Mar 31, 2013

Happy Easter

Mar 30, 2013

About Time

     I have heard multiple reports that the policy that has kept the identity of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) assigned to hear a Social Security appeal a secret is to end in the near future. It's about time.

How Many Fees Does Social Security Expect To Collect?

     From a solicitation posted by Social Security:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) plans to issue a solicitation for a streamlined remittance process and an automated system solution to collect fees from SSA's field offices for non-programmatic services.   The total system solution, Social Security Remittance System, (SERS) will provide 1300 field offices with an automated solution to collect, track, record, and report on fees collected for providing various non-programmatic services to individuals and third parties.

Mar 29, 2013

Some Ideas For "Reforming" Social Security Disability

     This is what I love about the "experts" who want to "reform" Social Security disability. They keep promoting ideas that are politically hopeless or obviously doomed to failure. From Dylan Matthews writing in the Wonkblog at the Washington Post, with my comments in brackets:
Chana Jaffe-Walt’s NPR article/segment on disability insurance has provoked considerable debate as to the program’s health and how, if at all, it needs to be changed. So what reform proposals are on the table? ...
1) ...Under [one] plan, employers would be required to pay premiums for disability insurance for their workers. Up to half the cost of those premiums could be deducted from earnings. Employees become eligible after 90 days of employment, and the earliest they can get their first check is after 180 days of employment. [Increasing taxes on employers in order to provide more disability benefits -- that's certainly going to be a hit with Republicans.] ...
2) Higher taxes for employers who produce disabled workers [That's a great way to encourage manufacturing! Maybe I should explain since the people promoting this idea know no one who works in manufacturing and have never visited a manufacturing plant. Manufacturing jobs are more physically demanding than working in an office. They're much more likely to cause injury or repetitive motion disease. For good reason, workers compensation insurance rates are much, much higher for manufacturing plants than for offices. This plan would dramatically add to that burden on manufacturers. Also, people who hold manufacturing jobs tend to be people who either dropped out of high school or barely got a high school diploma. In large part these are people who have cognitive abilities in the borderline to low average range, meaning they have little to fall back on if illness or injury strikes, making them more disability prone. If you don't fully understand the phrase "cognitive abilities in the borderline to low average range" and the connection I'm drawing here is hard for you to understand, you really ought to put in more time studying these issues before putting forward your plans to "reform" Social Security disability.]
3) Try a few approaches, expand what works: The Kennedy School’s Jeffrey Liebman and the OMB’s Jack Smalligan have proposed the creation of three demonstration projects to test possible reforms to the program. One would mimic either the [idea one or two]. Another would attempt to prevent applications for insurance through the provision of wage subsidies and vocational aid to disabled workers tempted to leave the workforce [You've got someone who is so sick that he or she is voluntarily going from a salary to no salary. Doesn't he or she already have enough incentive to continue working? Does increasing the salary help? I think it has escaped these scholar's attention that vocational aid is already available in theory but that state vocational rehabilitation agencies are willing to help very, very few applicants for Social Security disability benefits because they regard rehabilitation as an unachievable goal for the vast majority of these folks.] The third would let states use disability funds as a block grant and experiment with their own reforms. [Now, we get to what they really want. Ending Social Security disability benefits. Politically, it's a nonstarter.]
Liebman and Smalligan also want to grant the Social Security commissioner more flexibility in administering the program, with the hope that this could reduce costs and target the program more effectively. [What you got in mind? It's not like Social Security Commissioners have been saying that they thought they could cut program costs if they had more flexibility. They're just been asking for more money so they can effectively run the program as it currently exists.]
4) Ease the phase-out: Another possible reform is a $2-for-$1 scheme, in which benefits are reduced by $1 for every $2 increase in a beneficiary’s earnings. [Great idea. Seriously, the current rules are ridiculously complicated. Social Security thinks this is such a great idea that they've embarked on a ten year trial of phase out. Wait, a ten year trial? Why so long? Maybe because they're not really expecting any favorable results from the trial. Social Security work incentives have been endlessly added to and tweaked with no beneficial effect. The problem is that program rules are so tight that disability benefits recipients are too sick to work ever again. Period.] ...
5) Longer waiting period: The CBO [Congressional Budget Office] has considered a variety of cost-saving measures for the plan, ranging from adopting chained CPI to making people 62 or older ineligible. But probably the most likely to change enrollment is a plan to increase the waiting period before benefits from five months to 12 months. That would likely deter people tempted to game the system by increasing the cost of that, but it would also leave genuinely disabled people out to dry to some extent. It would also reduce the cost of the program by 6 percent in 2022. [This idea doesn't save much money. It just bankrupts more people. Why should a person with terminal cancer have a 12 month waiting period? Until you can answer that one, you had better keep this idea toward the bottom of your list. And tell me more about this "gaming" of the system inherent in a five month waiting period. I'm a lawyer who represents these folks. I'd be interested in knowing how I could advise my clients to play this "game.]

Rivlin Award Draws Controversy

     From Michael Hiltzik writing in the Los Angeles Times:
Robert M. Ball is one of the most revered figures in Social Security history, a man whose devotion to safeguarding the program from ideological attacks and political cant over six decades made him the program's "undisputed spiritual leader."
Alice M. Rivlin is a distinguished budget expert at the Brookings Institution whose willingness to promote "entitlement reform" (read: cut benefits) as a deficit nostrum has given her a reputation as a danger to Social Security and Medicare.
So when Rivlin was named the ninth recipient of the annual Robert M. Ball Award for Outstanding Achievements in Social Insurance this week, Social Security advocates erupted in fury.
The critics complain that Rivlin's grasp of social insurance principles is spotty at best. They argue that her tendency to treat Social Security and Medicare as mere expenditure line items to be kneaded into place in a broader deficit policy doesn't meet the award's goals; it's supposed to recognize people who have demonstrated "innovation" or "effectiveness" in furthering public understanding of the programs. 
They have a point. It doesn't help that Rivlin, 82, has affiliated herself with groups funded by hedge fund billionaire Peter G. Peterson, whose hostility to Social Security and Medicare is legendary and who isn't above using ginned-up panic over government deficits as a weapon. 
The main target of the critics' wrath is the National Academy of Social Insurance, which bestows the award and, as it happens, was founded by Ball. The organization created the Ball award in 2004 to honor Ball on his 90th birthday. (He died in 2008.) Some NASI members are talking about resigning in protest.

