This Is How Trump Stays Viable

On his MSNBC show this morning, Joe Scarborough was, as is his wont and as is the wont of nearly every cable television pundit outside of Hayes, Maddow, and O’Donnell, giving Donald Trump advice. Usually Scarborough’s advice to Trump relates to how the 70-year-old fool and likely GOP presidential nominee ought to behave, how he should “pivot”—mainstream media’s favorite word designed to shkreli.jpgcommunicate to Trump that he needs to stop being so childish, stupid, and nasty—from the primary to the general election.  Today, though, Scarborough was giving advice on whom Trump should pick as his running mate, which, as we all can see, is pretty slim pickings. When Newt Gingrich is one of the options, that means Martin Shkreli said he doesn’t want any part of it.

In any case, about right-wing zealot Mike Pence, who to me is the obvious choice for those people who give a shit who Trump picks, Scarborough said the following:

My concern about Mike Pence is you never know how somebody’s gonna act on the national stage…On the national stage it’s easy to get out there and say some pretty dumb things even if you’re a pretty smart guy. Same thing with the General [Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn]. I would warn everybody away from the General…[because] you want somebody who has been on the big stage, who excels on the big stage. And, really, you’ve got Newt Gingrich who’s all over the place. But then you’ve got the guy who was one of the best campaigners in the fall and the guy who finished Marco Rubio’s campaign single-handedly, and that’s Chris Christie….I will tell you Chris Christie’s a guy you know you can put out there, he’s not going to embarrass you and chances are pretty good he’s going to embarrass the other side.

So, there you have it. If Donald was listening—and we know he was because he is obsessed with those people on cable television who are obsessed with him—he now knows who Joe Scarborough thinks he should pick. He should pick a guy who got his ass thoroughly kicked in the primary and who doesn’t embarrass Trump [!!!] by saying dumb things! Of course!

It is quality analysis like that, coming from one of the most popular political insiders on television, that keeps the Pumpkin Punchinello’s hopes alive that he will one day sit in the White’s House and restore the country to its former greatness as an isolated, xenophobic nation that will embrace the coat hanger as a national symbol for women’s reproductive rights, burn fossil fuels faster than ever, and make white supremacists feel like, finally, they’ve got their country back.

Keep it up, Joe and other pundits on television, you may get your wish.

Roy Blunt And Republicans About To Exploit Public Ignorance

MSNBC’s star right-winger Joe Scarborough was all excited this morning about the fact that the chaos and confusion Republicans have been causing in Washington has finally started to pay dividends in the form of low approval ratings for the President:

obama job approval sept 2013

“Things are actually breaking our way for the first time in a couple of years,” Scarborough said of conservatives. Except things are not breaking their way. Bloomberg News, reporting on its own poll a few days ago, said the numbers for both Obama and the Republicans “are the worst ever for both.” So Scarborough was simply out of his mind.

But speaking of delusional thinking, perhaps the weirdest, most disconcerting moment on Morning Joe this morning was when Scarborough highlighted this frightening Bloomberg poll result:

debt ceiling result bloomberg

What was weird and disconcerting about the presentation of this particular poll result on Morning Joe was that no one seemed to be frightened by it. And if this poll result doesn’t frighten you, doesn’t scare the Cruz out of you, then you don’t understand what fooling around with not raising the debt ceiling will mean. (Go here to find out and then get really scared, and pissed, about the dangerous ignorance reflected in that Bloomberg poll.)

This dangerous ignorance on the part of the American people—which is partly the result of journalistic malpractice—would be harmless if it weren’t for the fact that it will undoubtedly encourage unhinged Republicans to exploit such ignorance and really push the United States into default, if they don’t get what they want. Just today Politico reported:

A large number of Senate and House Republicans are raising the threat of a debt default to curtail, delay or defund President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement. It’s a major gamble — risking the prospect of a first-ever default on U.S. debt — but it’s one seriously being considered by the same Republicans who have refused to join Cruz’s filibuster attempt of the stopgap spending bill to keep the government running.

Not only that, Politico noted that Speaker Boehner “has compiled a debt hike bill with a bunch of goodies that they think House Republicans will vote for, and red state Senate Democrats won’t want to avoid.”

