Conservatives Gear Up for the Entitlement Wars


There were signs, even before Obama took office, that fiscal conservatives would try to use the recession to achieve their long-cherished goal of rolling back the entitlement programs responsible for rescuing millions of elders from desperate poverty. A month ago, I wrote about the coming “entitlement wars,” in which public fears and misapprehensions would be exploited to manufacture intergenerational conflict, and Social Security and Medicare would be raided to pay for the economic stimulus.

In the current issue of The Nation, William Greider has written the essential article on the subject, laying out the history, the players, and the tactics employed in this long-brewing battle.

Governing elites in Washington and Wall Street have devised a fiendishly clever “grand bargain” they want President Obama to embrace in the name of “fiscal responsibility.” The government, they argue, having spent billions on bailing out the banks, can recover its costs by looting the Social Security system. They are also targeting Medicare and Medicaid. The pitch sounds preposterous to millions of ordinary working people anxious about their economic security and worried about their retirement years. But an impressive armada is lined up to push the idea–Washington’s leading think tanks, the prestige media, tax-exempt foundations, skillful propagandists posing as economic experts and a self-righteous billionaire spending his fortune to save the nation from the elderly.

These players are promoting a tricky way to whack Social Security benefits, but to do it behind closed doors so the public cannot see what’s happening or figure out which politicians to blame. The essential transaction would amount to misappropriating the trillions in Social Security taxes that workers have paid to finance their retirement benefits. This swindle is portrayed as “fiscal reform.” In fact, it’s the political equivalent of bait-and-switch fraud.

This long piece is well worth reading through to the end, since as Greider points out, the entitlement wars “could become a defining test for ‘new politics’ in the Obama era.”

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