Mar 28, 2013

New Visual Disorder Listings Published

     After a little delay, Social Security's new visual disorder listings are in the Federal Register today.

Mar 27, 2013

The "Disability Industrial Complex"

     From All Things Considered on NPR:
There exists today what I'm going to call a Disability Industrial Complex. And Charles Binder had a big hand in creating it. When he started in 1979, Binder and Binder represented less than 50 clients. Last year, 30,000; 30,000 people who were denied disability appealed with the help of Charles Binder - in one year. The firm made $68.7 million in fees.
So you've got 30,000 people denied disability who are appealing to a judge, taking their case to the courts. And on the one side, the judge has a passionate, persuasive lawyer making the case that his client is physically or emotionally incapable of working. And on the other side - who's on the other side? Nobody. Nobody, really.
     I keep pointing out that years ago Social Security tried having someone present at its hearings to represent its position that the claimant wasn't disabled. It was just a waste of money. It didn't reduce the number of people approved. The government representative idea is a zombie. It's deserves to die but it's almost impossible to kill it.

Mar 26, 2013

Agenda For Upcoming Conference

      I know those of you working for Social Security cannot access this from your offices. I'm sorry but you need to ask the IT people at Social Security to drop this ridiculous restriction. You can always access this from at home.

The Assault Continues

     From the Atlantic:
Imagine for a moment that Congress woke up one morning, realized that the United States was suffering from a paralyzing long-term unemployment crisis, and, in a moment of progressive pique, decided to create a welfare program aimed at middle-aged, blue-collar workers.

The one thing everybody could probably agree on is that it should help all those jobless 50-somethings find employment, right?
Well, as NPR's Planet Money argues in an eye-opening story, it turns out there already is a "de facto welfare program" for those struggling Americans. The problem is, instead of getting the unemployed back on their feet, it pays them to give up work for good. 
I'm talking about Social Security's disability insurance program, which over 20 years has quietly morphed into one of the largest, yet least talked about, pieces of the social safety net. Since the early 1990s, the number of former workers receiving payments under it has more than doubled to about 8.5 million, as shown in Planet Money's graph below. More than five percent of all eligible adults are now on the rolls, up from around 3 percent twenty years ago. Add in children and spouses who also get checks, and the grand tally comes to 11.5 million.

Mar 25, 2013

NPR Discovers Social Security Disability

     From a story on Social Security disability on National Public Radio:
In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed. The rise has come even as medical advances have allowed many more people to remain on the job, and new laws have banned workplace discrimination against the disabled. Every month, 14 million people now get a disability check from the government.
The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it spends on food stamps and welfare combined. Yet people relying on disability payments are often overlooked in discussions of the social safety net. People on federal disability do not work. Yet because they are not technically part of the labor force, they are not counted among the unemployed.
In other words, people on disability don't show up in any of the places we usually look to see how the economy is doing. But the story of these programs -- who goes on them, and why, and what happens after that -- is, to a large extent, the story of the U.S. economy. It's the story not only of an aging workforce, but also of a hidden, increasingly expensive safety net....
In Hale County, Alabama, 1 in 4 working-age adults is on disability. On the day government checks come in every month, banks stay open late, Main Street fills up with cars, and anybody looking to unload an old TV or armchair has a yard sale. ...
Over and over again, I'd listen to someone's story of how back pain meant they could no longer work, or how a shoulder injury had put them out of a job. Then I would ask: What about a job where you don't have to lift things, or a job where you don't have to use your shoulder, or a job where you can sit down? They would look at me as if I were asking, "How come you didn't consider becoming an astronaut?" ...
But disability has also become a de facto welfare program for people without a lot of education or job skills. But it wasn't supposed to serve this purpose; it's not a retraining program designed to get people back onto their feet. Once people go onto disability, they almost never go back to work. Fewer than 1 percent of those who were on the federal program for disabled workers at the beginning of 2011 have returned to the workforce since then, one economist told me. ...
PCG is a private company that states pay to comb their welfare rolls and move as many people as possible onto disability. "What we're offering is to work to identify those folks who have the highest likelihood of meeting disability criteria," Pat Coakley, who runs PCG's Social Security Advocacy Management team, told me.
The company has an office in eastern Washington state that's basically a call center, full of headsetted women in cubicles who make calls all day long to potentially disabled Americans, trying to help them discover and document their disabilities: ...
There's a reason PCG goes to all this trouble. The company gets paid by the state every time it moves someone off of welfare and onto disability. In recent contract negotiations with Missouri, PCG asked for $2,300 per person. For Missouri, that's a deal -- every time someone goes on disability, it means Missouri no longer has to send them cash payments every month. For the nation as a whole, it means one more person added to the disability rolls. ...
Daytime TV in many places is full of ads from lawyers who promise to fight the government and win the disability benefits you deserve. There are tons of YouTube videos about getting disability -- one lawyer, one webcam. The standard form is a let's-get-real chat about how to win this thing. ...
Who is making the case for the other side? Who is defending the government's decision to deny disability?
"You might imagine a courtroom where on one side there's the claimant and on the other side there's a government attorney who is saying, 'We need to protect the public interest and your client is not sufficiently deserving,'" the economist David Autor says. "Actually, it doesn't work like that. There is no government lawyer on the other side of the room."

Mar 24, 2013

Fear Mongering?

     Would the Wall Street Journal engage in fear mongering on Social Security? Here's what they wrote today:
Q: Will I receive Social Security benefits?
A: That's a big "It depends." If you're over 65, no sweat. If you're 45-65, you might see some changes from the relatively generous benefits enjoyed by your parents. If you're under 45, you have plenty to worry about.
     Actually, I don't think this is fear mongering but only because I think they believe it. The problem is that they just don't get it. Social Security isn't protected by the trust fund. In and of themselves, the Social Security trust funds are more trustworthy than any of the country's financial institutions but they're still promises written on paper. Social Security has something far stronger going for it than the trust funds. Widespread, unshakeable public support. The writers at the WSJ are in the small minority that doesn't support Social Security. They think that eventually the rest of the country will see things their way. That hasn't happened in more than 75 years. I see no reason to think that will ever happen. 
     As I've written before, the concept of Social Security started with Bismarck in Germany well over a century ago. Social Security has persisted in Germany despite its devastating loss in World War I, hyperinflation during the Weimar Republic, Germany's devastating loss in World War II, the division of the country after the Second World War, the Cold War and the eventual reunification of the country after the fall of the Berlin Wall. If all that couldn't destroy Social Security in Germany what sort of catastrophe would take to destroy Social Security in this country? Nuclear holocaust?

