The Democrats have decided to once again go on the attack against Republicans for wanting to privatize Social Security. Even Steny Hoyer is banging that gong.  They’ve apparently remembered that they kicked the GOP’s ass in 2006 on the same issue, and thought it might be a good idea to revive it on the eve of the election.

President Obama devoted his  weekly radio address today to Social Security, saying  the Republicans were “pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda if they win a majority in Congress this fall.”

Per the AP:

Democrats have been able to seize on the issue because of a proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, that would allow younger people to put Social Security money into personal accounts.

Ryan’s idea is similar to a proposal pushed unsuccessfully by former President George W. Bush. It’s not been endorsed by party leaders and has attracted only a small number of GOP co-sponsors.

If Obama thinks Ryan’s privatization plan is such a bad idea, why did he appoint Ryan to the 18 member Catfood Commission tasked with dealing with Social Security?  In fact, why did he stack the commission with privatizers and budget hawks in the first place?

Obama’s campaign/transition team advisers on Social Security, Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, have called the commission “a Social Security death panel.”  As they have pointed out, raising the retirement age to 70 (which Hoyer supportsis a 20% benefit cut.  So if you “add” private accounts on top of that, it is in fact privatization.  These “trims” to “save” Social Security are nothing more than a sneaky sleight-of-hand to trick the public into accepting something they very much oppose, giving the “unprofessional left” (i.e., the Jon Chait JournoList set) some nonsense to shove down their throats to pacify them.

If the President truly is interested in protecting Social Security from the privatizers, and not just demagoguing the issue for political advantage, he sure assembled a strange crew for the job.  Extra points for appointing defense contractor CEO David M. Cote of Honeywell to the commission.  It was recently reported that Cote opposed cutting defense contracting to reduce the deficit, and instead wanted military personnel to pay for their own healthcare.

No wonder the commission doesn’t want their deliberations open to the public:

Member Open to cutting benefits?

Expressed support for privatization?

Conflicts of Interest

Erskine Bowles, Chair YES - Bowles is on the record that the commission will “mess with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, because if you take those off the table, you can’t get there. YES - Negotiated deal with Newt Gingrich to raise Social Security retirement age & some privatization under Clinton; deal was stopped by Lewinski scandal. Sits on the board of Morgan Stanley. Wife Candice is on the board of JP Morgan Chase. Finance, insurance & real estate sector donated over $3 million to his unsuccessful 2004 Senate bid.
Alan Simpson, R-WY-ret, Co-Chair YES - When asked about cuts he would recommend to the President and Congress on CNBC, Simpson said “We are going to stick to the big three,” meaning Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. YES - “[A]s recently as 2005, Simpson…supported attempts by President George Bush to privatize Social Security by turning part of the pension and insurance program into millions of individual investment accounts, which by now would have lost 20 percent of their value.” (2/27/2010) Simpson and Peterson were appointed to Bill Clinton’s Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement Reform in 1994. Both voted to recommend partial privatization of Medicare, and raising Social Security age of eligibility to 70, Simpson awarded “Economic Patriot” award by Peterson’s Concord Coalition in 1996.
Ann Fudge Unknown Unknown Board member on the Council of Foreign Relations, where Peterson is Chairman Emeritus and Robert Rubin is Director/Co-Chair, fundraiser for Obama campaign, Novartis Board of Directors
Alice Rivlin YES - Co-author with OMB director Peter Orszag of a Brookings report titled “Restoring Fiscal Sanity” advocating $47 billion in entitlement cuts, including an “increase in the retirement age under Social Security” and “more accurate inflation adjustments to Social Security benefits.” Unknown Board member with Pete Peterson on Committee for a Responsible Budget, Former board member with Peterson of Public Agenda (Peterson gave them $500,000 in 2009), Advisory Council member of Robert Rubin’s Hamilton Project, Senior Fellow at the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institute (position funded by Peterson Foundation/Concord Coalition donations).
John Spratt (D-SC) Yes - “House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina and his counterpart in the Senate, Kent Conrad of North Dakota….are promoting a “grand bargain” in which a bipartisan commission enacts spending caps on social insurance as the offset for current deficits.” (2/23/2009) Yes - “Spratt favors supplementing Social Security with a private savings plan that would either be mandatory “or else so attractive that everyone would sign up for it.” He also advocates investing about 20 percent of the Social Security trust fund in the stock market.” (4/7/1998, per Lexis)
Andy Stern Unknown – Previously opposed to cuts, but said recently that entitlement programs “need to be re-examined”. Expressed support for of “the possibility of add-on universal private accounts.”
Dick Durbin (D-IL) YES - Durbin admonished “bleeding heart liberals” to be open to program reductions to restore fiscal balance. Unknown
David M Cote Likely – Cote is a Republilcan. Unknown CEO of defense contractor Honeywell. The defense industry has consolidated itself into a few big players, and they see their financial futures in competition with social safety net programs for government dollars. They won big when 9/11 blew the lock off the Social Security “lockbox.”
Paul Ryan (R-WI) YES - Ryan’s recently released budget plan calls for “enormous tax cuts for the affluent and “very large benefit cuts… in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.” YES - Ryan proposes to give people under age 55 the choice of opting out of Social Security into privatized personal accounts. Ranking minority member on House budget committee.
Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) YES – On Hardball, “Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) argued that to balance the budget Congress needed to consider reducing Social Security spending for yet-to-be-retired beneficiaries.” (2/2/10) Yes - In a 2005 Congressional hearing, said that “the trust fund has already been raided 59 different times,” but that “with the exception of the great depression there has never been a four year consecutive period where the stock market has declined.” If allowing people to invest in half their Social Security in a personal account will “give them greater retirement security,” he said, “why wouldn’t we choose that plan?” Second ranking minority member on House budget comittee
Dave Camp (R-MI) Likely – Says he doesn’t want to cut current retirees’ monthly checks, but Diamond-Orszag plan being pushed by the Obama administration cuts benefits for future retirees who are now under 55. Yes -He was a strong supporter of Bush’s proposal to create private investment accounts within Social Security, despite the backlash the plan encountered,” per CQ Healthbeat, 2/2/09 (Nexix). Also a signatory to Republican Main Street Partnership 98-RMSP3. Ranking minority member, Ways & Means Committee
Xavier Becerra (D-CA) No No
Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) No No
Judd Gregg (R-NH) Yes - Gregg’s plan “would reduce the traditional guaranteed