People may think Ted Cruz is a wild-eyed extremist—and he is—but the only thing that distinguishes him from the rest of the Republican Party in Congress is that he and a few others are wild-eyed anti-establishment extremists. The rest of them are wild-eyed establishment extremists who are willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States to achieve what they could not achieve in the last election: ideological victory.

After not supporting the weird attempt by Ted Cruz to defund ObamaCare via a continuing resolution on the budget, Missouri’s Roy Blunt told Politico:

The debt ceiling provides more of an opportunity to get something than the [continuing resolution] does.

Got it? Using the threat of debt-default, using the threat of economic chaos here and around the world, dynamiting the full faith and credit of the United States, is an “opportunity to get something” says Roy Blunt.

This is dangerous territory. This is alarming stuff. This is Republican politics.

How To Think About The IRS Scandal

Before I begin a discussion on the newest scandal—the IRS targeting conservative groups for heightened scrutiny—that currently has Big Media engaged in an orgy of speculation, I want to remind everyone that whatever additional news that comes to light regarding the IRS’s indefensible actions, or, for that matter, whatever happens in the seemingly endless investigations over the Benghazi attacks, we should all remember that the greatest scandal of the last four years has gone mostly unreported by Big Media.

That great scandal, still ongoing, is the right-wing conspiracy—yep, there are real conspiracies—to destroy the presidency of Barack Obama by plotting against him and by trying to cripple the country’s economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, a crisis largely caused by right-wing philosophy and policies.  That’s the real scandal, but one that is so wide and encompassing—almost the entire leadership of the Republican Party is involved, along with nearly every GOP member of Congress—it lacks the simplicity of the much-hated IRS singling out “patriot” groups, or the death and destruction (complete with video that can be played again and again) surrounding the Benghazi tragedy.

That being said, what the IRS did, was, again, indefensible. In case you were celebrating Mother’s Day Weekend and not paying much attention to the news, the IRS apologized on Friday for inappropriately targeting conservative groups during the 2012 election, as part of its job of determining whether such groups were truly deserving of tax-exempt status. And every liberal, every Democrat, should be outraged at what the IRS revealed, and will further reveal, as the agency’s inspector general report is released in its final form.

Singling out this or that ideological group is completely contrary to the mission of the IRS, no matter who is ostensibly running the government at the time. At present, we don’t know enough about what happened to pin the blame, but we will find out. It’s important to remember, as just one point among many, that the IRS Commissioner in March of 2012, who told a House Committee that the IRS was not specifically targeting 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 organizations based on ideology, was Douglas Shulman—a George W. Bush appointee.

It’s also important to note that this scandal was first revealed on Friday by the IRS itself, in the person of Lois Lerner, who is the director of the agency’s Exempt Organizations Division—three levels below the IRS Commissioner. Asked about her agency’s handling of Tea Party applications for tax exemption, she said she learned in June of 2011 what was going on in a field office in Cincinnati—agents responsible for reviewing applications for tax-exempt status were over-scrutinizing groups with “tea party” or “patriot” or other favorite names used by conservative organizers—and she immediately put a stop to it.  Lerner also pointed out that not one of the scrutinized groups lost its tax-exempt status.

So, with all that in mind, and with more facts to unearth, let’s get to the Big Media hysteria over this issue. I will use only three examples of many available. This morning’s Morning Joe, the political show watched by most pols in D.C., featured this exchange:

WILLIE GEIST: There’s been many overblown claims of tyranny and abuse of power from the government of the last two years. We’ve heard those— “we’re coming for your guns,” that kind of thing—this is tyranny—


WILLIE GEIST: —the government, a non-partisan agency coming after specific groups. This time its real. That’s tyranny.

Tyranny? Come on. Willie must have been huffing his wife’s nail polish remover over the weekend. That ridiculous claim is designed not to describe what the IRS did, but to win favor with those on the right who have, from the time the Scary Negro entered the White’s House, labeled him a tyrant. To seriously claim that giving extra scrutiny to right-wing groups seeking tax-exempt status from the IRS qualifies as tyranny, is, well, to not have the slightest idea what a real tyrannical government is like. Willie Geist should go here and see what genuine tyranny entails (warning: it is graphic).