Mar 23, 2013

Disability Decisions 2012

Mar 22, 2013

Representative Payee Embezzles From 23 In New Hampshire

     From the Concord, NH Monitor:
A Weare woman has been sentenced to 13 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $52,000 in Social Security and veterans benefits.
Heidi Lacerte stole the funds from 23 people while she was employed at the Office of Public Guardian, a nonprofit that serves hundreds of legally incapacitated people across the state, according to a release from the U.S. attorney’s office. According to court documents, the 48-year-old woman embezzled funds that had been paid to her office and placed in an account where they could be used for clients’ medical and financial needs.

ODAR Backlog Report

     This is a report from Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) showing the state of the backlog of cases waiting to be heard at each of its offices. Click twice on each image to see full size. This report was printed in the newsletter of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR). The newsletter is not available online.
     Note the persistence of extreme variations between offices. Also, note the national trend line on the backlogs:
  • February 29, 2008 -- 511 days
  • March 8, 2009 -- 499 days
  • July 5, 2010 -- 415 days
  • February 1, 2011 -- 371 days
  • July 27, 2012 -- 357 days
  • February 22, 2013 -- 382 days
     The backlog has gone up by almost a month just in the last seven months. That's a scary trendline -- and that was before sequestration began.

Mar 21, 2013

CR Doesn't Cut Any Breaks For Social Security

     The Senate has passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will fund government operations through the rest of the fiscal year, subject to the sequestration. It is likely to be adopted by the House of Representatives intact. Here are the provisions relevant to Social Security, which I won't even try to interpret other than to say it seems clear to me that the agency didn't catch any breaks:
SEC. 1517. Notwithstanding section 1101, the level for ‘‘Social Security Administration, Supplemental Security Income Program’’ for research and demonstrations under sections 1110, 1115, and 1144 of the Social Security Act shall be $17,000,000.
SEC. 1518. Of the funds made available by section 1101 for ‘‘Social Security Administration, Limitation on Administrative Expenses’’, $23,000,000 shall be for section 1149 of the Social Security Act and $7,000,000 shall be for section 1150 of the Social Security Act.
SEC. 1519. Of the funds made available by section 1101 for ‘‘Social Security Administration, Limitation on Administrative Expenses’’ for the cost associated with continuing disability reviews under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act and for the cost associated with conducting redeterminations of eligibility under title XVI of the Social Security Act, $273,000,000 is provided to meet the terms of section 251(b)(2)(B)(ii)(III) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, as amended, and $483,052,000 is additional new budget authority specified for purposes of section 251(b)(2)(B) of such Act. ...
SEC. 3004. (a) If, for fiscal year 2013, the amount of new budget authority provided in appropriation Acts exceeds the discretionary spending limits set forth in section 251(c)(2) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act on new budget authority for any category due to estimating differences with the Congressional Budget Office, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget shall increase the applicable percentage in subsection (c) with respect to that category by such amount as is necessary to eliminate the amount of the excess in that category. ...
     (c) For purposes of subsection (b), the applicable percentage shall be—
          (1) for budget authority in the nonsecurity category (as defined in section 250(c)(4)(A) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985), 0 percent; ...
(e) This section shall not apply to— ...
       (2) the amount made available by division C of this Act for ‘‘Social Security Administration, Limitation on Administrative Expenses’’ for continuing disability reviews under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act and for the cost associated with conducting redeterminations of eligibility under title XVI of the Social Security Act.

Mar 20, 2013

What About Alan Simpson As Chairman?

From the Associated Press:
The Senate's No. 2 Democrat said Wednesday that he's preparing a plan to create a commission to study Social Security's fiscal problems and send a proposed solution to Congress for guaranteed votes in both House and Senate. 
Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin says he's got bipartisan backing for the idea, which is patterned after President Barack Obama's 2010 deficit commission. ...
"You would basically say to a commission, within a very limited time frame, to come up with a proposal for 75-year solvency of Social Security and then — and this is important — it would be referred to both chambers on an expedited procedure," Durbin told reporters ...
Durbin's proposed 18-member commission would contain an equal number of Republicans and Democrats but require 14 votes to send a plan to Congress. 

A "Ringing Call For Incrementalism"

