Jonathan Chait

Privatizing Social Security, No, Cutting Social Security, Si!

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I have a general conceptual disagreement with Jane Hamsher's post bemoaning liberal support for the Obama administration, but let me focus on this specific area of confusion:

Of course, the White House is going to go after Social Security again. It’s the pot of gold at the end of Wall Street’s rainbow, and they desperately want that injection of cash which could keep their giant ponzi scheme from exploding. . . for a little while.

Lucky for them, Obama has successfully dismantled the opposition that kept George Bush from privatizing Social Security at Wall Street’s behest only a few years ago. Did anybody fail to get that message when majority whip Dick Durbin yesterday told “bleeding heart liberals” that they need to be willing to accept cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits for the economic well-being of the nation?

Hamsher seems to be conflating two very different things. In 2005, the Bush administration, using Social Security's funding shortfall as a pretext, attempted to fulfill the conservative movement's longstanding goal of transforming the program from social insurance into individually controlled defined contribution pensions. Democrats, fortunately, opposed this, Senator Barack Obama included.

Now, Obama is encouraging a deficit commission that will probably recommend some trims to Social security benefits. Hamsher insinuates that this would amount to "privatization," and that it would benefit Wall Street. She provides no evidence of this, and I've seen none anywhere -- it's the kind of thing that would get some attention if it were true. If they were planning to attempt this, liberals would raise holy hell. If they're planning to trim Social Security benefits as part of a balanced, progressive plan to reduce the deficit, I'm on board.

The funny thing is that, in 2005, it was Republicans who were conflating the two issues of filling in Social Security's deficit and privatizing it. Now Hamsher's doing the same thing.

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