Cenk Uygur: No more excuses. Anthony Weiner is gone and it is time for Democrats to stand and fight on issues that really matter. That’s our lead story.
While Democrats were wringing their hands over Weiner-gate, Republican were charging ahead with their radical agenda to devastate the middle class and working poor. The House GOP just passed a spending bill that cuts food aid for women and kids, cuts funding for food safety, cripples efforts to stop oil spectators, and blocks efforts to create healthier school lunches. That is an unbelievable list. The GOP is actually pushing an agenda that is pro hunger, pro obesity, pro oil, and pro E. coli.
I want to ask the Democrats one important question. Are you going to let them get way it? The Republicans are fighting to dismantle the very essence of our social contract. Paul Ryan wants to end Medicare, as we know it. The Wall Street Journal says both parties expect Medicaid to be the biggest source of cuts in the Biden budget talks.
And now it looks like House Republicans may even be making headway in their war against social security. Today a crushing report from the Journal: the AARP is “dropping its long-standing opposition to cutting social security benefits.” That is disastrous and totally unnecessary. In my opinion, it is a great betrayal of the members of AARP.
Now the leaders of that group have furiously been pushing back on that all day. But in the end the group admitted it is open to raising the retirement age and cutting benefits for future retirees. So that means the story is right and they are going to join the rest of Washington in trying to rob you blind of the benefits that you paid into your whole life.
Now this would be a pretty good time for leadership, from perhaps the White House. Well, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer was at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis today when he was grilled on this very topic.
Dan Pfeiffer: “On social security, the president will do nothing that will slash benefits, privatize the program or change the nature of the program opinion. And on Medicaid. The same thing is true of Medicare.”
Question from someone: “So that means no raising the age limits?”
Dan Pfeiffer: “What it means is we are going to — we’re going to make sure that what however we strengthen it is done in way that does not change the final nature of the program.”
Question from someone: “So no raising age limits?”
Dan Pfeiffer: “I’m not going to have a negotiation with the Republicans here on the stage with you.”
Cenk Uygur: That’s a disaster. That was a great question. And you saw that he did not want to answer it. That is not a good sign.
Now let me ask you one more question. If the Democrats and the White House don’t fight for Medicaid, Medicare and social security, and more importantly for the people that voted for them, the people in the middle class that need to be fought for, when will they ever fight?
In a moment we will talk with Sam Seder, who is at Netroots Nation, along with Ezra Klein, who actually reports on all things budget related. But first let me bring in Congressman Earl Blumenhaur. He is a Democrat from Oregon, he serves on the Budget Committee and he is a member of the Progressive Caucus.
Congressman Blumenhauer, I have to be honest with you, what I’m hearing from the White House there, and what I am hearing from the AARP, and what I’m hearing about the Biden talks and how they are cutting Medicaid, that sounds terrible to me. Is that acceptable to the Democrats in Congress?
Congressman Blumenhauer: Well, it all depends on context, Cenk. I find it outrageous that there is a proposal here to pass the burden on, for example, in Medicaid to the poorest, most fragile elderly. What we are seeing in Medicare, as we have discussed before, is an effort that deals with the program that they don’t think government can afford, reduce it, in terms of its responsibility, and pass those on to seniors in the future.
I think we ought not to jump the gun in terms of what’s happening with AARP. You know, they have been put in the cross hairs by the Republicans because they have had the temerity to support some healthcare reform. I think that it is the notion that we are not ever going to make any changes, for example, in the age. I mean, I’m one of the baby boom generation that has known for 20 years, that there’s going to be a slight increase that’s — I think that that’s not something that everybody ought to reflectively just say no, never. But we want to look at the package that comes forward.
Cenk Uygur: Well, congressman –
Congressman Blumenhauer: Let’s be realistic about that.
Cenk Uygur: Congressman, I have to be honest with you. I have to respectively massively disagree. I will show you the statistics showing why. According to the Economic Policy Institute, if you raise the retirement age, for example from 65 to 70 years old, that’s a drop in benefits of 19%. The average American loses benefits of $63,573. Here is what I say to that proposal, hell no. I’m not going to come within a mile of considering it.
Congressman Blumenhauer: First of all, it’s already been raised. It is no longer retirement age of 65 starting with us baby boom generation and going forward. It has been raised to 67.
Cenk Uygur: I know, so do you want to raise it to 69 and take away another $10, $20, $30,000 from people?
Congressman Blumenhauer: Over the course of the next 40 years, when life expectancy may well increase another 10 or 20 years, that being part of something that includes being able to make adjustments in terms of the tax rate, the tax base. For in some cases maybe having a slightly different inflationary rate for the wealthier seniors—I’m not talking about all and having the progressive indexing— but for the top ten or 20%. You can put together a package that deals with the 25% shortfall that we’re going to be facing.