In any case, there was more from Morning Joe’s host:

JOE SCARBOROUGH:  I can’t imagine much…worst than this. The Internal Revenue Service, the taxman, who, after all, we patriots, our forefathers and foremothers, did break away from the British government based on taxes, on the tax revolt. For the IRS to go after people because of their political beliefs…it’s unspeakable…

The British are coming! The British are coming! Oh,my. Unspeakable? Really? But speaking of unspeakable, Joe Klein, TIME’s political columnist, went there:

Yet again, we have an example of Democrats simply not managing the government properly and with discipline. This is just poisonous at a time of skepticism about the efficacy of government. And the President should know this: the absence of scandal is not the presence of competence. His unwillingness to concentrate — and I mean concentrate obsessively — on making sure that government is managed efficiently will be part of his legacy.

Previous Presidents, including great ones like Roosevelt, have used the IRS against their enemies. But I don’t think Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon. In this specific case, he now is.

I wondered over the weekend which journalist would be the first to compare Obama to Nixon, and Joe Klein, as far as I can tell, wins the prize. The prize in this case, of course, is Most Embarrassing Example of Inference-Observation Confusion By A Respected Journalist In 2013. Congratulations, Joe.

To say that “Democrats” are not “managing the government properly” is to say that Democrats are in fact managing the government. Most of the government is managed by bureaucrats—there are only two political appointees running the IRS for instance—and some bureaucrats are Democrats and some are Republicans. Perhaps at least one of those mischievous IRS agents in Cincinnati was a moderate Republican who didn’t like what extremists were doing to the GOP. Who knows at this point?

And if Joe Klein is so damned worried about “skepticism about the efficacy of government,” why not point out in his hysterical Obama-is-on-the-same-page-as-Nixon piece that it has been the Republican Party that decided to poison the country with its anti-government, Obama-is-a-socialist-tyrant message that this latest malfeasance by IRS agents feeds?

Further, to hold Barack Obama accountable, in a Nixonian context, for what IRS agents in a field office in Cincinnati do, without the slightest evidence that the President even knows an IRS agent in a field office in Cincinnati, is, again, exactly what is wrong with Big Media.

My third and final example of Big Media hysteria is from the otherwise venerable Chris Cillizza, who runs “The Fix” for The Washington Post. He included the following delirious nonsense from the lips of a man who masquerades as a Democrat on Fox “News”:

“Politicizing the IRS was one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon,” noted Doug Schoen, who handles polling for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “That being said, we are still a very long way from that point.” But, Schoen added: “The allegations are very, very serious and it is simply impossible to believe that it was just Lois Lerner and some low-level employees in Cincinnati who came up with this scheme to systematically focus on Tea Party and ‘patriot’ groups.”

Unbelievably, Cillizza led with that statement from Schoen. That should be a mini-scandal in itself. But impeachment talk, comparing Obama to the criminally disgraced Nixon, and suggesting that what some IRS agents did in Cincinnati amounts to tyranny, is how Big Media is handling this latest scandal.

Meanwhile, that other scandal, the one involving Republicans punishing the American people in order to punish the President, goes mostly unreported. And, quite ironically, the trouble the IRS has caused for itself and the President and those who believe government is mostly a force for good, will mean that those conservative “tax-exempt” groups that have been aiding and abetting the Republican conspiracy to destroy-the-Obama-presidency-even-if- it-wounds-the-country, will enjoy little or no scrutiny in the months and years to come.

Thus, if Obama is a tyrant, he’s not very damn good at it.

Bye Bye Barracuda

I was starting to forget her, then comes the news:

The relationship between former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Fox News has ended.

Some folks, like conservative Republican Joe Scarborough this morning, have suggested that, by this move, Fox “News” honcho Roger Ailes (who Scarborough claimed is the de facto head of the GOP) is trying to help the Republican Party become less, uh, stupid.

Hmm. Scarborough’s suggestion has the virtue of confirming four important facts about the American right-wing these days:

1) Fox “News” Channel is an arm of the Republican Party.