retirement benefits for today’s workers.

” (USA Today, 7/27/98, Nexis)

Yes - Gregg’s solution to “Social Security’s fiscal problems” included “large-scale privatization” and raising the eligibility age to 70 by the year 2029. Ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee
Tom Coburn (R-OK) Yes - “There are only three things you can do with Social Security,” Coburn said. “You can raise taxes on Social Security, you can allow option-out into private accounts or you can delay retirement ageI’m not for raising taxes on Social Security when you fix it other ways.” (4/25/10)

Yes -Coburn called for creation of private accounts that would keep Congress from spending the money.” (Oklahoman, 11/26/04, Nexis)
Mike Crapo (R-ID) Likely – Co-sponsor of the DeMint-Crapo Amendment, which would have “made no changes to the benefits of those Americans born before January 1, 1950.” Like Dave Camp, implied benefit cuts to those born afterwards. Yes - DeMint-Crapo Amendment would have “provided a voluntary option for younger Americans to obtain legally binding ownership of a portion of their [Social Security[ benefits…I believe that individuals have the right to make decisions about their own money.”
Max Baucus (D-MT) Likely – Baucus said he was open to discussion if Bush would take privatization off the table Unknown Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, tapped by Reid to lead the battle against President Bush‘s privatization of Social Security. But according to Yglesias, “the Democrats’ only real victory of the last five years–stuffing the administration on Social Security–came after Harry Reid explicitly ordered Baucus not to negotiate with the White House.”
Kent Conrad (D-ND) Yes - “House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina and his counterpart in the Senate, Kent Conrad of North Dakota….are promoting a “grand bargain” in which a bipartisan commission enacts spending caps on social insurance as the offset for current deficits.” (2/23/2009) Yes – I think there is a kernel of a good idea with individual accounts because we do need to find a way to get a higher rate of return on funds invested in Social Security. But I cannot support a plan that is financed by massive new debt.This administration is not collecting the taxes that are due now. Hundreds of billions of dollars a year that are owed that are not being paid. We should do that. That would give us a new revenue stream that could be applied to individual accounts and the other parts of the budget deficits that are hurting the country.” (This Week, February 13, 2005, Nexis) Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

Update, 3pm ET: DDay points out that in the Executive Order establishing the Catfood Commission, Obama granted the right to the Minority Leader of the House to appoint three members, and that’s how Ryan made it on to the commission.

However, here’s Clinton’s Presidential Order establishing the Danforth Commission. As it shows, the precedent is for “30 members to be appointed by the President.” Granting that authority to the Republican leadership for the catfood commission was, yes, something the Obama was responsible for.  You say technically he didn’t appoint Ryan himself, but if you choose to set the parameters like that, of course that means Ryan will be on. Privatizing Social Security is his baliwick.

You can’t tie your own hands and then say “they made me do it.”