Here's a thought experiment: What if a group of Social Security and Medicare recipients wanted to increase their benefits by, say, 1,000 percent, and proposed seizing rich people's assets – houses, cars, boats, whatever – to pay for it? And whenever anybody suggested that was extreme, they rolled their eyes and said, "We're pragmatists."
But isn't it unfair to to just take other people's stuff? "Ideologues like you are the reason Washington lacks the political will to adopt our practical solutions."
Now imagine the reverse: Rich CEOs have used every tax loophole in the book to add to their own wealth, have been bailed out directly or indirectly by the American taxpayer, and have rigged corporate governance so that they make far more than they're worth.
Now, to make sure the milk and honey keeps flowing their way, they want to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits for the beleaguered American majority. Sounds crazy, right?
Meet the CEOs of the Business Roundtable.
They hate our freedoms benefits.
Matt Yglesias is right: There's a special hatred for Social Security out there – and for Medicare, too. They're hated because, as Yglesias says, some people don't consider them "economically valuable."
That's an extremist right-wing point of view by any objective measure.
It's also well outside the mainstream of public opinion for Americans of all political leanings, including Tea Party members, according to polling. When it's espoused by rich corporate CEOs, it's also exceptionally greedy.
Which gets us to the business at hand ...
It's easy if you have the will.
Yesterday Gary Loveman, CEO of Caesars Entertainment Corporation and head of the Roundtable's "health and retirement committee," told Politico, “Any effort to address the country's fiscal problems has to have as a centerpiece reform of its principal entitlement programs."
Added Loveman: "None of us [CEOs] – very few of us – are ideologically driven. We're pragmatists ..."
"I am encouraged by how relatively easy these remedies really are," said Loveman. "... (and) they have a tremendously sanguine effect on the government's fiscal health.”
That's true. It is pretty easy. Just kick in a few rich people's doors, seize their belongings ... oh, wait. That's the other extremist scenario. Loveman's is the one where people who have paid for Social Security and Medicare coverage throughout their working lives must give some of their benefits up – for him and his friends.
Problem identified: There are just too many old people.
Loveman repeats the often-disproven canard that these programs are fiscally unsound because they "were put in place in a very different demographic reality."
Social Security's finances were successfully balanced in 1983, when the last Baby Boomer had already reached maturity. And longevity hasn't changed significantly or unexpectedly for people who reach retirement age.
Social Security's in much better fiscal shape than most corporate benefit plans, and any long-term problems it may have are driven by a) greater wealth inequity than even the most conservative economists could have imagined in 1983; and b) massive unemployment brought on by Wall Street greed.
Medicare's Most Wanted
As for Medicare, its cost problems are caused by for-profit health companies inflating medical costs. Think the Business Roundtable will mention that? Its members include the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, Abbott Laboratories, the Tenet hospital system, Cardinal Health, ExpressScripts, CVS/Caremark and WellPoint.
Like hell it will.
Our long-term deficits are driven by America's runaway health care costs, which in turn are driven by our profit-driven system. It's barely an exaggeration to say that if some of these companies and their competitors didn't exist the Federal government might not have a deficit problem at all.
The poor you will always have with you ...
Like the other anti-Social Security and anti-Medicare "pragmatists," Loveman insists that cuts would be designed to protect people from falling into poverty. But 8.9 percent of American seniors already live in poverty, while 5.4 percent live in near poverty.
The average Social Security recipient collects $1,164 per month.
Anyone who claims they can cut those benefits by 3 percent – and use those meager benefits to end elder poverty – is selling snake oil.
But think of the children ...
Loveman also said of the Roundtable's proposed benefit cuts: "These don't affect current beneficiaries much, if at all. They have a long time to take effect ..."
Okay, let's modify our hypothetical situation a little: The extremists don't want to confiscate rich people's property. They want to confiscate their kids'' property. If that sounds a little Stalinist to you, that's because it is.
And by "not affecting current beneficiaries much," he means it would affect current beneficiaries – starting next year.
A tune from the Peterson songbook ...
Loveman expanded on the Roundtable's anti-elderly agenda in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Not coincidentally, that agenda corresponds exactly with that of right-wing billionaire ideologue Pete Peterson, who has funded many such anti-"entitlement" initiatives. They include:
- Raise the Social Security age even more than currently scheduled – presumably from 67 to 70;
- Raise the Medicare eligibility age;
- Partially (or totally) privatize Medicare;
- Implement the "chained CPI," which cuts Social Security benefits by 3 percent and raises taxes on the middle class (but not on Loveman or other members of the Business Roundtable)
Each of these measures would be financially devastating to most Americans.
... and the irresistible song stylings of Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.
We interrupt this presentation for a special announcement: Remember, Gary Loveman runs Caesars.
If you're planning a trip to Las Vegas, may I suggest the Palazzo? Caesars may have Celine Dion, but the Palazzo's got Tim McGraw and Faith Hill – two entertainers for the price of one.
And you won't be subsidizing your own future financial misery.
Loveman's just one member of the gang, of course – Mr. Pink to Jamie Dimon's Mr. White. (I know, I know: Why do I gotta be Mr. Pink?) There's also:
Dimon: Under his leadership JPMorgan Chase has repeatedly violated the law, paying billions in fines; lost billions in the London Whale catastrophe from a unit under his direct supervision; been sanctioned for laundering drug money; has been fined for bribery, and ... well, Dimon deserves an article of his own.
Jim McInerney: He runs Boeing, a major defense contractor. Ever wonder why these "pragmatists" don't recommend cuts to defense spending, since it's one-fifth of our government budget?
David Cote: His company's Honeywll, another major defense contractor (and leading advocate of Social Security and Medicare cuts).
Jeff Immelt: He leads serial corporate criminal GE.
The Roundtable has more such "leaders," but you get the idea.
A rap sheet as long as your arm.
The Business Roundtable was founded specifically to win political favors from the largest and most ruthless companies in America, often at the expense of smaller business, and its accomplishments read like a rap sheet: it defeated an anti-trust bill in 1975, help kill a labor rights bill and a consumer protection agency in 1977, lobbied successfully for lower corporate taxes in 1985, blocked meaningful shareholder reform in 1986 (which is why these CEOs make so much more than they're worth), and lobbied for NAFTA.
The lost jobs and lost wages the Roundtable help create have devastated the middle class – and increased the deficit.
Seniors are the kulaks of the CEO revolution.
If the CEOs of the Business Roundtable are corporate America's Stalinists, to them the elderly are kulaks, those peasants who saved enough to buy a farm – and whose existence became an ideological offense. When working Americans approach retirement age, they see them as Enemies of the People.
The CEOs of the Business Roundtable claim the government can't afford to redeem its Medicare and Social Security pledges. The government owes more than a trillion dollars to banks and mutual funds, and much of that debt is held by people like the CEOs of the Business Roundtable.
If they don't think the U.S. can afford to keep its commitments anymore – if they want a United States of America that welshes on its debts – that would be a good place to start. But for the wealthy, pampered, and narcissistic CEOs of the Business Roundtable, sacrifice is always for someone else. They have luxurious lives to maintain – and a revolution to lead.