Saturday, February 14, 2015

191.6 - Outrage of the Week: changing the rules to damage Disability Insurance

Outrage of the Week: changing the rules to damage Disability Insurance

Now it's time for one of our regular features, it's the Outrage of the Week.

The Outrage of the Week this week points back to something I've been considering for a while.

About six years ago, I began collecting what I called "The Rules," or, more completely, "The Right-Wing Rules for (Avoiding) Debate." The last time I updated them, about four years ago, there were 17 such rules, ranging from the direct "Deny, deny, deny" and "Attack, attack, attack" (Rules 1 and 2, respectively) to such as "Seize control of the Clock of History. Insist that all events outside the time frame most advantageous to your argument are irrelevant and must not be considered" (Rule 15).

It started out as a rather light-hearted undertaking, just poking fun at evasions and foolishness, but over time it became more serious, it became an indictment of the efforts of the right wing to avoid actual, factual, engagement on issues and to substitute accusation and obfuscation for investigation.

The list is, I said, "about deceit. About intellectual cowardice. About being a bully. About being a liar. It's about being an American rightwinger."

I mention that now because it's high time for Rule #18, which is "When the rules of the game do not guarantee you a win, change the rules."

That was on full display as the new Congress opened. The very first day of the new Congress, House GOPpers passed a rules package for the year that included one saying it would be out of order for Congress to reduce the actuarial balance of the Social Security retirement account. This, they said, was to "protect" Social Security

But what that means in practice, and the real intent of the rule, is that money cannot be shifted from one Social Security account - the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, which is what we usually think of when we think of Social Security - to what is in fact another Social Security fund: Social Security Disability Insurance. But the funds in the Disability Insurance account have to be replenished or recipients - who are among the most vulnerable of our population - could see a 20% cut in their benefits by the end of next year. The normal way to do that would be to simply shift tax funds coming in from one account to the other. That is, a little less of the inflow going to the Old Age Fund and a little more going to Disability. This has been done 11 times before - and has gone both ways, depending on which account needed the extra nudge at that time. It has been uncontroversial and routine.

But not now. With this rule, such inter-account reallocation of taxes becomes impossible - because, obviously, there is no way to reduce the amount of tax money going into the Old-Age and Survivors Trust Fund without reducing the actuarial balance of the fund, which is calculated in part on an assumption of the portion of total Social Security taxes going to that fund.

And the thing is, this is no sudden crisis, this is no failure of the Disability Insurance fund, and most importantly, the right wing line that disability in recent years - just "in recent years," mind you - has become a sort of substitute welfare is a flaming lie: The last time one of these reallocations of tax income was done was in 1994 and it was predicted, expected, at that time that the Disability Insurance fund would need to be replenished in 2016. The need for replenishment is exactly what has been expected for the past 20-plus years.

So now the right wing, which has been trying to destroy Social Security since it was first created, and still failing at that, is now changing the rules in an attempt to undermine the smaller target of Disability Insurance while squawking and quacking that it's all about "protecting" seniors, the same seniors whose hard-earned benefits they have spent decades trying to strip away.

It is nothing short of an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

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