It’s Not About Alan Simpson Anymore, It’s About Barack Obama

Since the publication of Alan Simpson’s now infamous categorization of Social Security as “a milk cow with 310 million tits,” calls for his resignation or firing by President Obama have spread like wildfire. I agree that Simpson should go — but that’s the easy part. The real elephant in the room isn’t the one on the Social Security commission — it’s President Obama.

As Robert Kuttner wrote on the Huffington Post, “Simpson’s ‘Tits’ Are the Least of It.” Kuttner observed:

“The campaign to fire Simpson has the right spirit but the wrong target. Obama should draw a line in the sand and make clear that if the commissioners propose cuts in Social Security, he will consider the whole exercise tainted.”

Sounds good — but has Barack Obama shown any sign of the intestinal fortitude to take such a step? The ticking time bomb co-chaired by Alan Simpson, d/b/a the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (a name only a focus group could love), was created, as Kuttner reminds us, to be a smokescreen from the start, the theory being that the commission would give the president “cover” and demonstrate that he was fiscally responsible.

After the drubbing Obama has received from Republicans in Congress over health care, energy and the economy, he should be giving this strategy a big re-think. Exactly who is Obama looking for “cover” from? How many Republicans who are not from the state of Maine are likely to be persuaded by a Democratic President’s contortions to display “fiscal responsibility,” — which in this case means throwing the middle class under a bus? With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Let’s be clear: Social Security hasn’t contributed one penny to the deficit, and cutting it won’t fix the problem. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Social Security and the deficit:

“When you talk about reducing the deficit and Social Security, you’re talking about apples and oranges.To change Social Security in order to balance the budget, they aren’t the same thing in my view.”
The silence from the White House on this score has been deafening. And Barack Obama’s hesitation has only affirmed the very deliberately framed argument beneath Alan Simpson’s seemingly impromptu, asinine remarks.

Simpson has spent his entire time on the commission trying to convince the U.S. public that cutting Social Security benefits will somehow help reduce the federal deficit. That simply isn’t so. Social Security has nothing to do with the federal budget deficit. Its financing is completely separate from general revenues. In fact, by law, Social Security funds are not permitted to be directly spent on government operations other than its old age, survivors and disability programs.

Oh, and that tired old saw that Social Security isn’t solvent and won’t be there when most of us retire? That’s not so either. Social Security is solvent all the way to 2037 because of steps taken back in 1983, which successfully prepared the system for the retirement of the baby boomers. And with very modest tweaking, the system can be solvent through 2084. (For more details, see the Social Security Trustees 2010 Report.)

The good news is that the people of this country are not fooled. Polls show overwhelming opposition to cuts in Social Security — huge majorities of Democrats, Republicans, Independents, even Tea Party supporters don’t want benefit cuts. But despite all that, Barack Obama still won’t draw a line in the sand to protect Social Security.

That’s why the National Organization for Women is pushing back. We’re calling on President Obama to go beyond generalities and vague assurance and take a clear, unambiguous and forceful stand. Women can’t wait until the next election–or even next week–to hear it.

And Alan Simpson? He can go back to “putting his size 15 feet” in his mouth along with the baby pacifiers NOW members are this week sending his way!

Originally published on Terry O’Neill’s Huffington Post blog on September 1, 2010

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