2) The Republican Party really has been “the stupid party.”

3) Fox “News” has been peddling stupidity for profit.

4) Peddling stupidity for profit doesn’t necessarily help elect Republicans.



I spent the weekend wondering if this time America would change.

I wondered if the reactionary forces protecting an absurdly expansive view of a centuries-old right to bear arms would finally meet their match via an outraged and determined public, a public whose common sense sensibilities may have at last been quickened, quickened at the sight of those harmless little faces who turned out to be, in ways unimaginable, in harms way.

One could be forgiven for being pessimistic, given what we have been through before, given the carnage behind us that materialized in our seemingly safest social settings, and given that nothing, absolutely nothing, not a jot or tittle of our gun laws or the way we deal with mental health issues, has changed.

But I woke up this morning, the morning after President Obama said at that remarkable Sandy Hook prayer vigil, “we will have to change,” and I heard a conservative Republican, Joe Scarborough, a man with whom I rarely agree, give all of us who hope for real change this time reason to believe that change will come:

Mandate? Whose Mandate?

Someone told me we had an election on November 6, discernibly about increasing taxes on the wealthy. And, I was told, President Obama won.

Yet, I heard some of the chatter on Morning Joe this morning regarding the negotiations over the coming austerity crisis, also known as the fiscal cliff, and guess what? It’s mostly President Obama’s fault that nothing has been accomplished so far.

The consensus appeared to be, among those around the Morning Joe table, that President Obama should be like Lincoln or Lyndon Johnson and essentially purchase House Republican votes with some kind of patronage scheme or go up to Capitol Hill and cajole Republicans in some unspecified way. All to get a deal on taxes.

Joe Scarborough mentioned that those House Republicans won their races, too, some of them with “a much,much higher percentage of the vote in their districts than the President,” and that the President should understand that,

They won as well. And so they have a mandate as well…you’d think this president, as a state legislator, would understand those dynamics, but he doesn’t.

Hmm. “They have a mandate as well.” “Understand those dynamics.” Let me get this straight: An indiscernible mandate of a congressman from, say, Southwest Missouri, is somehow on a par with a clear mandate of the newly elected President of the United States? Let’s think about that as we quickly look at my congressman, Ozark Billy Long, and how many votes he got on November 6:

Billy Long, Republican:   203,565    63.9%
Jim Evans, Democrat:      98,498    30.9%

You can see that Scarborough is right in one sense. Billy Long got a whopping 64% of the vote here in the Ozarks. That’s definitely more than the President got. But you can also see that Long got just over 200,000 votes. I wonder how many votes Barack Obama got? Oh:

popular vote totals 2012

Now, let me do some ciphering:

OBAMA:    65,355,488
LONG:            203,565

So, the President got about 65 million more votes than Ozark Billy, but in Scarborough’s world—and he was not contradicted by anyone on the set—Long has a mandate that President Obama is compelled to respect enough to go down to Long’s office and, uh, what? What is he supposed to offer Ozark Billy? A signed copy of his Hawaiian birth certificate? A free lunch at the White’s House buffet? An all-expenses-paid trip to Larry Flynt’s Holiday Poker Classic? (Billy likes to gamble.) Huh? Would any of that bring Billy Long to the light?

Mika Brzezinski, who often drowns in conversations like this one, actually piped up and said in response to Scarborough’s suggestion that Obama doesn’t understand the dynamics at play:

But what is he supposed to do with those dynamics?

Good question. And Jon Meacham, the now bestselling historian (his latest book is on Thomas Jefferson), added to Scarborough’s play for Republican respect by responding to Brzezinski:

Understand what the other guy feels like…That’s a huge part of what politics is. Henry Kissinger’s great insight: If you’re ever going to win a negotiation, if you’re ever going to have a result, you have to give the other guy a way out.

You know, he’s right. You do have to give the other guy a way out, a fig leaf, something which he can point to and say, “I got something out of the deal.” But what if what the other guy wants is totally unreasonable? What if what the other guy wants is his way or no way? What if what the other guy wants is the same thing he wanted before November 6? Before the election that saw President Obama get more than 65 million votes campaigning against what the other guy wanted?

