Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, The Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

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John McCain Thinks Social Security Is A "Disgrace"

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 5:42 PM EDT

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On Monday, during a town hall in Denver, John McCain proposed a radical "fix" for the way Social Security is funded. Responding to a questioner who claimed Social Security "will not be there" when current workers retire (which is wrong), McCain said this:

Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed.

As anyone who knows anything about Social Security understands, "paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers" is pretty much the functional definition of Social Security. Always has been. That's what John McCain is calling an "absolute disgrace."

Update: The McCain campaign has responded to a question about his "disgrace" comment from ABC's Jake Tapper. We have full coverage here.

Jared Bernstein, the director of the Living Standards program at the Economic Policy Institute, said in an email that he was shocked by McCain's statement:

That is truly an amazing quote. It's like he's saying, "I just found out that taxes come from people...that's a disgrace." It betrays a really quite scary lack of knowledge about basic government.... I know he's not into this kind of stuff, but ... it would be hard not to know about the intergenerational financing of Social Security. It's the biggest government transfer—1/5 of the damn budget. I guess the quote suggests he knows about the financing, but the way he says it, it sounds like he just found out and is shocked.
I can't imagine how this will play if it goes at all viral. Maybe Social Security is no longer the third rail, but to call it a disgrace ought to be seen as over the top. On the other hand, maybe people will agree with him.

Dean Baker, an economist and the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, also weighed in by email, writing, "McCain's position on Social Security is that it is a disgrace. He said so himself."

Now, before you think, "Wow, that must be a slip of the tongue, he can't possibly mean that," please note that McCain said essentially the same thing to John Roberts on CNN this morning. From the transcript:

On the privatization of accounts, which you just mentioned, I would like to respond to that. I want young workers to be able to, if they choose, to take part of their own money which is their taxes and put it in an account which has their name on it. Now, that's a voluntary thing, it's for younger people, it would not affect any present-day retirees or the system as necessary. So let's describe it for what it is. They pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That's why it's broken, that's why we can fix it. [Emphasis added.]

Here, McCain is saying, again, that the problem with Social Security is that Social Security is Social Security, instead of something else. He's saying the system is broken because young people "pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees." But that is the definition of the system. McCain is objecting to the basic structure of Social Security.

That's not all.

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The Policy Side of Obama's Public Financing Opt-Out

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 12:00 PM EDT

As David and Jonathan have mentioned, Barack Obama has announced that he will opt-out of the public financing system for the general election.

It seems obvious, as David noted in his article, that Obama's decision was made for political expediency and was not the principled stand his campaign is hoping people will see it as. The media has done a good job of covering the political side of this story. Obama is making a politically expedient decision and essentially going back on his "Yes" answer to a questionnaire that asked whether he would forgo private financing if his opponents did the same. But the other part of this story, the policy side, is sorely missing.

Court: White House Doesn't Have To Release Documents Relating to Missing Emails

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 3:08 PM EDT

Even though the White House Office of Administration (OA) has complied with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for decades, a court yesterday supported the Bush administration's claim that the OA is not a federal agency and therefore not subject to the FOIA. The Bush administration made the claim last August. The court dismissed a case brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which was using the FOIA to seek documents from the OA about missing White House emails. The decision means the OA will not have to release its documents to CREW, which had hoped to use them in a separate lawsuit that aims to force the recovery and preservation of any missing emails.

While the ruling is a setback for CREW and the National Security Archive (NSA), its co-plaintiff in the White House emails lawsuit, the battle is far from over. CREW plans to appeal this decision. In the meantime, the main lawsuit, which focuses on the recovery and preservation of the emails, will carry on without the OA documents. CREW and the NSA already have access to some information about the OA's email failures because House government oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif) obtained and released some of that information earlier this year. Recent developments in the main lawsuit have favored the plaintiffs, with a magistrate judge issuing recommendations that the White House didn't like, including one that suggested the White House be ordered to secure portable devices, like BlackBerrys, that could contain versions of some of the missing emails. The judge in that case could still force the OA to take measures to recover and preserve missing emails. But each day that goes by until then will make any deleted emails present in "slack space" on hard drives harder to recover, and get the Bush White House one day closer to running out the clock.

Waxman to DoD Inspector General: Investigate Contractor Fraud

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 1:47 PM EDT

In a letter (PDF) sent yesterday to Claude M. Kicklighter, the Defense Department Inspector General, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the House government oversight committee chairman, asks the IG to investigate "potentially thousands" of cases of contractor fraud in Iraq. In the letter, Waxman refers to the findings from the IG's earlier investigation of DoD expenses in Iraq, which indicated that 28 transactions worth $35 million "appeared to involve criminal misuse of taxpayer funds." Since the 28 transactions the IG found came from just a small sample of DoD transactions in Iraq, Waxman asked his staff to extrapolate from the small sample and come up with a figure representing how many of the 180,000 Iraq transactions might involve fraud. The results were shocking. From the letter:

Among the transactions you examined, approximately 4% resulted in criminal referrals. When this percentage is applied to the entire pool of 180,000 transactions, it appears that there may be more than 7,000 potential criminal cases involving more than $190 million in federal spending that have not been identified. This is an astounding amount of potential criminal fraud.

Waxman goes on to ask the IG to "assess the extent of potential criminal fraud" in Iraq and make recommendations to DoD and Congress about how to investigate and prosecute "cases of criminal conduct." As Waxman also noted in his letter, the DoD has a record of little cooperation with Waxman or its own IG, so it remains to be seen whether the Congressman will get what he wants. Knowing Waxman, he'll keep trying regardless.

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