I managed to stay awake during the State of the Union address last night, long enough to notice that the President is once again using half-truths and yes, even deliberate deception to drum up support for his Social Security plan during the State of the Union address. Salon.com has some great coverage of some of the inconsistencies and outright lies at this link.
Ben's comments that I posted below show that the Bush administration is running low on integrity these days. Paying reporters to endorse his policies, lying about the state of Social Security, and the viability of his domestic agenda. Here is a great summary from Washington Post Associate Editor Robert Kaiser: (full text here):
When asked:"Anything [the president] said strike you as objectively untrue?"
Kaiser: Yes. Bush often describes a world whose features are all highly debatable, if not simply invented. He proposes "a comprehensive health care agenda" that will leave perhaps 50 million Americans without health insurance. Is that comprehensive in any meaningful sense? He promises big economic benefits from legal changes, "tort reform," that independent economists say cannot have more than a small economic effect even if enacted, which is not likely. [And] he promises to increase the size of Pell Grants, not noting that they have shrunk far below the level he promised when he came into the White House. (quote discussed here)."
The President has not answered questions regarding how to fund Social Security benefits for those over the age of 55, who will continue to draw benefits from the traditional system while money from younger workers is diverted towards private accounts. The more we learn about what these private accounts entail, the more they seem to be a huge gamble.
First of all, Bush and others in the administration have admitted that the current plan does nothing to address to viability of the existing Social Security program, which those over 55 will continue to be dependent on under the President's plan. It also adds further irony to Bush's pledge to control spending and budget deficit (from The New York Times):
"A senior administration official put the cost from 2009 through 2015 at $754 billion - $664 billion to pay benefits and $90 billion for interest on the money borrowed. Peter R. Orszag, a Social Security expert who served in the Clinton administration, calculated that the program would cost the government over $1 trillion in the first 10 years the accounts were in place would be over $1 trillion and more than $3.5 trillion in the second 10 years."
The same article continues by addressing what the President didn't include in his outline of his plans for Social Security:
"The president did not say what benefit reductions he favored. The official who briefed reporters spoke only of unspecified "benefit offsets" and did not say what the cuts would entail or how large they would be.
The president did not address the cost to the government of paying full benefits to retirees for decades while tax money was being diverted into private accounts. Nor did he say how much this would increase the annual budget deficit.
There was no mention of what would happen to workers who become disabled, currently 16 percent of Social Security beneficiaries, or the minor children of workers who die, now 7 percent of beneficiaries. People who stop working or die young would obviously have much less in their retirement accounts than those who worked until retirement age. Nor was there discussion of whether spouses would have access to the private accounts or what would happen in the case of divorce.
No one in the administration mentioned how workers who retired when the market was in a slump would be protected financially.
There was no discussion of exceptions to no-withdrawal rule - for someone with large medical expenses associated with a terminal illness, for example."
I'm not so completely unreasonable to think that the President should have included this information in his State of the Union address. It was boring enough as it was. But, the President does have the responsibility to answer these questions at some point very soon. In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see which, if any, of these questions are answered.
Interestingly, the President is visiting the city where I live today to promote his Social Security plan, and even in the buckle of his electoral belt, Nebraskans are coming out to protest his visit. Now, when Nebraskans go out to protest a public figure, it's generally related to that person attempting to make beastiality illegal. Not this time. In some cities where I have lived, like Seattle for example, people protest when Starbucks stops serving their Holiday Hot Chocolate flavors. In Nebraska, the only protests that I have seen before were anti-abortion protests with giant posters of aborted fetae, and the beastiality protests I referred to earlier. To protest the President in the "heartland" is a rare event, particularly a Republican President. Maybe things aren't as bad here as I thought they were when I moved here back in November...