Cenk Uygur: No. No. No.
Congressman Blumenhauer: So we’re going to adjust that and I’m just saying if you’re looking at something that’s going to be phased in over the next 20 or 30 years, I’m not reflexively going to rule out increasing it, for example, another year. We did two years. The sky didn’t fall.
Cenk Uygur: This is a disaster. This is a disaster what I’m hearing from you. I’m not reflexively against reform. If you say hey, for example, we’ve got to increase the amount of people paying the payroll tax. So you go above $106,000. Okay, that makes perfect sense to me and there are reforms that you can do. But it is perfectly stable until 2037. It pays every single cent. And then above that it pays 75%. So why would you raise the retirement age. What I’m hearing from you, even a member of the progressive caucus is not going to fight for it. And these people are going to lose $10,000, $20,000.
Congressman Blumenhauer: No –
Cenk Uygur: Then I want you to tell me right now: no, no, no to raising the retirement age.
Congressman Blumenhauer: No, what I just said is that we are not going to have to do anything draconian for social security over the course of the next 25 years. But if the life expectancy goes up another 20 years, or ten years, raising the retirement age another year in 20 or 25 years from now, gradually, as part of a larger package, that includes other progressive reforms, I don’t think that’s crazy. And the majority of the American public doesn’t either.
Cenk Uygur: No, that’s not true at all. I’m sorry. Look, 84% of the American people, 84%, no question about it, say, do not cut the benefits. Don’t cut them. So what do you mean? 16% say cut them? 84% say don’t cut them.
Congressman Blumenhauer: As I can done, if you work with people and give them variables to put together a package, over the course of the next 25 years as a comprehensive package, having a slight increase in the retirement age is not something that freaks people out. We’ve done it before.
Cenk Uygur: It freaks me out.
Eric Blumenhaurer: Well, that’s fine.
Cenk Uygur: Congressman, here is another solution. Here is another solution. Right now our effective tax rate is at a mere record low: it’s at 14.4% –
Eric Blumenhauer: We don’t disagree on that.
Cenk Uygur: I know we don’t.
Eric Blumenhauer: We don’t disagree on that.
Cenk Uygur: So why don’t you insist on that. Why don’t you say, hey, listen, I am not going to cut a penny of social security until you get this to a reasonable level where the wealthy in this country stop robbing us blind. Where they take all the advantages. They take all the breaks, they take all the subsidies. And then they say, oh, but I have to cut your social security. Hell no.
Eric Blumenhauer: We’re obviously pushing and in terms of trying to — I’m not in favor of extending tax cuts for the wealthy. I’m working in terms of dealing with some of the unnecessary oil subsidies. But to sort of come unsprung and suggest you can’t have a comprehensive package over the next 25 years, you are going to rule everything out that you disagree with –
Cenk Uygur: Congressman, here is the guarantee I have for you. Whatever deal that you guys are going to make, Joe Biden, the White House, apparently Congressional Democrats, you’re not going to raise taxes on the rich. You’re not going to do it. And then you are going to tell me it is comprehensive when you touch Medicare, Medicare and social security. That ain’t comprehensive. You come back with Bush tax cuts. Take them away. Okay? We go back to the Clinton rates, okay, alright so now we are having a conversation. That’s comprehensive. Are you going to do that? You’re not going to do that, are you?
Eric Blumenhaurer: Well, what do you mean, am I going to do that? ? You know that I don’t have all of the power here. I am arguing for a position that does exactly what you’re saying in terms of many of those tax adjustments.
But the notion that that just because there are things that may be approached by Biden: you have copies of correspondence, letters, arguments we are making for the White House for things that we want to be on the table. Like making sure that we’re not surrendering on the tax cuts. Making sure that we are pushing in terms of the oil subsidies. But the notion that somehow we’re not pushing back, I think is wrong. But there are certain limitations in terms of what we can actually do.
I just disagree in terms of the notion that over the next 20 years, that we have to fight to never ever again make an adjustment to the age ruling it out before we get into dealing with a package. I don’t know that that’s the most appropriate way to go. We will just agree to disagree.
Cenk Uygur: Yes. We have a very healthy disagreement on that. Congressman Blumenhauer, we really do appreciate the conversation.
Eric Blumenhauer: That’s why it is fun to talk with you. And I always enjoy it.
Cenk Uygur: Yes, it is. And I agree with you on oil subsidies, by the way. And I agree with you on taxes. I wish we fight really hard for those. I know that you are in the progressive caucus and that you are trying to push them in the right direction. Thank you for joining us.
Eric Blumenhauer: My pleasure.
Transcribed by the Barefoot Accountant of Accountants CPA Hartford, Connecticut, LLC
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