     Some excerpts from an address by former Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue at a Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) forum on March 8: 
I want to thank the SSAB for inviting me back to Washington.It has involved some sacrifice for me -- I’m going to miss the Early Bird Special this afternoon ... but I should be back in Boston for bingo tonight. ... 
Unlike in the past, we should not expect that this Congress will do a quiet and efficient reallocation of the Trust Funds to cover the OASDI [Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance] deficit. We do not have a sufficient number of the Daniel Patrick Moynihans & Bob Doles, the Bill Archers & Barbara Kennellys, enough leaders to lead a civil, informed debate on a hard topic . What we must try to do now to is start a process of education and dialogue that could let us avoid another inflamed, last-minute public spectacle, like the fiscal cliffs and sequestration, driven by what Stephen Colbert calls truthiness rather than actual truth....
[I]n order to pay for sexier items, Congress had drained the SSA [Social Security Administration] administrative budget so badly over two decades that the inevitable occurred — backlogs increased not only for hearings, but also for the continuing disability reviews that are the agency’s main weapon against improper payments. Having said that, the level of actual fraud is still extremely low, probably some fraction of one percent of the people receiving benefits. C ritics of the agency have resorted to distoring data that relates to the perfection of documentation — not fraud, not even improper payments — in order to support overheated claims of massive fraud....
The number of people on the rolls is rising substantially, but that rise is a predictable consequence of the baby boomers reaching their disability -prone years, not the product of new rules or management. ...
By contracting with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to supplement the existing O*Net system, the agency has shaved tens of millions of dollars off the cost of replacing the DoT. It may be doable for an additional cost of 10-20 million dollars and periodic costs for updating ... 
I am very concerned , though, about the possibility of another well-packaged but ill- considered reform initiative driven by the OMB [Office of Management and Budget] institutional views, which relies on the fallacy that we can solve problems created by bureaucracy and complexity with ever-more complex bureaucracy and complexity. Like Ahab chasing Moby Dick, they reject all the evidence and experience to date and insist that they can harpoon a system that will be so much more accurate up-front that Congress will be impressed by the back-end savings and fund the added bureaucracy. 
This whale hunt failed with the Clinton Administration’s prototype initiative, and it failed more miserably with the Bush Administration’s DSI initiative. In fact, DSI almost brought the agency to its knees...
OMB should drop its harpoon, let that imaginary whale swim into the mist, and focus its attention on actions that could actually produce real program savings : two-year rather than one - year appropriations cycles; stronger support by the Appropriation Committees for the IT [Information Technology] carry-over fund; and CDR [Continuing Disability Review] funding formulas that would allow CBO [Congressional Budget Office] to score the program savings in a way that would shelter associated administrative costs. ...
I submit to you that the academics, the policy experts, and the advocates of all stripes have not demonstrated an overarching issue in the system that could be the foundation for sweeping reform. Most of the time Social Security disability does exactly what the American people want it to do, which is to provide a safety net for people whose medical problems dictate  that they legitimately cannot work for a year or more. I can tell you better than almost anyone that the system is far from perfect, but the problems result from many very different failings throughout a highly complex system, not one or two overarching issues. In my opinion, there is no magic bullet solution, only scores of detailed answers to very specific problems. ...
My ringing call for incrementalism is hardly sexy, but if you care about supplying a compassionate but cost-effective safety net for the disabled, you will need to have a laundry list of concrete reforms to offer Congress in the next year or so....
Let me “help” you with this list. ...
[B]udgeteers in state agencies have figured out that they can shift their program costs to the administrative budget of SSA by requiring a decision on disability from SSA before allowing people to collect benefits from TANF [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families] or some other state-funded program. .... It is time that Congress closed this loophole and made it explicitly illegal to condition receipt of any benefit upon an SSA disability determination if that benefit is partially subsidized by the federal government....
Another similar area for action is concurrent application for both unemployment and disability....
Congress can also help claimants help themselves by authorizing SSA to direct the state agencies to develop comprehensive, up-to-date websites in each state that include: 1) sources of assistance for free pharmaceuticals; 2) locations of DOL [Department of Labor] one -stop offices; 3) information about services available from the state vocational rehabilitation agency; 4) disease groups that offer supportive services; and 5) a primer about looking for work on the Internet and information about data bases that list available jobs, both locally and nationally.  ...
Congress also needs to give the Commissioner the mandate to begin over the next five years an orderly elimination of the reconsideration step that occurs in most, but not all, states ...
[A]bout half of the [hearing] backlog reduction came from more resources and about half came from increased productivity....
SSA accomplished much of this progress over the intransigent resistance of the Office of Personnel Management [OPM[ They steadfastly refused to reopen the [Administrative Law Judge hiring] list for over ten years — imagine what your hiring would look like if you could only hire off a list that was ten years old! I sat in one meeting where a senior OPM official told John Berry and me that there was no reason to consider new applicants until SSA hired from the last person left on the list. What does that statement say about OPM’s commitment to quality in public service? What makes it worse is that OPM is spending a lot of trust fund money doing very little.  ...
I believe the ALJ position is the only job left in the civil service that requires a test, and it is a test designed by people who have no understanding of the administrative process and no desire to learn. It has become a budget game to pad the OPM budget at the expense of the trust finds. For instance, not long before I left I learned third-hand that trust fund money is going to develop a new on-line testannounced this week will be administered by little cartoon figures on the screen. Little cartoon figures... 
Where are the oversight committees on this critical function? OPM’s work is excruciatingly slow, outrageously expensive, and of unacceptably poor quality —and it has been so since at least the Clinton Administration. OPM damages SSA’s efforts to supply timely, high-quality justice, and it is time for Congress to move OPM’s responsibilities in this area to a federal agency that understands administrative law — either the Department of Justice or the Administrative Conference of the United States. ... 
Congress needs to streamline its statutes on return to work. Congress has tended to have an unrealistic view as to how many recipients can return to work. Somewhere around 60% of the people on the rolls have no realistic expectation of returning to work — they have fatal diseases, like ALS or Huntington’s, that are certain to continue debilitating the person until he or she dies a premature death. Some people have horrific brain damage from car accidents or military service. For many of the 40% for whom a return to work would be difficult but perhaps possible at some point, the layers of new incredibly complex statutes to encourage work have become counter-productive....
When Congress gets serious about addressing the 2016 insolvency of the trust funds, there will be bad ideas floating around too. The one that has the most currency baffles me, which is another try at making hearings adversarial. I was stunned when I first answered questions before Congress on this proposal because none of its proponents knew that the agency had piloted this proposal in the 1980’s and that it failed miserably. It was expensive — probably several hundred million dollars to implement fully in today’s dollars — and it made no difference in outcomes while simultaneously undermining public confidence in the agency.  ...

Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

     The written statements for today's hearing before the House Social Security Subcommittee are now available.
  • Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., Inspector General, Social Security Administration Testimony 
  • Arthur R. Spencer, Associate Commissioner, Office of Disability Programs, Social Security Administration Testimony 
  • Kathy Ruffing, Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Testimony 
  • Trudy Lyon-Hart, Director, Office of Disability Determination Services, Vermont Agency of Human Services, on behalf of the National Council of Disability Determination Directors Testimony 
  • David Hatfield, Administrative Law Judge (Retired), Wexford, Pennsylvania Testimon
     I see little, if anything, new in these statements.

Waiting In Memphis

     From WMC in Memphis:
Federal budget cuts are being felt across the country and many of the people who depend on social security benefits are being forced to wait. ...
The Social Security Administration was already dealing with an 8 percent budget cut and since the sequester, it has had to cut nearly all overtime, decrease office hours, and let go of temporary employees. This is causing a backlog in getting some people their benefits.
C. Greg Cates takes on clients who are waiting for a final benefit decision. Now, it is taking about six month or longer to process new claims.
"It affects people who are already in the application appeals process and we are waiting to hear and obtain social security disability benefits," said C. Greg Cates, Advanced Case Development CEO.
At this point, it appears that those already receiving benefits will not be affected as that process is computerized. For those in need of benefits, Cates' only advice is to get ready to wait.

