AR-Sen: Silly Internet And Its Ability To Make Disproving Claims Much Easier

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    Another day, another attack by Blanche Lincoln that just begs for context and for her own record to be thrown back in her face. (h/t Blake’s Think Tank)

    First, the new ad:

    I love that, in an ad designed for the elderly, in a state that is near the bottom in internet access generally, she would encourage viewers to “find the debate on YouTube.com” (at the :20 mark).  I’m sure the people who would worry about such an ad got right on that.

    Anyway, what the ad conveniently leaves out is that the question asked during the debate was:

    What is the most feasible option to save Social Security: raise taxes, cut benefits, or raise the retirement age?

    Halter’s answer:

    The fact is, in the past, when we’ve needed to improve the solvency of Social Security, we’ve always had a balanced package of revenue increases and benefit reductions. And, in the past, we worked on raising the retirement age, and that’s actually current law. In fact, my birth-year cohort will be the first one to face the retirement age of age 67.  I think, if you look to previous history on Social Security reforms, that you will see that we can do this. The fact is that, over a 75-year period, Social Security is only out-of-balance by about 1.8% of payroll.  That is something that we — that’s a gap that we’ve successfully addressed in the past, and with a balanced package of revenue increases and spending reductions, we can in fact balance Social Security for the long term.

    Now, I don’t want to seem as if I’m trying to spin Halter’s answer, but look at it for a second.  He was asked which of three choices was the most feasible.  He said, based on past effective solutions, that a balanced combination of two of those solutions was the most feasible.  He was not asked “what would you do to keep Social Security solvent,” nor was he even given “or some other method” as a fourth choice from which to choose.  He simply answered the question as it was asked.

    Care to guess which candidate did NOT answer the question as it was asked?  Hint: It was Blanche Lincoln.

    Well I certainly believe that keeping our promise to working Americans that Social Security benefits will be there for them in their golden years is absolutely a promise we must keep. I don’t think there’s [sic] only three ways to solve that problem.  I think, you know — I know that I have consistently opposed attempts to privatize Social Security; I know Bill has mentioned in speeches elsewhere, though, that he does believe that there’s an opportunity possible to be able to invest Social Security monies in Wall Street; and we know what would’ve happened had we done that under Bush’s administration, where we would have been with Social Security with the economic crisis that we just experienced.

    I do not support reduction in Social Security current guaranteed benefits.  I also introduced a bill to try and implement the COLA that’s not going to be there for Social Security benefits this year; I think that’s inexcusable. And I also signed on to the bill which we hope will pass next week which will preclude members of Congress from getting a pay raise this year, as we know that Social Security benefits are not.  I was a strong supporter of the efforts to trim the Bush tax cuts and direct that money to insuring solvency of the Social Security trust fund, and I think the best thing we can do for insuring Social Security solvency is getting our economy back on track and getting people back to work.

    Senator Lincoln has a gift for making me want to bang my head against a wall every time she speaks.  Let’s unpack this real quick, and recall again that the question was:

    What is the most feasible option to save Social Security: raise taxes, cut benefits, or raise the retirement age?

    Ok.  The entire first paragraph of her answer consists of, basically, “I don’t support cutting benefits, and I’m not going to choose any of the choices you gave me” and “Bill wanted to privatize Social Security, which would have been a bad idea before this economic meltdown.”  Obviously, neither of these answers the question at all.  The question, again, is “what is the most feasible option…,” not “what has Bill done that would have been a bad idea?”  Besides, as Kos already pointed out (see also here), the privatization plan that was bandied about in 1999 was (a) suggested by Bill Clinton and (b) supported by Blanche Lincoln.

    The second paragraph of Lincoln’s answer, paraphrased, contains four propositions:

    (1) “I introduced a bill that would adjust for cost of living.” So, you would actually be increasing benefits there, right? Either way, it doesn’t answer the question.

    (2) “I’m in favor of a bill that would prevent Congress from getting pay raises if Social Security is not getting a cost of living increase.” Good idea, but does not address the problem. We are looking for the MOST FEASIBLE WAY TO KEEP SOCIAL SECURITY SOLVENT.

    (3) “I wanted to trim the Bush tax cuts and send that extra money to Social Security.” And I wanted to play in the NFL; neither your past wish, nor mine, answers the question. Also, rather than wanting to trim those tax cuts, maybe you shouldn’t have been one of 12 “Democrats” who voted for them in the first place.

    (4) “My solution is to fix the economy and get people back to work.” Well, at least you used the word “solution.” Nevertheless, even if getting people back to work would cover the Social Security gap in the shorter term, which is far from certain (as it depends on the quality of jobs and a lot of other variables), it wouldn’t address the gap longterm — i.e. cover the Social Security benefits for people currently working — without either cutting benefits or increasing taxes. You’ve already said that you don’t favor cutting benefits, which is fine, so I can only assume that you are implying that you would raise payroll taxes.

    Oh, but it gets better (or worse, depending on your perspective).  Even Lincoln’s claim that she doesn’t support cutting benefits is suspect.  You see, Lincoln supported the 2008 Farm Bill, which included a provision that

    lifted the 10-year statute of limitations on the government’s ability to withhold Social Security benefits in collecting debts other than student loans—for which the statute of limitations was lifted in the 1990s—and income taxes, where the limit remains 10 years.This means that a person who defaulted on a small-business loan in 1995 and who is receiving Social Security could be notified that benefits may be reduced each month until the debt, with interest, fees and penalties, is paid. The Treasury can withhold 15% of the benefit, though it can’t be reduced to less than $750. Tax debts don’t have that $750 floor. […]

    Few argue that people shouldn’t repay their debts. Still, the change comes as older Americans already are pinched by mortgage woes, pension cuts and rising medical costs.

    The shift applies to debtors of all ages, but Social Security recipients will bear much of the brunt. A Wall Street Journal analysis of Treasury Department data shows that Social Security recipients comprise a large and rising percentage of people from whom Treasury recovers debts.

    For years, most debt the Treasury collected through its “Offset Program,” came from withholding income-tax refunds. But with an aging population and steep unemployment, roughly 10% of the $4.3 billion in debts collected by the Treasury came from Social Security benefits in 2008, the latest data available, up from 1.6% in 2001, according to Journal computations that the Treasury confirms.

    Though the law has expanded the age of debts that can be recovered, it hasn’t addressed the sometimes-Kafkaesque process debtors can face when challenging the validity of a claim.

    And, when I say that Lincoln supported the bill, I mean that, even after this bill was vetoed by President Bush, Lincoln was one of the votes in favor of overriding the veto.