The Arizona Republic’s GOPropaganda war against social security and Medicare

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

ScreenshotThe Arizona Republic(an) on Sunday published a remarkably misleading report on Spending on Medicare, other programs can't be ignored, by its personal finance writer, Russ Wiles.

This report reads as if it was produced by Pete Peterson's Fix The Debt organization, with some local content added by Mr. Wiles, who quotes former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson "during a recent stop in Phoenix" at length.

Fix The Debt oddly is never mentioned in the report but its two co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson aka the "austerity twins" of the spectacularly failed National Commission on Fiscal Responsiblity and Reform, are prominently mentioned in the report.

I don't know whether The Arizona Republic(an) has a similar partnership agreement with Pete Peterson as does the Washington PostThe Washington Post Lets Pete Peterson Write The News On The Deficit, but geezus, this report just reeks of Pete Peterson propaganda. Given the Arizona Republic(an)'s reputation for being the media arm of the Republican Party in this state, I would not be the least bit surprised.

Let's review: The chairmen's mark report drafted by Simpson and Bowles failed to garner the requisite number of votes from the commission to forward any recommendations to Congress. Even the GOP's alleged boy genius on budget matters, Ayn Rand fanboy and GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, a member of the commission, voted against it. The commission was a spectacular failure.

Congress did vote on a bipartisan measure modeled after the chairmen's mark report in March 2012. The House decisively rejected the plan by a vote of 382-38. "House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan was the only lawmaker to speak against the plan, saying it relied too heavily on tax increases and not enough on spending cuts." Simpson-Bowles Plan Rejected By House.

Despite the commission's spectacular failure, the "very serious people" of the corporate "lamestream" media hail Simpson and Bowles as near demigods.

On Tuesday, the Arizona Republic(an) doubled-down on Mr. Wiles' suspect reporting with a misleading editorial opinion that is an example of epistemic closure in the right-wing media (citing its own reporting no less). Entitlement reform a must:

Arizona Republic business reporter Russ Wiles performed a great public service: He coherently explained the point of it all. 

The point of the entire consuming debate in Washington, D.C., has
been about paying the bills for the great debt drivers of the budget:
national defense, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
.

* * *

To reform entitlements, containing health-care costs is a must,
whether by increased co-pays or premiums, curtailed benefits or moving
to a voucher system that gives citizens the discretion to spend a
prescribed sum on health care as they see fit.

Reform of Social Security is more straightforward. The retirement age
has been hiked before. It may be time to raise it once again. And
increase the cap on Social Security payroll taxes.

The answers to avoiding becoming Greece are no mystery. All it takes
is the political will to implement them — a commodity in depressingly
short supply in Washington.

Holy shit! There is so much wrong in the Arizona Republic(an)'s GOPropaganda editorial, where does one even begin? (We can summarily dismiss this opinion based upon the inclusion of the right-wing media meme "becoming Greece," which tells you the lack of intellectual thought that went into writing this editorial. Right-Wing Media Falsely Compare U.S. With Greece To Support Spending Cuts).

But let's get to the "Big Lie" propaganda point in Mr. Wiles' reporting and this misleading editorial: the assertion that social security is a driver of the debt is entirely false and demonstrates either a profound ignorance, or willful blatant lying.

Social Security, by law, does not add to the deficit. It is not a driver of long-term debt. As Jason Linkins and Ryan Grim previously reported, Fact-checkers Sputter And Flop Attempting To Explain How Social Security Works, Affects Deficit:

Instead of confusing itself and its readers, the [Arizona Republic(an)] could simply have referred to a 2011 Senate hearing,
chaired by Max Baucus (D-Mont.), during which two of the foremost
Social Security experts — one liberal, one conservative — answered the
question.

Nancy Altman [who actually worked on the commission that reformed Social Security], head of Social Security Works, which opposes cuts to
the program, read the law to the lawmakers. "The law is unambiguous. So
let me read it: Social Security ‘shall not be counted for purposes of
the congressional budget,'" she read.

"Social Security is not part of the budget. So that $14.3 trillion
debt that we are at, the limit that you are going to have to raise — or
at least have to vote on whether to raise in a few months — if you cut
Social Security, that $14.3 trillion does not change. It does not put
any room into the debt limit."

Baucus turned to Charles Blahous, a Social Security trustee who is
also with the conservative Hoover Institution. "Do you agree with that,
Dr. Blahous?"

"I do agree with that," he said.

Got that? Reducing social security benefits and raising the retirement age would do nothing to reduce the federal deficit or debt. The Arizona Republic(an) is part of the decades-long effort by conservatives to undermine the last remaining vestige of the New Deal. It has nothing to do with the federal deficit or debt.

So what should we be talking about regarding social security? Tax expert David Kay Johnston tells un in this report, Social Security Is the Best-Funded Government Program:

"Social security is the best-funded government program," says David
Cay Johnston. . . [who] explains that Social Security has a dedicated stream of income
and the program actually ended last year [2011] with a $2.7 trillion surplus.
But Johnston concedes that changes must be made to the program in the
future to keep the program solvent. Social Security could be at risk of
owing $8.6 trillion to recipients in 75 years, he calculates.

Johnston suggests three fixes for Social Security:

1. Raise the wage base subject to Social Security taxes from $110,00 to $200,000. That
would restore the share of American wages covered by Social Security to
90%, like it was under President Reagan, from 83% currently.

