Social Security: Where’s Our Tahrir Square?

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We have seen some amazing days in Egypt, and it’s provided a better lesson than anyone could have ever wanted for how taking action, against long odds, can really get something done.

A secret police mechanism has been pushed aside, an Army has chosen not to attack The People, and a President who was backed by the “full faith and credit” of the US Government on Friday was being told by that same US Government on Tuesday that it’s time to go.

The People, in fact, spoke so loudly that Mr. Mubarak has informed Egyptians that he’s going to “pursue corruption”, which, if taken literally, could eventually look like a puppy chasing its own tail.

The People, however, are unhappy with his answer, and they’re speaking even louder yet…even to the point of being willing to take beatings, gunfire, and, believe it or not…camel make their voices heard.

And that got me to thinking about Social Security.

You know, we are facing the potential for a great big Social Security fight for pretty much the entire term of the 112th Congress—and it seems to me that a series of great big “Cairo-style” marches might be the way to make our voices heard, so that this Congress understands that great big benefit cuts are something that we will not tolerate.

Oh, Vanity of vanities!
How wayward the decrees of Fate are;
How very weak the very wise,
How very small the very great are!
--William Makepeace Thackeray, from the Vanitas Vanitatum

It’s a simple point I make today: we want a Social Security program that’s in fiscal balance, and raising the income tax cap can do that without changing the retirement age, or means testing, or anything else…so let’s just do it, already.

(Raising the tax cap? If you make over $107,000 a year, that income is tax-exempt when it comes to Social Security. Taxing that income would fix the entire financing problem, with money left over, which means you could actually cut payroll tax rates for all workers at the same time.)

On the other side are those who seek to cut benefits for future recipients, and there is no logical reason why, when we have a simple fix in hand—but there is still such a community of folks, and they have considerable influence in all the right places.

But as we have learned this week, even when the other side has considerable influence—even in the wrong places—people can beat the odds and change the political dynamic, and they can do it in a way that can’t be turned back, even if the other side is willing to kill you where you stand…and the women and children you brought with you as well.

And if pro-democracy demonstrators in Liberation Square can do it…why can’t we, who want to make Social Security work for everyone, do the same?

Now I’m not suggesting that we gather up our camels and bottles and gasoline and head for the barricades—but I am suggesting that if we do not make the same kind of assertive showing the “Tea Party” folks did during the runup to the health care debate, then we are missing a huge opportunity, and if we fail we’ll have to wonder if not acting on this kind of strategy cost us support we badly need.

And we can even do it in an alternative way: let’s schedule friendly Town Halls with members of Congress who would like to help, and let’s hear from constituents—of all persuasions—about how they would absolutely not like to see their Social Security cut.

And who, exactly, is going to show up to demand they get their benefits cut?

My guess, it’ll be just the opposite: I would expect to see lots of folks, of all ages, who are tired of getting screwed, and who don’t want to get screwed again—and how much you wanna bet they’ll be nice and enthusiastic about expressing that point of view?

Get it on the TV, build a bit of momentum, and by summer you could be scheduling a nice “Social Security Flat Tax Now!” march on the National Mall, kinda like what Stewart and Colbert did last year.

Once you do that…as we learned during the health care debate…Democrats and Republicans alike can be “managed” more effectively, and those “paid for by Pete Peterson” deficit commission staff members end up being a less profitable investment than a credit default swap denominated in Icelandic krona and executed with the Central Bank of Greece as a counterparty and a consortium of the Central Banks of Portugal and Iceland as guarantors.

It may be snowing today, but the blossoms will be on the cherry trees in just a few weeks, and if we’re going to get this together, we better get started right away. So…my Social Security friends and allies…anyone know some cooperative Members of Congress?

Author’s Note: We spent some time in December working to help Betsie Gallardo, who was trying to have her Florida prison sentence commuted so that she could end her life at home with a bit of dignity.
That effort was successful, and we now know that she did pass away January 31st, surrounded by friends and family, and we wish her adoptive mother, Jessica Bussert, and all those friends and family all our warmest thoughts.
It will soon be spring, and the flowers will again bloom, and when they do perhaps we’ll see in them, as we did with Betsie, a reminder of the beauty that life can bring—and just how fragile that beauty can be.