Mar 19, 2013

Witness List For Tomorrow's Hearing

     The House Social Security Subcommittee has posted the witness list for tomorrow's hearing on "The Challenges of Achieving Fair and Consistent Disability Decisions": 
  • Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., Inspector General, Social Security Administration, accompanied by Heather Hermann, National Coordinator, Cooperative Disability Investigations Program, Office of the Inspector General, Social Security Administration
  • Arthur R. Spencer, Associate Commissioner, Office of Disability Programs, Social Security Administration
  • Kathy Ruffing, Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
  • Trudy Lyon-Hart, Director, Office of Disability Determination Services, Vermont Agency of Human Services, on behalf of the National Council of Disability Determination Directors
  • David Hatfield, Administrative Law Judge (Retired), Wexford, Pennsylvania

Visual Impairment Listing Change Delayed

     The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is part of the White House, has to approve any new regulations that Social Security and other agencies want to publish in the Federal Register. On March 5, OMB approved a final version of new visual disorder listings for Social Security. Once OMB approves new regulations for Social Security, they ordinarily appear in the Federal Register in less than a week. However, that's not required. An agency can decide not to publish regulations even after obtaining OMB approval. Former Commissioner Michael Astrue decided not to publish proposed new mental impairment listings that were approved not long before Barack Obama was elected President. 
     It's now been two weeks since OMB approved these regulations. The proposal was noncontroversial when it was originally published for comments. I wouldn't read much into this delay but it is getting noticeable.

Mar 18, 2013

The Consequences Of The "Secret ALJ" Policy

     For some months now Social Security has been trying to withhold the identity of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) scheduled to hold one of its hearings. This caused a raft of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits which the agency could not win. Social Security is now revealing the identity of an ALJ to those who make FOIA requests. I am hearing that the agency has a pending workload of 10,000 FOIA requests and that this is occupying the time of ten employees.
     A friend suggested to me that attorneys who represent Social Security claimants shouldn't wait until a hearing is scheduled to request the name of the ALJ. These cases are being assigned to ALJs long before they are scheduled. Why not make the request much earlier?

Mar 17, 2013

No Need To Gut Social Security Disability Benefits

     I think it's important to repeat this excerpt from the testimony of Steve Goss, Social Security's Chief Actuary, at a Congressional hearing in December 2011:
Sustainable solvency can be restored for the Disability Insurance program with ... [A] simple tax-rate reallocation between OASI [Old Age and Survivors Insurance] and DI [Disability Insurance], as was done in 1994, could equalize the financial prospects of the trust funds. We estimate that temporarily raising the Disability Insurance program’s share of the 12.4-percent OASDI payroll tax rate from 1.8 to 2.2 percent for 2012 through 2024 and to 2.0 percent for 2025 through 2029 would make scheduled benefits payable for both OASI and DI beneficiaries until 2036....
[T]he baby boomers already moved from young ages (25-44) in 1990, where few were disabled, to older ages (45-64) in 2010, where many more are disabled. Thus, the 20-year demographic shift in the age-distribution of the population has already occurred for DI. ...

As a result, the number of workers per DI beneficiary is expected to be relatively stable in the future. This means that restoring sustainable solvency for the DI program will not require continually greater benefit cuts or revenue increases. A one-time change to offset the drop in birth rate is all that is needed to sustain the DI program for the foreseeable future.
      You don't need to gut the program. Just do a simple reallocation, something which has been done in the past. It's a temporary problem. Don't over-react.

Mar 16, 2013

House Oversight Committee Gets On The Disability Bandwagon

     From the Washington Free Beacon:
Fraud could be a major reason that the number of people enrolled in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has risen so dramatically over the past 10 years, according to two letters written by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The number of enrollees in the program grew by almost 60 percent between 2003 and 2012, from 5.58 million to 8.82 million people, the March 11 letter to acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration Carolyn Colvin says. This rate of growth is twice what the previous decade experienced.
The increase is likely not coming from people who actually need the care, the letter contends. Fraudulent enrollment and improper payments are pushing up the numbers.
The letter, signed by Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) and two subcommittee chairmen, points out “significant management problems that lead to misspending within the program.” ...
The second letter from the Oversight Committee, addressed to New York Regional commissioner Beatrice Disman and also sent on March 11, notes where the program’s exposure to fraud is the greatest.
“In recent years, Puerto Rico has emerged as ‘one of the easiest places’ in the country to qualify for and receive benefits through SSDI,” the chairmen write, referencing a Wall Street Journal article. New York’s Social Security commissioner oversees the programs in Puerto Rico.

Congresswoman Criticizes Social Security Funding

     From the Shelton, CT Herald:
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, whose district includes part of Shelton, is criticizing the impact of sequestration on the Social Security Administration (SSA).
DeLauro said sequestration “puts the basic functions of Social Security at risk” and the cuts come at a time when the agency — and many other government departments — have been “dealing with funding that has not kept up with inflation and demand over the years.”  ...
Funding for the SSA over the past two fiscal years for routine operations has been essentially flat, according to DeLauro, the senior Democrat on the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.
“In each of these years the funding level provided was below the president’s request by $924 million, or 8%,” she said. “These cuts have a real impact on our ability to serve our seniors, and to ensure they get the proper benefits they have earned.”

Mar 15, 2013

This Is What You Voted For, Oklahoma!

     From KXII in Oklahoma:
The Social Security Administration is closing a Texoma office, citing federal budget cuts and less foot traffic as reasons for the closure.
 Allison Harris spoke with Hugo city leaders who are appealing this closure, saying it's undue and will be a burden for people in the area.
 Hugo city leaders are concerned that southern Oklahomans will be deprived access to social security support. ...
City manager Jeff Rabon says the Social Security Administration is closing its Hugo office in June, consolidating it with the Paris office. ...
"You know, we all breathe the same air, to quote President Kennedy, 'We pay the same taxes;' we don't want to see any services diminished." ...
The consolidation would force many elderly people in the area to either go online for social security help, or drive further -- by up to 85 miles -- to the Paris office.
"We feel like it's our responsibility to represent the people of our area to say, wait a minute, you know, we already struggle for access to services as it is; it's either Durant or to McAlester or, you know, Oklahoma City or Tulsa," Rabon said.
We spoke with an employee at the Hugo office who says many of their clients don't have access to the Internet, nor the resources to drive further to the Paris office.
"A lot of them don't even know how to use a computer. They're very upset over it, they say, 'what are we going to do without this?'

