Don Davis

Social Security: If You Can't Kill the Program, Screw the People

Filed By Don Davis | March 03, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Budget, Campaign for America's Future, Congress, economic policy, House of Representatives, Labor, Law, politics, Republicans, Social Security

There are a lot of ways to be petty and cheap and stupid. There are also a lot of ways to stick it to a program, and by extension, the clients of that program, that you don't like.houseofreps.jpg This week the House Republicans have embarked on an effort to combine the two into one petty, cheap, and stupid way to stick it to the clients of Social Security and the workers who administer the program. They're going to sell it to you, if they can, as a way to "lower the deficit," but what this is really about is making the actual Social Security program work less well - because after all, if a program is popular today, the best way to make it less so is to apply a bit of "treat 'em like their cars were impounded" to every interaction customers have with the system. What better way to make sure that happens then to aggressively demoralize everyone who works down at the ol' Social Security office?
The foot less prompt to seek the morning dew/The heart less bounding at emotion new/And hope, once crushed, less quick to spring again. -"Thyrsis," by Matthew Arnold
So here's the deal, short and sweet: Social Security is amazingly efficient at running an annuity and income support program at the same time. In fact, in 2009 the Social Security Administration Old-Age and Survivors' Benefit Program took in not quite $700 billion and disbursed $564 billion, writing checks to and serving millions of customers at the same time, and they did this with administrative expenses of about $3.4 billion - just about .6% of the distributions, all of this according to the Report of the Social Security Trustees for 2009. In the private sector, companies who provide annuities have administrative costs that range from 50% to 500% higher. Of course, Social Security doesn't have to pay sales commissions. The Social Security folks are similarly frugal with the Disability Insurance Program (expenses run 2.3% of distributions), and if you combine the two the total is .9%. Nonetheless, the plan from the House Republicans, who want to return to balanced budgets right now, if they are to be believed, is to cut $1.7 billion of those administrative costs from a budget of just under $12 billion in the remaining 7 months of the fiscal year, and according to the involved union, that means in those next 7 months workers will have to take three weeks worth of furlough days to make that work. If my quick math is correct it means they hope to close the office about 10% of the time while expecting the same amount of work to be done, which is probably not going to happen. The likely end result will be callers who can't get through without more of a struggle, checks that may or may not get out on time, an angry workforce, and a general result that equals more and more people saying "Social Security sucks," and if you ask me, that's the real goal of this effort: to make Social Security unpopular, thus setting the stage for more cuts to come later. And just to put all this in perspective, we today give subsidies totaling about $4 billion a year to oil companies, apparently because gold-plated caviar is really, really, expensive, and the same budget-conscious House Republicans, every single one of 'em, voted to protect that subsidy just a couple of days ago. Social Security workers were out yesterday handing out leaflets to describe what's going on, although as far as I know the leaflets didn't say that this is just one more part of a giant plan that's already raising its ugly head in places like Wisconsin and Indiana and Ohio and New Jersey: start a war against one group of American workers by claiming they're not "real" workers or that they're "special, extra-privileged" workers, and try to drag down all workers in the process. A cut like this is a shot at these workers, and, by extension all workers who might, you know, appreciate a raise some day. It's also a shot at you, or your parents, or your grandparents, who will eventually have to deal with the results of all the cutting. In the end, it's important to look at the bright side: the gold-plated caviar market will still be protected, thanks to that $4 billion a year in cash we're donating to oil companies, and if I had to guess, BP's senior management will not be looking at longer wait times the next time they call Louie Gohmert or Joe Barton or any one of a few dozen other Members who evidently represent Big Oil first...and Americans last. This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger's Network Project.

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Here's an idea, they should cut the allocation of funds to any people in places where house members who voted to cut funding for social security if they're registered for the same political party as that house member.

i got a better idea: we gotta get out and make this part of our daily conversations.

next time you're in line for a coffee, remind the person next to you that we're gonna get screwed here if we don't pay attention--and don't be surprised if the person you're talking to figures they'll never see the money anyway, so who cares?

there's been a lot of effort over the years to make us think that's true, when it's not, and it has a lot to do with why there's less outrage here than you might expect.

Another plan to undermine the system in the name of starving the beast. The word beast does not always have pejorative connotations. There is the beast of burden - the pack mule, the draught horse, the camel, and the symbol of the republican party, the elephant, etc. Once all those beasts are put to death, who will carry the load?

the only thing i can figure is that some of these folks are watching the tv show "deadwood"...and to them, that environment looks like forward progress.

laurieyoung | March 4, 2011 9:45 AM

Hi Don, I was going to say we should stop meeting like this, but I actually believe this is a great way to meet. I don't really know anything more about you other than that everything you write about Social Security I believe to my roots, and that you have a brilliant way describing congressional behavior and its likely consequences without getting into the weeds, which unfortunately can happen in conversations about Social Security. So, let's keep meeting like this....

well, first...thanks.

the good folks at campaign for america's future are encouraging me to do this (as if i didn't already need the encouragement), and you'll see me paying close attention to this topic probably for at least the rest of this congress.

that said, the next story is all about what it's like to be a state worker--and i promise, it will be fun.