Senator Dick Durbin We Hardly Knew Ye

Submitted by Lawrence Rafferty, (rafflaw), Guest Blogger

When I hear Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s name, I usually think of a moderately progressive Democratic Senator.  What I don’t expect to hear from someone with Durbin’s pedigree are statements to the effect that cuts to Social Security are “on the table”.  But that is exactly what he said recently when asked about his work with the so-called Gang of Six.“Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says he and the other members of the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Six” are close to coming up with a compromise plan to shrink the federal deficit — and it might include cuts to Social Security. That would put Durbin, a reliable progressive and the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, at odds with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and most of his caucus.” Yahoo

Now, when I first heard this quote I thought it was just a misquote.  However, it has been reprinted in various sources.  “And he warned that revisions to the program, such as means-testing benefits for wealthier Americans, could be among the changes suggested by the negotiators. ‘ “If we deal with it today, it’s an easier solution than waiting. I think we ought to deal with it. Many of my colleagues disagree, [and would] put it off to another day,” ‘ Durbin said of Social Security in a video interview with ABC News posted Tuesday.’ ”  But from my point of view, leaving it out makes it easier politically — including it, I think, meets an obligation, which we have to senior citizens.”’ The Hill    That last statement from Durbin sounds more like a quote right out of the mouth of Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, who authored the recent Republican budget proposal!

Some authors have suggested that Senator Durbin is merely being a good politician (is there such an animal?) by playing Good Cop/Bad Cop with his fellow Gang of Six.  “I guess Dick Durbin gets to play the bad guy. I am not optimistic that the Gang of Six will be able to produce anything that can pass Congress. I understand the premise of their argument. Democrats don’t want to touch Social Security and Republicans don’t want any tax increases, but they can basically trade one for the other. If both sides give a little on one of their sacred principles, then we can get a compromise. The problem comes in convincing either side to actually violate one of their sacred principles, regardless of what they get in return. In any case, it falls to Durbin, among the Gang of Six, to try to sell us on cuts to Social Security. It falls to Durbin because neither Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) nor Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) has much credibility with progressives.  Now, there is an argument that can be made in favor of trading Social Security cuts for tax increases. At the root of the argument are two things. First, the premise that it is better to tackle the debt now than later, and better to tackle it with a Democrat in the White House than with a Republican. Second, the premise that, without touching Social Security, the Republicans will never agree to increase revenue. They have effective veto power over any deal, so even if Social Security isn’t contributing to the deficit in any direct way, it has to be on the table or everything collapses. I think the key is to examine the validity of those two premises. It is probably better to tackle the debt now than later, and to do it with a Democrat in the White House. I think that’s a sound premise. It’s also true that the Republicans will make cuts to Social Security a condition of any deal that raises revenue. The problem, as I see it, is that the two sides still won’t be able to come to an agreement. In other words, giving in on Social Security will alienate too many Democrats, while raising taxes will alienate too many Republicans. “ Booman Tribune

Call me jaundiced, but I have to agree that I do not see Republicans making any substantial movement towards taxing the wealthy or increasing revenues in any way, other than to suggest raising taxes on the poor and middle class. My evidence of that belief is the most recent budget proposal by Mr. Ryan.  He reduces taxes for the wealthy again and raises taxes on the middle class and the poor.  That same budget proposal also suggests that Medicare should be privatized and that Seniors will be paying more for Medicare.  There is also evidence that Durbin’s move to the center will not be accepted by his fellow Democrats.

“Durbin criticized a resolution put forward by Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont,that says Social Security should not be cut under a deficit reduction plan. Durbin said he would not vote for such a resolution.   “I think Bernie is going too far with his language,” Durbin said.  “In 2037, as we know it, Social Security falls off a cliff,” he said. “There’s a 22 percent reduction rate in payments, which is really not something we can tolerate. If we deal with it today, it’s an easier solution than waiting. I think we ought to deal with it. Many of my colleagues disagree, put it off to another day. But from my point of view, leaving it out makes it easier politically, including it, I think, meets an obligation, which we have to senior citizens.”  Bernie Sanders is standing up for the working class and trying to protect them as seniors and you throw him under the bus? Why exactly is Bernie going too far? You sit there in a dark subway car and praise the lunatic known as Paul Ryan, who wants to destroy Medicare, but attack Sanders. I think you’re going too far with your bipartisan fetishism, sir. It’s obvious Republicans want to attach Social Security cuts to any deal you come up with, but that doesn’t mean Durbin has to feed us garbage to be part of it.”  Crooks and Liars

If you didn’t think Democrats were upset with Durbin, the title of the aforementioned Crooks and Liars citation was “Who Stole Dick Durbin’s Brain?”  So we have a historically Progressive Democrat appearing to bend over and accept one of the conservative’s main precepts, but do we have any real compromise from the conservatives?  Unfortunately, all we have on that issue is Durbin’s claim that his Gang of Six are close to an agreement.

I have seen no evidence as of yet that the Republicans will make a substantial compromise on their pledge to refrain from increasing revenues through increased taxes on the wealthy and/or  corporations.  Until the public sees what this “agreement” consists of, the jury is still out on its logic and chances for passage and whether it is truly bipartisan.  Whether this is an agreement that should be reached at all,  is a completely different story.

Whether cuts to Social Security benefits should be made is a bipartisan issue that should impact all of us.  Since I will turn 60 in a few weeks, this discussion is important to me and brings to mind a few questions.  Should the Senate make cuts to Social Security and under what terms should it be changed? Can Congress in its current form actually come to an agreement on any equitable Social Security improvement or change?  Should current seniors be handled differently than those 55 and over?  Should we remove the earnings cap on Social Security to allow taxes to be collected on income above $105,000?  Should we be having this discussion at all?  I know it is a lot to think about, but what is your take?

42 thoughts on “Senator Dick Durbin We Hardly Knew Ye”

  1. Even if this is political posturing, it is ill-conceived. If at no other time, the Democrats need a united front to blunt the Republican’s plan to gut our social programs. Even if the President is willing to cave on SS and other social programs, Democrats in the Senate should at least hold the line. Are we going to let the Republicans dismantle all the progressive policies implemented by the New Deal? If this is the case, maybe a new party needs to be formed on the left.

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