What An Inadequate Budget Does To Public Service

From Acting Commissioner Colvin's testimony before the House Appropriations Committee on March 14.

     What's it like where you are?

What Could Go Wrong?

     Britain is planning to reduce its expenditures under its Social Security disability program by 20%. All it will take is cutting 200,000 people off benefits. One of the contractors hired to do the chopping, Capita, plans to hire "meeters and greeters, buddies if you like, to ensure that people aren't overly anxious as they wait for their assessment." Capita has shown its sensitivity by hiring Stephen Duckworth, a wheelchair bound man, to head the program to assess the disability benefits recipients. Duckworth is confident that things will go smoothly.
     It will be a good thing to have this project going on in Britain as lawmakers in the U.S. are deciding what should be done about the looming shortfall in the Disability Trust Fund. If things go smoothly in Britain, as Mr. Duckworth expects, we could try the same thing in the U.S.

Who Doesn't Carry A Throwing Star?

     From the Bangor, ME Daily News:
An Arundel man remains free on $10,000 unsecured bail after making his initial appearance Thursday in federal court on a charge of possession of multiple weapons in a federal facility. ...
[Elmer] Pepin was summoned after bringing a throwing star, walking cane sword, and folding knife with him into the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review at 1 Portland Square on Thursday, Feb. 7.
     No gun so no Second Amendment issue.

Mar 14, 2013

Appropriations Committee Hearing

     Sorry for the confusion. The hearing before the House Appropriations Committee on Social Security's administrative budget did go ahead today. Here are excerpts from Acting Commissioner Colvin's written testimony:
Shrinking resources and workforce, and rising workloads have resulted in people waiting much longer—and becoming increasingly frustrated. On those increasing occasions when frustration spills over into aggression or even violence, our employees, as well as members of the public, are at risk. Since FY 2011, our employees have been exposed to a nearly 20 percent increase in threats. We owe it to our employees and the people they serve to do everything we can to protectand support them. ...
The current budget situation is exacerbating the negative effects of over two straight years of funding levels nearly a billion dollars below the President’s budget requests. With fewer employees to serve our customers, we are seeing serious signs of service deterioration. Examples include:
  • This week, close to 12,000 visitors to our field offices will have to wait over 2 hours to be
    served, a figure that has almost tripled in just the last 4 months;
  • The average wait time for field office visitors without an appointment increasing by 40 percent, from just 21 minutes in FY 2010 to about 30 minutes through January of FY 2013;
  • Our 800-number average busy rate increasing from 4.6 percent of all calls in FY 2010 (which equates to 2.6 million calls) to about 15 percent of all calls through January of FY
    2013 (which equates to 3.3 million calls and puts us on-pace for a projected 10.5 million
    calls for FY 2013); and
  •  Our average speed of answer for the 800-number more than doubling from about 3.5 minutes in FY 2010 to over 7.5 minutes through January of FY 2013. ...
As a result, we estimate that pending levels of initial disability claims will rise by over 140,000 claims, and on average, applicants will have to wait about 2 weeks longer for a decision on an initial disability claim and nearly a month longer for a disability hearing decision. Visitors in our field offices will wait significantly longer, and callers to our 800-number will wait almost 10 minutes for us to answer. ...
We have worked hard to reduce the hearings backlog. Our results illustrate the enormous good       that can be achieved with a dedicated commitment of resources to an important agency workload. With more judges and employees to decide cases, as well as wider use of video hearings, we reduced average processing time from an all-time high of 532 days in August 2008  to a low of 340 days in October 2011. However, because of cutbacks in the budget, average processing time started trending upwards in FY 2012 and is currently at 382 days. Without adequate funding, our gains in this area will soon be a distant memory. ...
[W]e do not expect to have the ability to hire ALJs until the third or fourth quarter of FY 2014. Until we can hire more ALJs, reducing our average processing time will be impossible. For now, the best we can deliver is a stable average processing time.
Finally, as we have reduced processing times for hearings and the hearing backlog itself, we have seen a significant increase in Federal District Court filings whereby claimants appeal unfavorable decisions. In FY 2012, 16,831cases were filed in the Federal District Courts, which represent a 7.7 percent increase over the 14,236 filings of FY 2011 and an 18 percent increase over the 12,952 filings of FY 2010. We anticipate even more court filings in FY 2013, possibly as many as18,600. While attorney productivity in the briefing of these cases has increased by 8 percent since 2010, we will be hard-pressed to meet the court deadlines of such a growing caseload.

Social Security Subcommittee Hearings On Disability Programs

     The written testimony of Joyce Manchester, Chief of the Long-Term Analysis Unit of the Congressional Budget Office, and  Stephen Goss, Social Security's Chief Actuary, at today's hearing before the House Social Security Subcommittee has been released.
     The Subcommittee has also scheduled another hearing concerning Social Security's disability programs on March 20. The press release on this hearing quotes the Subcommittee Chairman as saying "Instead of relying on objective standards to reach decisions, examiners and judges on the front lines have increasingly had to make more judgment calls. Given the advances in medical treatment and rehabilitation, we need to fundamentally understand how agency policies may be influencing decisions and determine whether these policies still make sense for the times we live in."

Mar 13, 2013

Witness List For House Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

     The witness list for Thursday's House Social Security Subcommittee hearing has been released. Only two witnesses are scheduled: Stephen Goss, Social Security's Chief Actuary and Joyce M. Manchester, Ph.D., Chief, Long-Term Analysis Unit, Health, Retirement, and Long-Term Analysis Division Congressional Budget Office. 
     Goss is on record saying that the shortfall in the Social Security Disability Trust Fund is temporary and can be resolved by transferring money from the Retirement Trust Fund.
     Here is a summary of a research paper by Manchester and others:
We use administrative longitudinal data on earnings, impairment, and mortality to replicate and extend Bound's seminal study of rejected applicants to federal Disability Insurance (DI). We confirm Bound's main result that rejected older male applicants do not exhibit substantial labor force participation. We show this result is stable over time, robust to more narrow control groups, and similar within gender, impairment, industry, and earnings groups. However, we also find that younger rejected applicants have substantial employment after application. To what extent this translates into potential employment for new beneficiaries depends on which group among them is considered "on the margin" of receiving DI. If we use initially rejected applicants -- a large and growing fraction of new beneficiaries -- the resulting counterfactual employment rate for younger applicants is low, too. We also find that rejected applicants bear signs of economically induced applicants. DI appears to induce a growing number of less successful workers to apply, an important fraction of which ends up without benefits and non-employed.

