Don’t Let the Government-Shutdown Charade Distract You From the Debt Crisis

“While controlling discretionary spending is important for fiscal responsibility, for reducing government waste, and for negotiating the proper size and scope of federal activities, the current shutdown debate is largely symbolic. America’s biggest fiscal challenge lies in the unchecked growth of federal health care and old-age entitlement programs. Repeated shutdown fights and a slew of temporary continuing resolutions have gotten us no closer to reforming Social Security and Medicare.”

“The longer Washington waits to fix autopilot spending, the more damage they’ll do. The Congressional Budget Office’s latest long-term budget outlook projects that U.S government spending will consume nearly 30 percent of the economy by 2053—almost 40 percent higher than the historical average. Congress is expected to rack up more than $100 trillion in additional deficits over those 30 years—more than four times what the U.S. government has borrowed over its entire history. Who will lend the U.S. government such vast sums?
The main drivers of this increase are heightened interest costs and the growth in health care and Social Security spending. With Medicare and Social Security responsible for 95 percent of long-term unfunded obligations, according to the Treasury Financial Report, there’s simply no way any serious fiscal reform effort can leave these programs untouched. Every other part of the budget will either stay steady or decline slightly. Other so-called mandatory programs, including various welfare programs, retirement benefits for federal employees, and some veterans’ benefits, are projected to decline as a share of the economy. Discretionary spending depends on what Congress decides to spend each year; if historical trends hold, this part of the budget will decline by one-sixth. And yet this is the part of the budget that all this shutdown fuss is about.”

Social Security Will Be Insolvent by 2033

“If nothing changes, Social Security benefits will be subject to a 23 percent cut in a decade.”

“Since any changes to shore up Social Security’s bottom line will likely require huge tax increases or changes to how benefits are paid, policy makers are also running out of time to implement those changes in ways that don’t cause major disruptions to the economy and Americans’ retirement plans.”

“The most straightforward solution to Social Security’s problem is to raise the payroll taxes that fund the program to make up for the shortfall on the benefit side of the ledger. But that would only exacerbate the problem by placing a bigger burden on younger, generally poorer workers.

According to the report, Social Security could be kept afloat for the next 75 years by hiking the payroll tax by 4.15 percentage points in 2034 (or implementing a smaller increase sooner). The payroll tax is currently charged at a 16.5 percent rate, with employers and employees each covering half. That works out to a nearly 25 percent tax hike. Alternatively, the report says, benefits could be cut by about 25 percent.”

LC: We could also fund it by higher taxes on the wealthy.

Republicans’ and Democrats’ Refusal To Reform Social Security and Medicare Is Political Malpractice

“To pretend that Social Security and Medicare shouldn’t be touched is nothing short of political malpractice. Over the next 30 years, the two programs will run a $116 trillion shortfall. This number accounts for the significant amount of interest payments on the debt the government will ring up in the process. While we might be able to stumble along indefinitely, all that borrowing will slow—perhaps even halt—our economic growth, making funding the programs that much more difficult.”

The radical proposal to let Medicare and Social Security lapse, explained

“Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott’s plan to “rescue America””

“Scott’s proposal would radically overhaul how the federal government operates, forcing Congress to re-pass every federal law or else let them lapse — a move that, in Democrats’ telling, would endanger much of what the government does, including beloved federal programs like Medicare and Social Security.
It’s a short proposal, with little detail to flesh it out. But on its face, its meaning is plain: Every five years, every federal law would need to be passed anew in order to stay on the books.”

““Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,” Biden said in his State of the Union address. “It is being proposed by individuals. I’m politely not naming them, but it’s being proposed by some of you.”

It was a new twist on a familiar trope: Republican proposes cutting government benefits, Democrat attacks him for it. And it seems to have left a mark: After more than a week of uproar since the State of the Union, Scott formally revised his 12-point “rescue America” plan to specify that its provision requiring every federal law to be re-passed every five years would not, in fact, apply to Social Security and Medicare. And so, at least officially, the senator has papered over the main political weakness of his plan.”

Biden Promises To Let Social Security’s Ship Keep Sinking

“Social Security will be insolvent by 2034. One of the trust funds for Medicare will be insolvent even sooner. When insolvency hits, both programs will be subject to mandatory benefit cuts. The exact size of the cuts will depend on payroll tax collections in that year, but the current estimate is that Social Security will be able to pay only 80 percent of promised benefits in 2034.
As I wrote last month, when Republicans such as former President Donald Trump were making similar vows not to cut Social Security benefits: Promising to do nothing amounts to promising a roughly 20 percent benefit cut in a little more than a decade. There is no getting around that fact.”

“Standing up for seniors (and everyone else who has been paying into Social Security and Medicare for their entire working lives) requires acknowledging that there is no reality in which the politicians do nothing and the entitlement programs continue functioning normally. The choice is between making changes now or accepting mandatory cuts in about a decade.”

