The Baltimore Sun is reporting that Nancy Altman, who is co-director of Social Security Works and co-chairwoman of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, "has emerged as a potential contender" to succeed Michael Astrue as Commissioner of Social Security. The article mentions no other contender. Altman is not deflecting attention, saying that "It would be a real privilege and an honor to serve the American people."
Interestingly, the article says that Altman has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and the Association of Administrative Law Judges (which is itself a labor union). Michael Astrue has not been a fan of the AFL-CIO local that represents most Social Security employees or of the Administrative Law Judges. No other groups are mentioned in the article as supporting Altman or opposing her, for that matter.
Here's a quote from a piece that Altman wrote for Huffington Post about three weeks ago:
Less than a week ago, Altman wrote on Huffington Post that she was afraid that the recent fiscal cliff "set the agenda for negotiations that will threaten the future of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid."Fact is, the chained-CPI cut [some politicians] want to push past the American public is a benefit cut, and a pretty big one at that, about $112 billion right out of the pockets of Social Security beneficiaries over the next ten years. It's hardest on persons most dependent on Social Security's modest benefits, averaging just $13,600 . It would lower the COLA gradually but inexorably, year after year -- a cumulative loss over 30 years of $28,000 for a 65 year old retiree who lives to 95 and receives an average Social Security benefit, or a 30 year old disabled war veteran who reaches age 60.
If there is a problem with Altman, it is that she is heavily identified with protecting Social Security as a concept. However, the Commissioner of Social Security has little or nothing to do with protecting Social Security as a concept. In fact, if she is nominated, in order to get confirmed, she may have to promise to stay away from that debate. Michael Astrue had to make such promises, although he was a Republican nominee facing a Senate controlled by Democrats.
In reality, far from being Horatius preventing Social Security from being overrun by the barbarians, Altman as Commissioner of Social Security would have the gritty job of running an agency with over 50,000 employees and seriously inadequate budget resources. The policy decisions made by a Social Security Commissioner touch almost exclusively on the agency's disability programs. Probably, the biggest policy decisions the new Commissioner will be making have to do with replacing the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and adopting new psychiatric Listings of Impairments. Knowing that Altman is a big supporter of the concept of Social Security tells you nothing about what she might do on those issues. Legislatively, the next Commissioner of Social Security has the unenviable task of persuading reluctant Congressional Republicans to agree to interfund borrowing to assure that Social Security's Disability Trust Fund doesn't run out of money.