Privatization Flameout

The Senate Finance Committee is at an impasse on Social Security and House leaders are nervous about moving a doomed bill forward. Republican Congressional leaders have told the White House to look for an escape route. Democrats should let George W. Bush's Social Security "Fix" crash and burn.

Bush blames the Dems for being obstructionists, but the truth is that GOPers have been unable to come up with their own Social Security plan. Democrats want no part of the foolishness, and the public is increasingly skeptical of the GOP scam to chip away at the guaranteed benefits of the retirement and disability system. The Washington Post on June 16 reported that the Finance Committee does not have Republican votes to approve Bush's plan that would divert payroll taxes to private investment accounts. But the committee also lacks the votes to address GOP alarms about Social Security's long-term solvency without personal accounts, because too many right-wingers insist on them.

In the House, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) could put together a retirement bill that could clear his committee with private accounts. But, according to the Post, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) doesn't want to force a record vote on his House members and put a target on their backs for a bill that isn't going anywhere in the Senate.

Still, privatizers won't give up. Even though they have spent months mocking the idea of a Social Security Trust Fund surplus, they are now banking on that surplus to pay for the transition to private accounts. Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) have a bill that would require tax increases, massive program cuts or tacking on billions to the federal deficit -- and would do nothing to improve the solvency of Social Security. The Center for American Progress notes that the bill's sponsors say they'll "address those concerns later." First, they want to "create momentum and enthusiasm for Bush's proposed private accounts."

Meanwhile, a coalition has formed "to educate the public and the Congress about the importance of Social Security in rural communities and to protect it from privatization schemes or other proposals which would undermine the most important safety net in rural areas for retirees, survivors and the disabled." Niel Ritchie, executive director of the League of Rural Voters, and a leader in launching Rural Americans for a Secure Future (RASF), added, "For many rural Americans, Social Security is the only guaranteed pension they will ever know. With rural Americans nearly twice as likely to depend on Social Security for their basic needs, any cuts in benefits would have devastating consequences. It is essential that rural voices be heard in the debate over social security privatization."

The Institute for America's Future (ourfuture.org) did a study for RASF that found rural counties depend on Social Security for 8% of total personal income while non-rural counties depend on Social Security for 4.7%. The study also found that rural communities have a higher percentage of seniors, women in rural communities are more dependent on Social Security than women in non-rural communities and more people with disabilities receive Social Security in rural communities than in non-rural communities.

"In my home state of Montana, a largely rural state, over 164,000 Montanans rely on Social Security and I will not support a plan that would cut any benefits for them," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a supporter of the coalition. "Also, I cannot support privatizing Social Security as it would add trillions of dollars to the debt. We need to strengthen Social Security for generations to come and I'm committed to working together with my Congressional colleagues and others to make that happen."

The IAF reported that Social Security is crucial to the economic independence of seniors in rural communities and that cuts to Social Security benefits would swell the ranks of the rural poor to levels not seen since the Depression.

"As a farmer and someone who has lived in rural North Carolina all my life, I know that my neighbors are counting on Social Security to take care of them in their golden years," said Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.), co-chair of the House Democratic Rural Working Group. "Three out of four farmers fund their own retirement and depend on Social Security when the crop yield is low or the weather is bad. The president's plan to change Social Security betrays rural America. Farmers in rural America pay into Social Security with each and every paycheck and deserve to have their full benefits when they need them the most."

Democrats shouldn't be shy about advertising the fact that the GOP's plan to privatize Social Security requires massive benefit cuts that would devastate rural America. Bush's assurances that current retirees won't see any benefit cuts are as worthless as his assurances that the war in Iraq could be fought without cost to US taxpayers.

Call your Congress members to make sure they stay away from Bush's flaming balloon.

James Weinstein, R.I.P.

James Weinstein, the founder and longtime editor and publisher of In These Times, died June 16 at his home in Chicago after a long struggle with brain cancer. He was 78. Weinstein was a Navy veteran of World War II and turned to a lifetime of activism on the left after the war. While in graduate school at Columbia University, he became a member of the Communist Party, but he quit in 1956 after the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary and became a critic of the party.

Doug Ireland, a contributing editor to In These Times who offered a fine tribute at direland.typepad.com June 16), noted that "Weinstein argued coherently that the Communist Party USA helped squander that rich legacy of native American radicalism by its slavish devotion and subservience to Soviet Russia -- which was utterly irrelevant to the needs and experience of working-class America."

Weinstein edited the journal Studies on the Left in the 1960s, ran unsuccessfully as an independent candidate for Congress from Manhattan in 1966, moved to San Francisco in 1967 to found (and finance) Socialist Revolution ( later Socialist Review), a now-defunct intellectual journal, and also the Modern Times bookstore, which still exists. "But Jimmy's most lasting creation was the biweekly In These Times, now in its 29th year of publication," Ireland wrote. "ITT consumed the better part of Jimmy's bankroll and time from 1976 until he retired as both editor and publisher in 1999."

Ireland adds:

"I didn't always agree with Jimmy Weinstein on everything (I had, for example, serious reservations about some things in the latter part of The Long Detour [the last of five books he wrote, published in 2004]), and in the last years of his life I took strong exception to several things that he wrote. But he was a good-humored, warm-hearted man, a valued mentor to many younger radicals and journalists, and his commitment to democratic socialism and social justice was evergreen and vivid. He frequently published views with which he disagreed during his two decades as ITT's editor (unlike the editors of some other left and progressive publications today, Jimmy believed that analytical debate and disagreement was good for the left)."

Weinstein jokingly called In These Times "the best-kept secret in journalism." We know the feeling at The Progressive Populist. He was gracious in support when we got started in 1995. Our condolences go to his family and colleagues at In These Times. -- JMC

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