Mar 12, 2013

Way, Way Off Topic

     The Associated Press reports that "in a bizarre twist, basketball star Dennis Rodman is expected to arrive in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday in a makeshift popemobile as he campaigns for Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana to become the church's first black pope."

Reduce The COLA?

Americans’ Views on
Changing Social Security’s Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)

Increase the COLA
Reduce the COLA
Not Sure
From a survey conducted by the National Academy of Social Insurance.

Mar 11, 2013

Former ALJ Bisantz Passes

     Retired Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Mary Bisantz passed away yesterday. Bisantz was Acting Chief ALJ at one time.

Is More Rehab The Answer?

     The Deseret News of Salt Lake City has a long piece on "How federal disability policy mangles its mission." Here are a few excerpts:
Over the last 20 years, the disability rolls have burgeoned. In 1989, just 2.3 percent of Americans aged 25-64 received SSDI benefits. Today, that number has jumped to nearly 5 percent, or nearly 9 million adults.

That jump was not cheap. In 1990, Social Security spent $20 billion a year on disability. Today, it spends more than $128 billion.
And much of this growth went to often hazy claims that are hard to prove, including mental disorders and back pain. And many are not so much disabled as they are economically bypassed. ...
Like most federal entitlements, the disability program faces an existential crisis, as limited resources stand in the way of ever-expanding expectations.
Later this month, a key Social Security advisory board will meet to fix the disability system by getting fewer false positives that drive up costs and fewer false negatives that chew up lives. ...
When SSDI was enacted in 1956, “an able worker could maintain a job and didn't need assistance from the disability program, but a disabled worker couldn't possibly work, and needed the government to provide income and medical care,” said MIT's [David] Autor.
The 1956 disability law, still in force, treats a disabled worker as an oxymoron. You are either a worker or you are disabled — not both.
That model is now “totally outdated,” Autor said, “partly because work is more sedentary, and medicine can actually help you. But also because attitudes have greatly changed.” The very purpose of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, he notes, is to integrate the disabled worker into the labor force, by compelling employers to be more accommodating.
“Many Americans are willing and able to work,” Autor said, but work limitations under current law “curtail their earning power and raise their health costs.” ...
If the Americans with Disabilities Act was supposed to get more disabled workers into the work force, it seems to have failed. In fact, the sharp spike in disability claims began when the ADA was passed, notes Jennifer Erkulwater, a professor of political science at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
“Everyone thought the ADA was going to open up work to people with disabilities and they would become taxpayers,” Erkulwater said. “In fact, it had the exact opposite effect.”
Erkulwater suspects that the ADA, combined with 1984 policy changes that opened up disability claims for mental and musculoskeletal disorders, drove up claims by destigmatizing disability and encouraging new types of disorders.
     Articles like this can just appear on their own based upon a reporter's investigation. However, they are often planted. I suspect that this and similar articles are being planted by economic interests wishing to preserve and expand the Ticket to Work program. Ticket to Work is a complete failure and waste of money yet the contractors that profit from Ticket to Work want it expanded.

Employment Down 2% In Last Year

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted updated figures for the number of employees at Social Security.These figures do not show the effects of reductions in overtime at Social Security.
  • December 2012 64,538
  • September 2012 65,113
  • June 2012 65,282
  • March 2012 65,257
  • December 2011 65,911
  • September 2011 67,136
  • June 2011 67,773
  • March 2011 68,700
  • December 2010 70,270
  • June 2010 69,600
  • March 2010 66,863
  • December 2009 67,486
  • September 2009 67,632
  • December 2008 63,733
  • September 2008 63,990
  • September 2007 62,407
  • September 2006 63,647
  • September 2005 66,147
  • September 2004 65,258
  • September 2003 64,903
  • September 2002 64,648
  • September 2001 65,377
  • September 2000 64,521

Mar 10, 2013

Updated Fee Payment Numbers

      Social Security has issued updated numbers on payments of fees to attorneys and some others for representing Social Security claimants. These fees are withheld and paid by Social Security but come out of the back benefits of the claimants involved. The attorneys and others who have their fees withheld pay a user fee for this privilege. Since these fees are usually paid at the same time that the claimant is paid, these numbers show how quickly or slowly Social Security is able to get claimants paid after a favorable determination on their claims.
Month/Year Volume Amount

Mar 9, 2013

Resistance To Chained CPI

     There is discomfort on the left with the President's apparent willingness to cut Social Security by adopting the chained CPI method of computing the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). R.J. Eskow says that the President may lose support on the left if he goes ahead with this, Alan Grayson is threatening civil disobedience and Megan McArdle is saying that benefits should be raised, not cut. The opinions of Eskow, Grayson or McArdle are themselves of little consequence but I don't think that adoption of the chained CPI would be a done deal if the President and Republican leaders agreed upon it. Cutting Social Security would be a tough vote for many Senators and Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans. Make no mistake, the chained CPI is a cut in benefits. Anyone who votes for the chained CPI will face campaign ads on the subject.

The Five Biggest Lies About Social Security And Medicare

     Michael Hiltzik at the LA Times lays out the five biggest lies about Social Security and Medicare.

Mar 8, 2013

Response To Ehrlich Attack Piece

     Ethel Zelenske of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) responds to the awful Robert Ehrlich op ed piece in the Baltimore Sun.
     What I don't understand is the Baltimore Sun's recent interest in Social Security affairs. For many years, the Sun studiously ignored one of the largest employers in its area. Now, we're seeing Social Security articles in the Sun on a regular basis. Maybe part of this is that the op eds have ended up in the Sun only after the NY Times and Washington Post turned them away.