[On this the Arizona Republic(an) agrees. I would go further and remove the cap entirely. Few people with high incomes are earning their income from wages.]

2. Raise the Social Security tax by 2 percentage points.
The higher tax could help offset the fund's drop due to declining
wages
. The Social Security tax is currently 6.2% for employers and 4.2%
for employees. [the 2% "tax holiday" for employees expired in January, it is again 6.2%.]

3. Increase employment and wages. Of course, this is
easier said than done and something that politicians are scrambling to
accomplish. When more people are working, the government collects more
funds for Social Security.

[GOP austerity measures are counterproductive, it is a drag on economic growth and job creation.]

Keep in mind that the payroll tax only applies to wages. So what about the über rich "investor class" that makes its fortune from capital gains on investments, not wages? (Hence, no payroll tax). There is an old idea that is new again. U.S. financial transaction tax bill introduced in Congress :

Legislation introduced Thursday by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep.
Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., would impose a 0.03% tax beginning in 2014 on
non-consumer financial trading, including stocks, bonds and other debts
after their initial issuance, and would include derivative contracts,
options, puts, forward contracts and swaps.

The backers say the law would discourage speculative and high-speed
trading and raise as much as $352 billion over 10 years, according to
estimates for a similar proposal floated in the last Congress.

The U.S. had a financial transactions tax (FTT) from 1914 to 1966. (Currently, the US has a very minor 0.0034 per cent tax which is levied on stock transactions known as a Section 31 fee, which is used to support the operation costs of the Securities and Exchange Commission). Some 23 countries have legislation for some kind of FTT,
including Britain, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Japan and others.

11 European Union member states (not including the UK) recently announced that they
would aim to impose a financial transactions tax
(FTT), by the beginning of next year. The United
States remains the only major financial center not to do so. IPS – Europeans Urge U.S. Action on Financial Transaction Tax.

While Sens. Harkin and DeFazio intend that the FTT tax fund general revenue, there is no reason why a portion, if not all of the tax revenue, could be dedicated to social security (and Medicare). If every dollar that you and I earn is taxed for social security and medicare, then the über rich "investor class" should have to contribute a commesurate share of their income to social security and Medicare.

So what about Medicare? For-profit health care is the driver of the federal debt, not Medicare. The reforms proposed by the Arizona Republic(an) — increased co-pays and premiums, reduced benefits, and replacing Medicare with Rep. Paul Ryan's voucher system — were soundly rejected by voters in November. Elections have consequences for public policy — or at least it used to until recently.

David Kay Johnston suggested the following reforms:

In contrast to Social Security, "Medicare is a real nightmare," says
Johnston. He says healthcare payments for Medicare recipients surpass
the healthcare liabilities of 33 other countries in the Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),
all of whom have universal healthcare. He suggests that the U.S. adopt a
single-payer healthcare system
but admits it's unlikely to happen in
the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, he suggests the U.S. switch from what he calls a
"business model" focused on profits for insurers to a service model like
education and police.

"It would require a sea change of thinking," says Johnston, but "it's possible."

Johnston also suggests a national health service for older Americans
that would help drive down the cost of healthcare. Doctors would be
protected from the lawsuits that often threaten private practices and
the service would end "defensive medicine" — i.e. extra, and often
expensive, tests. Those additional tests—not the lawsuits—are what's
largely driving healthcare costs higher, Johnston says.

You can just hear the editors screaming "socialism!" can't you? The government exists to subsidize for-profit businesses with corporate welfare, don't you know? (As they sneer down their noses at the "moochers" of the working class). This is why Tea-Publicans are opposed to phasing out the Medicare Advantage subsidy to the insurance industry, even though expanded coverage under the basic Medicare program would be far less expensive.

This is also why Tea-Publicans are opposed to repealing the prohibition in Medicare Part D for prescription drugs which precludes the government from negotiating for lower prices, as it does with the Veterans Administration. Tea-Publicans are protecting this corporate welfare subsidy to Big Pharma.

The Obama administration included as part of its fiscal year 2013 budget a narrower proposal
allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices in the same
manner as the Department of Veterans Affairs. It would allow Medicare
beneficiaries who are also dual-eligible under the income-based Medicaid to
receive the same rebates that Medicaid receives for brand name and
generic drugs.

Tea-Publicans in Congress are opposed to any cost savings that would take corporate welfare subsidies away from insurers and Big Pharma.

Amazing that these practical solutions which would extend the life of social security and Medicare while at the same time reducing the annual federal deficit by constraining the cost of for-profit health care never received a mention in the the Arizona Republic(an)'s reporting, isn't it? Increasing taxes on the über rich "investor class" is not even an option.

The entire conversation is controled by billionaire hedge fund managers and corporate CEOs from Pete Peterson's Fix The Debt organization. These solutions hurt average Americans while increasing corporate profits and the wealth of the already über rich "investor class." It contributes to an already obscene level of wealth disparity in this new Gilded Age.

What the Arizona Republic(an) is doing ought to be a crime. It is publishing GOPropaganda as objective news reporting, which violates every rule of journalisitc ethics (an oxymoron today). What little credibility the media arm of the Republican Party in this state had remaining is now gone.

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