Once again Republicans believe they are holding the country’s economic health hostage for the sake of protecting their wealthy friends, and they are trying to pretend the election on November 6 didn’t mean all that much. The problem with the political chatterers on television, most of whom are Beltway types, is that some of them respect the hostage takers more than they respect those trying to rescue the hostages.

So, sadly, Republicans are being aided in their efforts by some in the professional pundit class who are suggesting that the President is to blame for failing to satisfy the demands of the kidnappers.

Scarborough, without being challenged, looked into the camera this morning and emphatically gave the following advice to House Republicans on how to handle negotiations with President Obama:scarborough and fiscal cliff advice

If he doesn’t come to you with a deal, do-not-vote-to-raise-taxes-a-cent! Don’t do it! Don’t do it! You’ll get beaten! And Washington will spend that money and they won’t cut again and the deficit will be 18 trillion a couple of years from now.

The problem with Scarborough’s thinking, the problem with his blustery advice for Republicans, is that Mr. Obama now understands that a deal that pleases the right-wing zealots in the House of Representatives is not a deal worth making. He needs to make a deal with reasonable Republicans, if there are any left in Congress.

And if he can’t find any reasonable Republicans, if the country plunges off the cliff, falls off the curb, or waddles down the slope, however one wants to define what will happen on a deal-less January 1, the President knows that Republicans—Republicans—will get most of the blame:

fiscal cliff poll results


Liberal media bias? My ass.

Donny Deutsch—a regular guest on MSNBC’s non-liberal morning show, a guest who adds exactly nothing of substance to any discussion—said this morning that Romney’s “47% blunder” can be turned into a winner, if Romney will only “draw the harsh line” and say,

“You know what…maybe I didnt’ say it eloquently. The sentiment is right; this is an entitle [sic] country; it’s a weak country, and things have gotta change.” You take up the rage factor. I think there’s something there, I really do.

Yeah, Donny. That’s what Romney needs is more rage. That’ll get him those few undecided votes left.

But it wasn’t Deutsch’s stupidity that appalled me this morning. It was Joe Scarborough’s reply to it:

I really do, too. And Ronald Reagan, if he were around right now…Margaret Thatcher, other conservatives, would use this—and be optimistic about it; he’s been pessimistic about it—but would use this to say, “Listen, we’re getting to a point where one out of two Americans don’t pay income taxes, don’t contribute to the federal government, don’t contribute to schools, don’t contribute…”

Not one person on the weak panel, including Mika Brzezinski, who spends most of the show in silence in the face of such outrageous claims made by right-wingers, bothered to remind Morning Joe that he was an ignorant fool, that almost all Americans, and certainly all working Americans, do contribute to the national well-being, and most of them contribute a higher percentage of their resources than Mitt Romney, and, dare I say it, Joe Bleeping Scarborough.

As I said, liberal media bias my ass.

For the gazillionth time, here are the facts:

It’s true that some Americans don’t pay federal income tax. But virtually all Americans pay some form of tax, whether it’s sales, payroll, state income, or property tax.

Over 60% of those who don’t pay income tax are working; they pay payroll tax, which goes to support Social Security and Medicare. Another 22% of those who don’t pay income tax are the elderly; most of them don’t work.

In fact, only about 8% of Americans pay neither federal income tax nor payroll tax, because they are unemployed, are students, or are disabled.

What is missing from all this talk about tax is the fact that although the rich pay higher taxes than the poor, middle-class people actually pay a higher percentage of their income in total taxes. True, federal income tax rates are progressive, with rates going to 35% for the top earners. But deductions and special treatment of capital gains reduce actual tax rates for the top earners. So what we end up with is upper-middle-class taxpayers paying the highest actual percentage of their income, over 31%, according to a 2010 study by the group Citizens for Tax Justice.*

And finally, from the same article:

Digging deeper into why 47% don’t pay federal income tax, what we find are many former taxpayers: Twenty-two percent are the elderly, living mostly on Social Security, a benefit they got by working and paying payroll taxes. Others are unemployed or are paid close to the minimum wage, so they don’t have enough income to file any taxes.