Mar 7, 2013

HR Passes CR

     The House of Representatives (HR) has passed its version of a Continuing Resolution (CR) that would keep the government functioning for the rest of the fiscal year, albeit with the across the board sequestration cuts in place. The bill clearly exempts from the sequestration money appropriated for Social Security for continuing disability reviews and SSI redeterminations. (page 268). It also includes this language (page 231):
Of the amount made available by section 1101 for ‘‘Social Security Administration, Limitation on Administrative Expenses’’, $483,484,000 is additional new budget authority specified for purposes of subsection 251(b)(2)(B) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.
      I don't know what this means. Probably, it's nothing of consequence but if it adds almost half a billion to Social Security's baseline, it would mostly undo the effects of sequestration for the Social Security Administration. There is an urgent need for plain language in appropriations legislation.

Social Security Benefits Safe Because Of "Suicidal Spite"

     From Jonathan Chait:
As sequestration begins, Republicans have been overtaken with something close to giddiness, and Democrats seized with gloom. It appeared as recently as a few months ago that the threat of across-the-board cuts, disproportionately hurting defense, would force Republicans to negotiate a long-term debt reduction agreement. But Republicans are happily announcing their willingness — and, in many cases, outright eagerness — to absorb a hit to spending of any kind whatsoever, and their total resistance to higher revenue in any form....
It is true that, if you define the struggle in purely zero-sum terms, Republicans can “win.” What they can win is the ability to keep in place, more or less permanently, spending reductions that both exempt the programs they most badly want to cut and that are designed stupidly so as to create maximum harm for minimum budgetary saving. Yes, Obama would probably find this more bothersome than would Republicans.
Of course, this “victory” would mean giving up a chance to cut spending on Medicare and Social Security. Since these programs will consume a growing share of the federal budget, the Republican strategy would mean leaving in place higher spending. And since they’re so popular — even Republican voters don’t want to cut them — Republicans are determined to refuse a golden opportunity to secure bipartisan cover for something they’ll never have the political standing to carry out on their own. In policy terms, “winning” means suicidal spite.

Bomb Scare In Georgia

     From the Athens, GA Banner-Herald:
Emergency personnel responded to the Social Security Administration building on Prince Avenue in Athens Wednesday after an unidentified pint-sized bottle of liquid was discovered by an employee about 11 a.m.
All employees were immediately evacuated, and within a couple of hours, the bottle had been removed from the building by a University of Georgia bomb disposal unit robot and packaged up to be sent for further analysis

Mar 6, 2013

Hearings Postponed

     Because of predicted snowfall, the House Appropriations hearing for Social Security's administrative budget that had been scheduled today has been postponed. There has been no announcement on tomorrow's House Social Security Subcommittee hearing.

     Update: The House Social Security Subcommittee hearing has been postponed to March 14. No new date yet for the House Appropriations Committee hearing.

     Further Update: The predicted snowfall in Washington is less than one inch. However, the wind is blowing 25-35 miles per hour. Social Security offices in the D.C. area are open today.

Mar 5, 2013

ALJ Register Open

     The federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is now taking applications for the position of Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). This will only last until March 15.  Everyone should understand that taking applications and hiring are two different things. Under current budget conditions, actual hiring is very uncertain. However, the notice does indicate job openings in Santa Barbara, Denver, Hartford, Miami and Tampa. I would also caution that if there is hiring there's a good chance that the new ALJs will go to less desirable locations. Still, if you want to be an ALJ, submit your application now. Social Security may be hiring ALJs off this register for  years, meaning that it may be years before you have another chance to apply.

Threats In Poconos

     From The Morning Call of the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania:
A man on Friday threatened to make trouble at the Social Security Administration office near East Stroudsburg if the office did not immediately put money into his account, police said.
Joseph J. Findley, 41, of Bushkill, Pike County, hinted the trouble would involve a firearm, state police at Swiftwater said. He was charged with making terroristic threats.
Findley phoned the office at 9:50 a.m. to say if he did not have cash in his Social Security account on Friday he was "going to go down there and there would be a problem," state police at Swiftwater said.
"He further related that he liked guns and he liked to shoot them," police said.

Mar 4, 2013

Exciting And Sexy Twitter Fight Over Chained CPI

Wonkette author Ann Marie Cox
     From Wonkette:
This weekend we got a shining example of the utter existential futility our president must feel every day when dealing with the nitwits in the opposition party, in the form of the debate over tying Social Security payments to the Chained Consumer Price Index (CCPI). “Chained” SSI is something conservatives have long wanted because it would recalculate the way the government measures inflation, leading to slower growth of every Social Security recipient's yearly cost-of-living increases. ...
Needless to say, as [columnist Joe] Klein points out, the president has long made CCPI a part of his plan for solving the sequester nonsense. It is right here on the official White House website. It has been right here on the official White House website ...
Anyway, this led on Saturday to an exciting and sexy TWITTER FIGHT involving various pundits, including Klein and one Mike Murphy, a GOP consultant and strategist and allegedly one of those mythical Republican “moderates” we keep hearing about but thought had long been hunted to extinction for the crime of moral squishiness. ...
Murphy had recently written in Time that if the president wanted the GOP to come to the table, he should endorse CCPI. When several pundits this past Saturday pointed out to Murphy on Twitter that the president has indeed done so (right here on the official White House website!) he first denied it, then dismissed Obama’s particular CCPI proposal as a “small-beans gimmick.” So to sum up: first this top Republican, a one-time strategist for the last two GOP presidential candidates and writer for a major weekly news magazine, does not know there exists a proposal for something he has deemed crucial to sequester negotiations, then denies the existence of the proposal, then says “Meh, proposal shmoposal, it’s too small and I just decided he has to do a bunch of other stuff too so shut up argle bargle derp.” ...
It was at this point that yr Wonkette, having weathered our own head exploding several times as we scrolled through this thread, injected ourselves into the conversation by tweeting at Murphy that whatever the merits of the proposal, telling your readers and followers that it does not even exist is a flat-out lie. Murphy immediately blocked us, because that is a more courageous way of dealing with dissent than admitting that you were wrong. And that being wrong made your point about the president a lie. A giant, irrefutable lie.
     Update: As commenters have pointed out, I got a few things wrong. It wasn't Joe Klein but Ezra Klein. It's Ana Marie Cox, not Ann Marie, and she's no longer writing Wonkette anyway.