There’s a reason why more voters now identify themselves as Independents than as either Democrats or Republicans. Namely, the Democrats and Republicans have both been breaking campaign promises for so long that people simply don’t want to be associated with those labels these days. And as the nation will see when President Barack Obama releases his budget on Wednesday, another key campaign promise goes down the tubes with his proposal to cut Social Security benefits.
For 78 million baby boomers now hitting retirement age, Social Security means more than just some promises to be kept in the far distant future. It means they begin to recoup some of the money that the federal government has taken from them every year since they began work in their teens. For most people, that amounts to about 50 years’ worth of deductions from every paycheck ranging from 7 1/2 percent for those employed by others to 15 percent for those who were self-employed.
The revenue derived from those payments does not go into the federal government’s general treasury funds, but to the Social Security Trust Fund that is supposed to be kept inviolate to earn interest and be available to meet the obligations of the Social Security program. Payments are proportional to how much any individual paid into the fund and are distributed accordingly, adjusted to when that individual retires. Those retiring “early” at 62, get lower payments than those who defer until “full” retirement age of 66.
It’s well-known that both Obama and most Democrats ran on campaign promises to protect Social Security. In the meantime, with good reason, they heaped condemnation on Republicans for their efforts to derail not only Social Security, but Medicare and Medicaid. That promise to save Social Security from the rapacious Republicans had everything to do with Obama and the Democrats winning at the polls last fall.
Significantly, since Social Security payments do not go into the general treasury, the program shouldn’t even be part of the discussion on the nation’s burgeoning debt problem. The program is self-supporting and should remain so far into the future. But for some bizarre reason, President Obama has decided to offer it up on the altar of budget cuts in his effort to strike yet another odious deal with Republicans.
But when the head of the Democratic Party, which President Obama certainly symbolizes, reneges on major campaign promises, it causes tremendous problems for those who also made the pledge to protect Social Security and who, unlike Obama, actually intend to keep their word. For Montana, that would mean our Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus, who will now be pitted against their own president’s proposal.
The dichotomy between promises made and promises broken will be particularly poignant for Baucus, who is up for re-election next year. And when it comes to Social Security, it will be a singularly important issue to the ever-increasing proportion of Montana’s aging electorate that will likely find those monthly checks their main source of income once they quit working. Moreover, as the powerful Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus will be a key figure in whether the president’s bad idea goes forward or dies in the Senate.
It would be great to say that for Democrats a promise made is a promise kept. But as myriad critics point out, when the middle-class workers of America get thrown under the bus, it is by the very Democrats they helped elect. As prime examples, they point to the Clinton administration’s treacherous betrayal of organized labor through NAFTA, which shipped millions of jobs overseas and helped destroy the nation’s manufacturing base.
And then there was the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which Clinton signed into law. As noted in the New York Times in 1999: “The decision to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 provoked dire warnings from a handful of dissenters that the deregulation of Wall Street would someday wreak havoc on the nation’s financial system.
The original idea behind Glass-Steagall was that separation between bankers and brokers would reduce the potential conflicts of interest that were thought to have contributed to the speculative stock frenzy before the Depression.” As it turned out, the “dissenters” were right about deregulating Wall Street – and Clinton and the vast majority of Democrats who voted for the repeal were wrong.
They say history repeats itself. And sure enough, with Obama’s sell out on Social Security, it looks like we’re about to witness another Democrat-backed tragedy.