Michael Astrue appeared on Neil Cavuto's show on Fox Business News yesterday. Here are some things I gleaned from this appearance:
- If you thought that the Fox News attitude wouldn't carry over to Fox Business News, you'd be wrong. Cavuto had all the Fox News talking points on Social Security down pat. He could not refer to any Democratic idea without sneering.
- Cavuto seemed incapable of pronouncing Astrue's surname. A couple of times he seemed to refer to Astrue as Mr. True. Eventually, he just referred to him as Michael.
- Astrue wanted to talk about the serious problems affecting the Social Security disability trust fund.
- Astrue was promoting a Simpson-Bowles Commission to deal with Social Security. He wanted a requirement that there must be a vote on the floor of each House of Congress on this Commission's recommendations.
- Astrue thought it was a "trendy but facile" idea to remove the cap on earnings covered by the FICA tax because this would put a "crippling burden on the younger generation" and it would make it very difficult to operate a small business.
- Astrue believes that raising the retirement age "has to be on the table."
- Astrue made a dig at President Obama by noting that George W. Bush had nominated him four months before his predecessor's term had ended while, in Astrue's words, Obama was only in the "early stages" of selecting a new Commissioner.
- Astrue criticized an unnamed candidate or candidates for the job of Social Security Commissioner whom he characterized as being from the "very far left" because they denied that Social Security had any serious funding problem and because they believed that only minor tweaks would be required. He thought that the Social Security Commissioner should stay out of the debate and be an operational manager.
I don't understand why Astrue would want to promote a Simpson-Bowles Commission to deal with Social Security. Simpson-Bowles was a disaster. That Commission never agreed to any recommendation. Their work didn't move Congress or the American people any closer to a resolution of our budget problems. There's no reason to believe such a commission to deal with Social Security would be any less of a failure. The reason is simple. People like Astrue insist that raising the retirement age has to be on the table but also insist that tax increases have to be off the table. How does that position get one to an agreement? How would lifting the FICA cap put a crippling burden on younger people? The vast majority of younger people would be unaffected by such a change. How would raising the FICA cap make it difficult to operate a small business? Few small businesses have any employees who have earnings above the FICA cap. If Astrue really wants to move the U.S in the direction of some grand bargain on Social Security, he has to say that increasing taxes must be on the table along with benefit cuts but if he says this he won't be appearing on Fox Business News again and he'll be ostracized by his fellow Republicans so he can't say that.
I agree with Astrue that the next Social Security Commissioner should stay out of the Social Security funding debate and should be an operational manager. Nancy Altman is undoubtedly a fine person with great qualifications but those qualifications don't match up with the job description for the position of Social Security Commissioner. However, I don't think it's accurate or helpful to characterize Altman as being from the "very far left." To my mind, Altman is a political realist. Her position is that any attempt at this time to deal with Social Security's financing difficulties is doomed. Anything that Republicans would agree to would rely almost exclusively on benefit cuts. There's no point in agreeing to this sort of deal or even agreeing to talk about it. Medium and long term demographics strongly favor the Democrats. Wait a bit and this problem can be resolved on Democratic terms. Is that a "very far left" position or just political realism?