What about Romney’s claim that these people believe they have a right to government assistance? Our research shows that over 50% of older people looking for work (but who are too young to collect Social Security) do not receive unemployment insurance or any other government assistance. They are living close to the poverty line with no help other than family.

Far fewer poor Americans get government assistance for low incomes. For the last 30 years, less than 4% of the U.S. population has received a full year’s worth of payments, like food stamps, which are based on level of income.

Romney can choose whom he cares about, but he can’t be allowed to choose his own facts and distort reality in service of divisive politics. Focusing exclusively on federal income taxes hides the fact that most Americans pay plenty of other taxes.

Finally, Romney says that the 47% can’t be convinced to take “personal responsibility.” Tell that to the single mother working the night shift to put her kids through school, or the 78-year-old widow living on Social Security, or the handicapped Iraqi war veteran who relies on government health care for his service to his country. Along with millions of working Americans, they are paragons of personal responsibility, not Romney’s caricature of self-pitying victims seeking to live off government benefits.


* I add the following, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

When all federal, state, and local taxes are taken into account, the bottom fifth of households pays about 16 percent of their incomes in taxes, on average.  The second-poorest fifth pays about 21 percent.[8]

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

Republicans are a funny lot.

Yesterday, Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman and now morning blowhard on MSNBC, was adamant that Mitt Romney use the occasion of Todd Akin’s national stupidity as a “Sister Souljah moment,” a time to demonstrate his leadership over the extremists in the GOP by telling Akin “every day” to “get out!” of the race.

Well, Mittens failed to do that when given his first opportunity, of course, just as he has failed to assert any leadership over other extremists in his party—on the contrary he has essentially embraced them—whether it be Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh or Allen West or Michele Bachmann or, gawd, that list is almost inexhaustible.

But today’s Joe Scarborough was perfectly fine with Romney’s rather gentle suggestion that Akin,

take these next 24 hours to spend time with himself and his family and conclude what’s right for him and his family and also for the things he believes in for the country.

There was no Sister Souljah moment there. No demands that Akin leave the race and stop embarrassing not just his party but the entire country. Nothing like that. Oh, Romney did say Akin’s “comments about rape were deeply offensive,” but we got no sense of how deep was the offense. But we do know Romney’s comments fell way short of what Scarborough called for on Monday.

But this is Tuesday. Today Scarborough said,

I think Mitt Romney did what was, I think, politically best yesterday.

Politically best? Scarborough explained what he meant when he was challenged earlier:

What would happen if Romney said, “I’m offended by this” and “Get out of the race today!’ and Akin goes, “Screw you”? What are the headlines the next day going into the convention? “He can’t even control a little congressman.” We would all be saying it. “Nobody respects Mitt Romney!” “He can’t even control a little congressman who is an extremist in his party.”

I guess leadership means never taking a risk that someone won’t follow your lead, right, Joe?

So, today, rather than calling for a Sister Souljah moment, Scarborough opts for Pee Wee Herman.

Wealthy And Stealthy

Ann Romney now famously said about her husband’s tax returns:

We’ve given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and how we live our life.

And that’s that.

This morning I heard Joe Scarborough say that it is quite likely that Romney didn’t pay any taxes some years and had offshore accounts he doesn’t want to talk about. But, he assured us, that all was done legally and no one is suggesting Romney broke any laws.

Of course no one is suggesting he broke any laws in his rather nimble manipulation of the tax code. And that is the point. Romney not only wants to hide his relationship with offshore accounts and dodges and low or no tax rates, he also doesn’t want to reveal that what he has done is perfectly legal, even if it is perfectly unseemly to most folks.

The rich are different from you and me largely because they play by different rules, rules they mostly make up for themselves so that everything is “legal.” And God forbid that the rabble find out just how different the rich are and how the rules are designed to promote and preserve their well-being. Which is why, in her patrician wisdom and as a member of the stealthy class, Ann Romney can say:

We’ve given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and how we live our life.

More Falsehoods About Social Security And Medicare

By now everyone has heard the news:

WASHINGTON – The Medicare and Social Security trust funds are both on “unsustainable paths” — as they have been for years — and will be exhausted by 2024 and 2033, respectively, a trustee report released Monday said.

