You can buy back in, if you want, with this voucher, which will not keep pace will not keep pace with health care costs, because if it did keep pace with health care costs, there would be no savings. That's why they go the voucher they we will be no part of a voucher program or the privatization of Social Security. ...

Quickly, the bottom line here is that all the studies show that if we went with Social Security proposal made by Mitt Romney, if you're 40 in your 40s now, you will pay $2,600 a year you get $2,600 a year less in Social Security. If you're in your 20s now, you get $4,700 a year less. The idea of changing and change being, in this case, to cut the benefits for people without taking other action you could do to make it work is absolutely the wrong way.

These look, these guys haven't been big on Medicare from the beginning. Their party's not been big on Medicare from the beginning. And they've always been about Social Security as little as you can do. Look, folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this? A man who introduced a bill that would raise it $6,400 a year, knowing it and passing it, and Romney saying he'd sign it? Or me and the president? [my emphasis]
This formulation clearly leaves the door open for cuts in benefits to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in a post-election Grand Bargain.

The politics on this is kind of twisted. Because the Republicans got away in the Congressional campaigns of 2010 with claiming that projected savings to Medicare that do not reduce benefits to recipients were actually cuts to Medicare, they've recycled it in 2012 with the "$716 billion" meme. Instead of attacking Obama on the cuts he actually proposed in the debt ceiling negotiations last year and clearly intends to propose again in the lame-duck session this year, the Reps are attacking him with a phony claim. Shameless prevaricators that they are, even they don't seem to have found a way to attack him on the Grand Bargain proposals o cuts benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid because they are actually down with that program.

Biden repaired some of the damage Obama did to their campaign in the first debate when he said there were no real differences between him and Romney on Social Security. But there's still a Grand Bargain fight coming after the November election between supporters of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on one side and Obama and the Republicans on the other.

Finally, Biden's answer on abortion was a strong variation on the standard Democratic politician's position - to say they're personally against it but support choice for women - and it very effectively made the point that the Democrats are pro-choice and the Republicans anti-choice. And that helps the Democrats.

But given the success of the fanatical anti-abortion movement in passing restrictions to access to abortion services, their newly visible front against contraception more generally, and their success in framing the issue to the point that violent and even murderous attacks against abortion clinics and providers aren't even called "terrorism" by politician or the government or the mainstream news media - the I'm-personally-against-it-but-support-a-woman's-right-to-choose really isn't good enough any more. Advocates of choice, including Democratic politicians, need to be making a case on the medical facts central to the Roe v. Wade decision: that a fetus cannot survive outside its mother womb until the third trimester and is therefore medically a part of the woman's body. The mushy, subjective dodge just doesn't work well enough any more. Law needs to be based on medical realities. Because "facts matter."

Tags: , , ,

| +Save/Share | |

Links to this post:

Create a Link


"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?


  • What is the Blue Voice?
  • Bruce Miller
  • Fdtate
  • Marcia Ellen (on hiatus)
  • Marigolds2
  • Neil
  • Tankwoman
  • Wonky Muse


  • Merkel's visit to Greece
  • Biden-Ryan debate tonight
  • Greece welcomes Angela Merkel to Athens
  • Obama's commitment to a Grand Bargain to cut benef...
  • Rent-seeking and the growth of inequality in the U...
  • Utopian thinking and the impotance of shaking thin...
  • The "47%" meme
  • Euro miseries
  • More Obama-Romney debate commentary
  • How serious is the voter suppression problem?



    [Tip: Point cursor to any comment to see title of post being discussed.]
    www TBV




    Environmental Links
    Gay/Lesbian Links
    News & Media Links
    Organization Links
    Political Links
    Religious Links
    Watchdog Links



    Atom/XML Feed
    Blogarama - Blog Directory
    Blogwise - blog directory



    hits since 06-13-2005

    site design: wonky muse