Extremely Worrying Developments On Social Security

Flush from the Gang of 14's victory on judges, Taegan Goddard catches Lindsay Graham flexing his muscles on Social Security:Meanwhile, last night on Hardball, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suggested the filibuster deal may foreshadow bipartisan agreement on other issues. Said Graham: "Watch this group of 14 to come out with some deal for Social Security... Just keep watching."Here is why I am worried (emphasis mine): Any compromise would fall far short of Bush's goal of fundamentally overhauling Social Security. It would make big changes to the program yet retain a basic government-provided benefit for all Americans. It would secure the system's financial solvency for many years by cutting promised benefits and raising payroll taxes on high-income workers. Nice to see a compromise plan that would break a fundamental promise to the American people by cutting their benefits. How is breaking a promise to Americans a fucking compromise? If Senators in Washington want to compromise, they should compromise with the American people themselves, who already have decided upon a plan for Social Security:More than two-thirds of 1,010 adults contacted from Friday to Sunday said it would be a good idea to limit benefits for wealthier retirees and for higher income workers to pay Social Security taxes on all their wages.

Currently, the cap on wages taxed for Social Security is set at $90,000.

Other options to change Social Security fell far behind -- 40 percent of respondents said reducing benefits for early retirement is a good idea; 37 percent said increasing the tax for all workers would be a good idea; 35 percent said the government should increase the age at which people could receive full benefits; and 29 percent said reducing benefits for people under 55 was acceptable.

The margin of error for the poll was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

About 55 percent of respondents thought Bush's proposal that would allow wage earners to invest some of their Social Security taxes in private investment accounts in the future is a "bad idea" -- the same percentage as a month ago before the president began his campaign for the plan.

Forty percent said it was a good idea in both polls.

Two-thirds of the American public supports a very simple plan for Social Security: end the wage cap. This a pretty good plan, since it would make Social Security run a surplus for centuries. In Washington, two-thirds support would mean it could over-ride a veto.

We have united opposition to carve-out private accounts. That, however, is only half of the battle. We also need united Democratic opposition to benefit cuts. Bankruptcy, Schiavo and the filibuster are in the past. There is no crisis. Our first fight of this session of Congress in once again our most pressing.

Valero, Premcor, Alon USA, and Exxon

The UK bloggers are awash with the Galloway speech-- they saw it coming. The most interesting thing to come out of this whole "Galloway in the Senate" romp of Coleman, is that it's opened up an ugly truth.  The Republicans in DC have been targeting heads of state from overseas, but in fact, the US-based companies were the biggest end-users, and in fact, made the biggest end-profit, of laundered-oil from Iraq that ended up in U.S.:
The panels seem to agree that three-quarters of the oil Iraq was permitted to export under oil-for-food ended up in the United States, though U.S. firms directly purchased less than 1 percent of the crude.

A new report from Democrats on the Senate subcommittee concludes the United States ended up with a majority of the oil lifted from Iraq after vendors paid illicit surcharges of 10 cents to 30 cents a barrel to Saddam.

Investigators have estimated Saddam pocketed at least $2 billion by extorting the surcharges and kickbacks on humanitarian goods purchased.

While oil-for-food was operating from 1996 to 2003, Saddam got to choose the buyers of 3.4 billion barrels of oil that sold for $64 billion.

The oil revenue went into a U.N.-controlled bank account that doled out money for U.N.-approved sales of food, medicine and supplies to Iraq.

The illicit surcharges were typically wired into Iraq-controlled bank accounts in Lebanon, Oman and an Iraqi-front company in the United Arab Emirates, or paid in cash to Iraqi embassies and flown to Baghdad.

Of the $228 million in surcharged oil, the Democratic report found the United States imported 525 million barrels, or 52 percent of it.

Among the biggest end users of this oil were Valero, Premcor, Alon USA, and Exxon, according to the report.

A Soldier's Thoughts (US, in Iraq) has more.

Bringing The American People To The Bargaining Table

Conservatives and libertarians often talk about fixing the "entitlement" system in this country. For example, on Social Security they warn the public that it needs to be fixed before it becomes a "crisis." However, they are frequently stymied in their efforts, because of how strongly the electorate tends oppose taking something away from them.