Why the Twitter Files actually matter

“One clue is in a message by Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth, who alludes to “the SEVERE risks here and lessons of 2016.” In 2016, there was an effort by the Russian government to interfere with the general election in a way that would hurt Hillary Clinton and Democrats’ prospects. As later documented in the Mueller report, this effort involved both a “troll farm” of Russian accounts masquerading as Americans to spread false or inflammatory information, and the “hack-and-leak” campaign in which leading Democrats’ emails were stolen and provided to WikiLeaks.
After Trump won, many leading figures in politics, tech, media, and law enforcement concluded that major social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook should have done more to stop this Russian interference effort and the spread of “misinformation” more generally (with some arguing that this was a problem regardless of electoral impact, and others claiming that this helped or even caused Trump’s victory). Law enforcement officials argued the Russian campaign was illegal and indicted about two dozen Russians believed to be involved in it. Social media companies began to take a more aggressive approach to curbing what they saw as misinformation, and as the 2020 election approached, they met regularly with FBI and other government officials to discuss the dangers of potential new foreign interference campaigns.

But several issues are being conflated here. Misinformation is (in theory) false information. Foreign propaganda is not necessarily false, but it is being spread by a foreign government with malicious intent (for example, to inflame America’s divisions). Hacked material, though, is tricker in part because it often isn’t misinformation — its power comes from its accuracy. Now, it is theoretically possible that false information could be mixed in with true information as part of a hacked document dump, so it’s important to authenticate it to the extent possible. And even authentic information can often be ripped out of context to appear more damning than it really is. Still, Twitter was putting itself in the awkward position where it would be resolving to suppress information that could well be accurate, for the greater good of preventing foreign interference in an election.

More broadly, a blanket ban on hacked material doesn’t seem particularly well thought through, since a fair amount of journalism is based on material that is illicitly obtained in some way (such as the Pentagon Papers). Every major media source wrote about the DNC and Podesta email leaks, as well as the leaked State Department cables, while entertainment journalists wrote about the Sony hack. Should all those stories be banned like the Post’s was? A standard that Twitter won’t host any sexual images of someone posted without their consent, or any personal information like someone’s address, is a neutral one. Beyond that, determining what stolen or hacked information is newsworthy is inherently subjective. Should that judgment be left to social media companies?

Then there’s the problem that Twitter jumped to the conclusion that this was a hack in the first place. I can see why they did — recent high-profile examples of mass personal info dumps like this were generally hacks. So if you had been anticipating a chance to “do over” 2016’s hack scandal, here it seemed to be. But it was jumping to a conclusion. Additionally, the apparent belief of some employees that proactively censoring the story until there was more information about whether it was hacked info was a way to express “caution” seems dubious — fully banning a link to a media outlet from the platform was a sweeping measure.

So to me this seems a pretty clear case of overreach by Twitter. This wasn’t a “rigging” of the election (again, the ban was only in place for a little over a day). But the decision — born out of a blinkered focus on avoiding a repeat of 2016, rather than taking speech or press freedom or the different details of this situation into account — was the wrong call, in my view. ”

“it should be noted that the phenomenon of controversial Twitter bannings occurring at top executives’ whims has not been solved under the Musk regime. Musk has already decided to suspend Kanye West’s account, keep a preexisting ban on Infowars host Alex Jones in place, and ban an account tracking flight information for Musk’s private jet (even though he said..his “commitment to free speech” was so strong he would allow that account to keep posting).”

“When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, Twitter again grappled with the topic of “misinformation.” As with Trump (and with hate speech), Twitter executives likely believed lives could well hinge on their decisions. So by May 2020, the company announced it would remove or label tweets that “directly pose a risk to someone’s health or well-being,” such as encouragements that people disregard social distancing guidelines.

But the company essentially defined “misinformation” as whatever went against the public health establishment’s current conventional wisdom. And as time passed, Covid quickly became another issue where conservatives and some journalists came to deeply distrust that establishment, viewing it as making mistakes and giving politically slanted guidance.

The situation took another turn when President Biden took office. By the summer of 2021, his administration was trying to encourage widespread vaccine adoption in the hope the pandemic could be ended entirely. (The omicron variant, which sufficiently evaded vaccines to end that hope, was not yet circulating.) Toward that end, administration officials publicly demanded social companies do more to fight misinformation, and poured private pressure on the companies to delete certain specific accounts.

One of those accounts belonged to commentator Alex Berenson, who “has mischaracterized just about every detail regarding the vaccines to make the dubious case that most people would be better off avoiding them,” according to the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson. After Berenson was eventually banned, he sued and obtained records showing the White House had specifically asked Twitter why he hadn’t been kicked off the platform yet. Another lawsuit against the administration, from Republican state attorneys general and other people who believed their speech was suppressed (including Bhattacharya), is also pending.

All that is to say that there is a thorny question here about whether the government should be trying to get individual people who have violated no laws banned from social media. And from the standpoint of 2022, when the US has adopted a return-to-normal policy without universal vaccination or the virus being suppressed, and when there’s increased attention on whether school lockdowns harmed children, some reflection may be called for about what constitutes misinformation and what constitutes opinions people may have about policy in a free society.”

Republicans Need an Actual Plan To Grow the Economy

“under the current policy, the Social Security trust fund runs dry by 2034 and benefits will be automatically cut by at least 25 percent, leaving little room to shelter the most vulnerable seniors who truly depend on it for most of their retirement income. This inevitable scenario will happen even sooner now that inflation has jacked up benefits. In practice, by doing nothing, Democrats too want to cut benefits.
Yet you didn’t hear the Republicans make that point during the campaign. Nor did they make the case for reforming the program before its impending insolvency. They were completely silent on the need to reduce government debt policies. I understand that these are unpleasant topics of conversation—it is the proverbial “root canal” of policy, as the late Jack Kemp liked to say. But ignoring these realities will not change them.”