And by now maybe you have heard the misinformation.

Joe Scarborough said this morning that Social Security will be “bankrupt” three years earlier than projected last year and it will just keep ratcheting up until it will be no time until it is gone. “It’s going down,” he said. In fact, here was the graphic on the screen as the panel discussed the issue:

Social Security benefits to be depleted by 2033.” What tommyrot that is. Benefits, far from being depleted, will continue long after 2033, even if nothing is done.

But first, let’s look at Medicare. As the USA Today story noted:

The trustees have predicted the depletion of the Medicare Trust Fund every year since they first began issuing reports in 1970, and they ultimately extend the deadlines out a few more years.

Yes, look at this from the Congressional Research Service:

As you can see, since such reports have been created, the projections of insolvency have been fairly imminent. Consider this from Sarah Kliff at Wonkblog:

…the trust fund doesn’t really decide Medicare’s fate. Instead, it’s an accounting term. When we talk about the Medicare Trust Fund, we’re pretty much referring to where our payroll taxes to finance the insurance program get stored. If the Trust Fund runs out, that means it can no longer cover everything it’s supposed to pay for. But Congress could — and, many think, would — make up the difference by borrowing, cutting spending elsewhere and using the savings to plug the hole, or finding new sources of revenue.

“The fund is a fiscally neutral element in the goods and services of Medicare finances,” Theodore Marmor, Spencer Martin and Jonathan Oberlander wrote in one article on the topic. “Congress can change the taxes that finance Medicare if it has the will. Likewise, it can change the benefits and reimbursements of the program.”

So, you can easily see that Medicare won’t be “bankrupt” in 2024, even though there is a definite problem with its financing that has to be soon addressed (apart from just shifting the cost on to future seniors, as the Romney-Ryan budget plan does*).

Likewise, Social Security is not now bankrupt and won’t be in 2033. Why? It is simple, as John Harvey at Forbes pointed out:

It is a logical impossibility for Social Security to go bankrupt.

Here’s how the Social Security Administration explains it:

The current Social Security system works like this: when you work, you pay taxes into Social Security. The tax money is used to pay benefits to:

  • People who already have retired;
  • People who are disabled;
  • Survivors of workers who have died; and
  • Dependents of beneficiaries.

The money you pay in taxes is not held in a personal account for you to use when you get benefits. Your taxes are being used right now to pay people who now are getting benefits. Any unused money goes to the Social Security trust funds, not a personal account with your name on it.

Because wage growth has been slow, and because the economy hasn’t exactly been great, money going into the trust funds has slowed down, but Social Security is not—not—paying out more in benefits than it is bringing in. Payroll taxes, along with interest from the special issue Treasury bonds the program holds, plus taxes on Social Security benefits paid by high-income taxpayers, all add up to an increase in the Social Security surplus.

Get that? The program’s surplus is still growing.

But even though Joe Scarborough got it wrong about Social Security and bankruptcy, he did get something right. He said the program’s future finances could be fixed in about twenty minutes.

One way of doing that—without cutting benefits—would be to eliminate the Social Security tax cap, which is currently set at $110,100. Eliminating the cap would mean that those who make more than that (about 6% of wage-earners) would then have to pay Social Security taxes on all their wages. Just this simple move would guarantee payment of full benefits for at least 75 years.

So, although we will hear a lot of Republicans talking about the demise of the two most important social stabilizers we have, using trust fund projections as tools to severely weaken, if not destroy, our safety net, the truth is that the future of both programs can be fixed without dramatically altering their nature, if there is the political will to do so.

And it is up to voters to impregnate the Republican Party with that will.


* Sadly, Willie Geist, a fixture on “liberal” MSNBC from 4:30am until 8:00am, defended the GOP budget plan and Paul Ryan, saying,

He doesn’t do this because he likes throwing old people out on the street; he’s trying to make it solvent. He’s trying to save it in the long term…he’s trying to do something big…

Willie, of course, will never have to worry about surviving his old age on reduced Social Security benefits or worry about how he is supposed to come up with the thousands upon thousands of dollars to get health care when he is too old for television.

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