Out There

the art of compromise

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on August 20, 2012

The looming insolvency of the social security administration has been this giant political doomsday topic for what seems like most of my 30-something years.  I read this story today and was struck for the umpteenth time how dumb it is when our national politics are so polarized and intransigent.  The article states:  “…the trust funds that support the program will run dry in 2033.”  Yet the focus of the article, and the focus of our public servants, is not on how to actually solve the social security problem, but on how Romney’s selection of a running mate who supported some degree of social security privatization in the past might affect the presidential election this fall.  As in “In 2010 Mitt Romney’s running mate supported allowing 35% privatization for workers under the age of 55 so I can’t vote for Romney.”

I’m not much of a Romney fan.  I don’t think I’ll vote for him.  But I’m going to go out on a judgmental limb and say that if the above is your reason for not voting for him, that’s ridiculous.  The senior who is trying to get by on a fixed income who worries about losing that 35% on the stock market needn’t fear, because this hypothetical plan from 2 years ago that never got off the ground would have only affected workers under 55.  The ultra conservative 54-year-old investor can put the money in treasury bills or municipal bonds or other instruments that are 99.9% safe bets.  And actually the article says that the 2010 plan would “allow younger workers to divert more than one-third of their Social Security taxes into personal accounts that they would own and could will to their heirs.”  So it sounds like it wasn’t even a required thing, just a voluntary thing where you could choose to divert some of the money going to the social security fund to your own private retirement account.

Note that the Romney campaign isn’t talking about any plan like this.  At all.  So it’s really absurd to bring this up as a reason to vote against him.  The funny thing is I actually like some of that plan.  Here are the positions of Romney and Obama as described in the article.

Romney, in his book, “No Apology,” said he liked the idea of personal accounts. But, he wrote, “Given the volatility of investment values that we have just experienced, I would prefer that individual accounts were added to Social Security, not diverted from it, and that they were voluntary.”

Romney’s current plan for Social Security doesn’t mention personal accounts. Instead, he proposes a gradual increase in the retirement age to account for growing life expectancy. For future generations, Romney would slow the growth of benefits “for those with higher incomes.”

Romney says tax increases should be off the table, and current beneficiaries and those near retirement should be spared from cuts.

I’m totally with him on all of this, except for the tax increases being off the table. Boo!  I’ve encountered so many people who would seemingly rather sacrifice their firstborn than suffer a 1% tax increase, no matter what it might be used for.  In all seriousness, a couple of these folks I could ask them hypothetically if they would vote for a 1% tax increase if it meant a complete end to world hunger forever and they say no with a straight face.  Strange and sad.  And stupid.  Which is a big part of why I haven’t voted with that party lately nearly as often as I did when I started voting 20 years ago.

Anyway, what is Obama’s position on the social security problem?

During the 2008 campaign, Obama said he wanted to improve Social Security’s finances by applying the payroll tax to annual wages above $250,000. It is now limited to wages below $110,100, a level that increases with inflation.

Obama also pledged to oppose raising the retirement age or reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs. “Let me be clear, I will not do either,” Obama said at the time.

Last year, however, Obama put on the table a proposal to reduce annual COLAs during deficit-reduction talks with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The talks ultimately failed and nothing came of the proposal, but it raised questions about whether Obama would honor his 2008 pledge.

“We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable or people with disabilities, without slashing benefits for future generations and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market,” Obama said in the speech.

Hmmm, clear as mud.  Takes a lot of guts to be specific before the election.  At least on a thorny, divisive issue like this one.  So this is way too long already, but what I thought when I read this was “How hard would it be to just meet in the middle on this stuff?”  

1.  Age at retirement.  It seems like common sense to raise the age at which you can start receiving SS benefits.  We are all living a LOT longer than we used to.  Phase it in slowly. This is not that hard.  For example everyone 45 and over can still retire at the same age.  Those who are currently 35-44 can retire 1 year later.  25-34 year olds can retire 2 years later, and those who are currently under 25 can retire 3 years later and let it go back another year every 20 years or so afterward.

2.  Payroll taxes are currently limited to wages below 110k and Obama proposed taking it to 250 and he was vilified for it.  How about we go to 170k or so?

3.  Accept Romney’s idea of reducing the benefits for people who very obviously don’t need it.  Anyone worth tens of millions at retirement age does not need their social security checks.  

Boom, solved.  You take an important part of each side’s proposal, each of which is absolute poison to the other side, combine them into one plan, and you have something that works.  If everyone is mad about it, then you’re probably getting somewhere, and it is probably closer to fair than anything either party could come up with.

So what I really want to know is, why is noone saying anything like this?  “Well if a politician says this he’ll never get elected.”  OK, lame, whatever.  But I don’t even hear anyone, anywhere, (media?  barber shop?) making proposals like this.  Is it because its a stupid idea?  Or….?  I’m really asking because I’m neither a genius nor a political junkie at all but every time I read anything about politics these days the need for compromise just seems really glaring.  There is so much room in between, it looks like low hanging fruit, and I don’t know why people aren’t pursuing it.  You know, for the good of…the world?  


visualize viscous knuckleheads!

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on August 18, 2012

I get emails on a daily basis from the tea party. I’m not sure how or why this happened, and I just delete them. However, today’s subject line gave me pause: “He taught those viscous knuckle-heads a brutal lesson.”

Ha ha. A spelling lesson, no doubt. Here is an html version in case you want to pay to learn this incredible fighting technique, but it lacks the great subject.  A honest mistake but it cracked me up.