Well, certainly the most expansive, and probably the most expensive, entitlement system in this country is the low price of gasoline (combined with our highway system, it is certainly the most expensive). No political figure or party in this country has ever had the political capital required to tell the American people that there need to be steep cuts in this entitlement. The only way that this system will probably ever be fixed will be when the price of gasoline rises to $5 a gallon at the pump on its own as a result of increased demand for oil. The only way this entitlement will ever be done away with in America is through internal crisis and collapse of the entitlement.

Don't believe me? Check out the Gallup for the culprits to rising gas prices:

CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll. April 29-May 1, 2005. N=1,006 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3. "Thinking for a moment about gas prices: Do you think the prices that you are currently paying for gasoline are fair or unfair?"
Fair	Unfair
 20	  78
How much do you blame each of the following for the recent increase in gasoline prices: a great deal, a moderate amount, not much, or not at all? How about [see below]?"
Great Deal    Moderate Amount	Not Much / At All
      Foreign countries that produce oil
   50		    27		       21

	  Oil companies in the U.S
   47		    32		       20

	  The Bush Administration
   38		    27		       34

Americans who drive vehicles that use a lot of gasoline
   24		    29		       46 
We can point out all we want that the American government has historically done a remarkable job keeping the price for gas low compared to other countries, but it does not seem to matter. By an overwhelming margin, we still think $2.20 a gallon is unfair. Not only do we think prices are too high, but we also blame everyone but the consumers of oil for these problems. And if politicians don't like it, well, then they are in a lot of trouble. Everyone knows that Presidential approval ratings are tied to the price at the pump. If you want to be popular while in office, your number one task should be to keep gas prices low.

Progressives can complain about how powerful interests are behind our over-dependence and over-consumption of petroleum all we want, but the fact remains that we are nowhere close to bringing the American oil consumer to the bargaining table. We have no desire to reduce our demand for oil, and we fail to be convinced that they supply of oil is limited. If any administration were to try to spend its political capital to convince the public of these things, then you can rest assured that it would be the only thing that administration would be able to do.

Blood Brothers and Sisters

If you ever wondered what the Demcoratic Party stood for, right now you at least have one thing: Social Security. Check this out this quote from The Corner, via Washingotn Monthly:Just had a conversation with a Republican senator. A few things he said:

....On Social Security, it's looking "not great." Grassley will try to get a bill out of his committee that has the progressive indexing, but no personal accounts. If that doesn't work, it's a sign that there's no support for reform whatsoever. He guesses that Frist will end up using -- excuse the Senatese -- Rule 14 to get a bill with personal accounts onto the floor. The Democrats will filibuster and that will be that. Chances for a deal are very low: "In this environment, I just can't see it. The Democrats are so negative. Even people who will normally look at things, are saying, 'No way on this one. We're blood brothers.'"

I remember back in early December when I was on a conference call with Jim Blanchard about his brief, abortive run for DNC chair. Josh Marshall was also on the call, and he said something about mounting a grassroots campaign over the next few months to make it clear that the Democratic Party stood behind Social Security, and would not let Bush sell it out to Wall Street. He talked about publicly outing any Democrat who supported privatization, stripping them of their committee assignments, withdrawing all support for them from either the DSCC or DCCC, and mounting primary challenges against them. I blogged about it here, although I claimed Josh's ideas for my own.

Well, hot damn. That certainly worked. If there is one thing the Democratic Party stands for, it is that we are mutually responsible for providing a decent stand of living for the elderly. We just have to remember to tell people that during election campaigns.

Income Maps

There seems to have been some confusion lately about voting patterns and income, so I thought I would help clear it up. Here is the 2004 map by state among households making less than $50K:

Kerry wins 437-101, and 55%-44%, although Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi were so close it is hard to know for certain who won those states. Clearly, people in families making less than $50K per year really liked Kerry, even in some surprising places. Overall, 52% of Kerry voters nationwide were in families that made less than $50K, while only 39% of Bush voters fit that characteristic. I should also add that Colorado looks really, really ripe for the plucking in 2008. Now here is he map for people making more than $100K:

Bush wins this income group 347-191, and 58%-41%. Maine and Washington were the only states where Kerry did better among those making over $100K than those making under $50K.Bush's larger percentage victory and smaller electoral victory indicate that voters in families making more than $100K per year have more significantly varying voting patterns on a state-by-state basis than do voters in families making under $50K. It also means that Kerry won several close victories in the over $100K group (under 52%), while Bush won several enormous blowouts (70%+).

(Source for these maps). All of this aside, as I have said in the past, these days race and religion, especially religion, seem to be far greater determining factors in how someone will vote than income.

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