Last week, a friend at The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare alerted me to an interview with former Senator Alan Simpson by Maria Bartiromo of CNBC. Before I get to that, some background.
In February, President Obama appointed Simpson co-chair his budget deficit commission which will meet all though this year and issue recommendations on deficit reduction in December. The question is, as Saul Friedman pointed out in his Gray Matters column ten days ago, how can a man who throughout his career has vehemently opposed – and tried to kill - Social Security and Medicare possibly “be an honest broker?” as Saul put it.
“[A]s recently as 2005,” wrote Saul, “Simpson, a conservative from Wyoming who left the Senate in 1997, supported attempts by President George Bush to privatize Social Security by turning part of the pension and insurance program into millions of individual investment accounts, which by now would have lost 20 percent of their value.”
There is an ongoing concerted effort by conservatives to conflate the deficit with “entitlement” spending – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – when there is no connection as Saul and I have been pointing out for years: Saul again:
“Social Security's long term fiscal problem has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Social Security’s role in the deficit. For, as I have emphasized in my column for years, Social Security costs the budget not one cent – aside from the one percent it spends on its thousands of employees and field offices.
“Indeed, Social Security helps finance the deficit by loaning the treasury money, for which it earns interest (about $700 million a year.)”
One more thing for you to think about before I get to the shocking (on several levels) interview with Simpson. Back in 2005, when President Bush tried to privatize Social Security, why did 80 or 90 percent of elders oppose the move? After all, it would not have affected anyone older than 55.
Because elders have always understood the value and importance of keeping Social Security funds separate from the instability of the stock market (even before the 2008 crash), and want that security for their adult children and grandchildren. Now read what Simpson told Ms. Bartiromo about that:
“Those people are lying when everything that was proposed last year, year before, year before didn’t affect any over 55. Now, anything I’ve heard so far doesn’t affect anyone over 60. Where does the howling come from? These people don’t care a whit about their grandchildren…not a whit.”
As Saul explained in his story, Alan Simpson played a major role in an assault on two organizations – AARP and the National Council of Senior Citizens - that had supported President Clinton's failed effort at health care reform. As a result, AARP's director was forced to resign and the NCSC folded.
Simpson is now playing the same song. From his Bartiromo interview:
“You’ve got scrub out (of) the equation the AARP, the Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare, the Gray Panthers, the Pink Panther, the whatever.”
Without those organizations, there is no one in Washington to speak for elders. Here is the seven-minute interview:
It is important to note in the interview that Fox News is not the only partisan game on television. The entire tone and tenor of Maria Bartiromo's interview supports, without question or proof, that cutting entitlements is the way to cut the deficit.
Medicare has big problems, some of which will be addressed with health care reform, should it pass Congress. Social Security, on the other hand, has minor problems that President Obama has correctly asserted can easily be fixed for decades to come by raising or eliminating the $106,000 cap on salaries subject to the tax.
What in the world was he thinking by appointing co-chair of his commission a man who is adamantly opposed to maintaining Social Security for future generations and sees cuts as a foregone conclusion?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Gail Title: Aging Groomers