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Social Security checks won't go out. Again.

By Michael M. Bates
web posted July 18, 2011

Talk about grim tidings on the debt ceiling.  According to the Washington Post:

"Yesterday a worried Treasury Secretary . . . sent a letter to (the) House Speaker . . . listing the consequences if the debt bill was not sent to the President immediately.  Social Security checks totaling $8 billion already in the mail would not be cashed and other checks for civil service retirement, veterans payments and government operating costs would not be honored as of today, he said."

That ominous news isn't from today, but from April 3, 1979.  The Treasury Secretary was Carter appointee Werner Michael Blumenthal and the House Speaker was Thomas "Tip" O'Neill.  The struggle at the time was whether to raise the temporary debt ceiling to a then astounding $830 billion.  The current contest is over raising it to $16.7 trillion, or more than 20 times what it was only 32 years ago.

Barack H. (as in hissy) Obama was using the old Democratic playbook on fear-mongering when he told CBS News he can't guarantee that retirees will receive their Social Security checks August 3.  It was a strategy favored by Democrat Jimmy Carter, whose own failed presidency is looking better every day when compared to the ongoing disaster that is Obama.

Five months after Blumenthal's threat, Carter's next treasury secretary showed up asking Congress to work on that debt ceiling again.  The Washington Post reported he told the House Ways & Means Committee:

  "The Treasury was required to suspend the sale of United States savings bonds, and people who depend upon Social Security checks and other government payments suddenly realized that the Treasury simply cannot pay the government's bills unless it is authorized to borrow the funds needed to finance the spending programs previously enacted by Congress."

As long as "people who depend upon Social Security checks and other government payments" got the message, liberals could count on Congress – in the face of a potential voter backlash – to keep to its big spending, big taxing ways.  Democrats knew a winning strategy when they saw one.

In May, 1980, it was time to remind folks of what would happen if Congress wouldn't raise the debt ceiling again.  The Washington Post was there with a story on it:

"The debt ceiling expires Sunday.  Although Congress has gone through similar exercises before without the government grinding to a halt, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill. Jr.  (D-Mass.) warned that banks could stop cashing Social Security checks next week if Congress does not extend the ceiling to continue the government's borrowing authority in the meantime."

Fifteen years later, another Democrat was in the White House.  Bill Clinton was stupid enough to give phone sex a bad name, but he knew when it was time to start frightening seniors.  An article in the July 25, 1995 Washington Post noted:

  "Last week, Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin wrote (House Speaker Newt) Gingrich that a debt ceiling crisis could interrupt government operations, delay payments to Social Security beneficiaries, disrupt Treasury's borrowing operations and 'generate uncertainty in the domestic and international securities markets.'"

We've been through all this before.  Today's liberals just aren't much on originality.  MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who's worked for both Jimmy Carter and Tip O'Neill, has described current GOP opposition to hiking the debt limit as "terrorism."

Nice try, Chrissy, but you're a little late.  In 1995, Clinton's chief of staff Leon Panetta, now Obama's defense secretary, compared Republican resistance to Clinton's budget plans to putting "a gun to the head of the president."  He went on to say, "that's a form of terrorism."

So don't worry, seniors, the check will be in the mail next month.  Sooner or later, though, we're all going to realize that Social Security, the crown jewel of Roosevelt's welfare schemes, isn't sustainable.  Decades ago, there were relatively few beneficiaries.  Life expectancy was considerably less than it is today.  You had more contributing workers in proportion to the number of recipients.

Social Security has long been, as advertised, the third rail of American politics.  Barry Goldwater learned that almost 50 years ago.  He pointed out that the system was actuarially unsound and contributions to it weren't set aside to pay benefits, but used to fund other government operations.

For his efforts, he was portrayed as a heartless wretch wanting to kick old people out into the snow and force them to eat dog food.

Having seen what happened to Barry, few politicians have had the courage to say what Social Security is and has been since its inception: An intergenerational pyramid scheme whose existence requires sucking progressively more taxes from workers.

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced a reasonable plan that could substantially improve the system.  Changes wouldn't have impacted anyone who's not at least a decade from retirement.  For his efforts, he was clobbered by liberals and their fawning accomplices in the mainstream media.

If voters don't have the courage to elect politicians who will revamp Social Security now, not later, future Americans will pay a terrible price.  The real risk is in doing nothing. ESR

Michael M. Bates is a regular contributor to Enter Stage Right. His web site can be found at http://www.michaelmbates.com/.




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