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. @Tony C. – Tony, the larger problem with means testing is that it could erode upper-middle income and high income people’s political support for Social Security by turning it into a “welfare” program. (Democrats had similar concerns about proposals to increase Medicare Part B & D premiums for wealthier people.) Personally though, I do see why means testing can come off as a common-sense, “fair” solution.

    There’s a similar concern about raising the payroll tax cap, although in that case I think the resistance is primarily is just against tax increases in general. (The progressive formula for Social Security benefits essentially caps the maximum amount that a beneficiary could ever receive. That is, if the payroll cap is raised, richer people will pay much more in taxes but won’t ever see a corresponding increase in benefits.) But does that concern about some loss of political support outweigh the boost to Social Security’s overall solvency???

    I don’t think we should do nothing about Social Security – if we can strengthen it, we should – but I do share progressives’ concern that it will be dragged into the deficit reduction debate. I wish we could steer the national conversation toward wasteful tax expenditures and defense spending, rather than focusing on domestic programs that do a lot of good for average people. Sigh.

  2. Sen. Durbin isn’t stupid; he knows his caucus’s track record in winning negotiation battles with Republicans. He also knows that this “Gang of Six” isn’t negotiating an actual legislative package on behalf of both sides that will be brought up in the Senate. There could be all sorts of political reasons why he said the things he said – credibility and a seat at this table for the only liberal to steer the group away from the worst proposals for Social Security, for instance. I think people should see what the group actually proposes, which the WSJ reports could be pretty soon (

  3. Hoodwinked no it’s called the shaft! These so-called Senators (law makers) are not very smart because this is not that difficult. Raise the capp on SS to ppl making over 1mil n eliminate all tax breaks, bring home troops from Iraq and continue on path with Afganistan. Re-invest in an Infrastructure Program that will put ppl back to work ASAP, like Eisenhower and the Highway Program that made our Country what it is but if not We will stay behind our European friends. They are kicking our Ass in everything! Climate, Infrastructure, and Healthcare? Need to be first again!

  4. DCK,
    I understand the theory, but first tell me what substantial issue have the Republicans compromised on since Obama was elected. I can’t think of one and I think Durbin and his followers in the Gang are going to get hoodwinked.

  5. There’s credence to the theory that Sen. Durbin is being “bad cop” here, but I think there are other political calculations at play.

    One, Durbin and his frenemy Sen. Schumer are already duking it out for the Senate Majority Leader post, since Sen. Reid isn’t going to be the Senate Leader forever. Schumer has the advantage of being Reid’s new messaging point person and having the loyalty of (at least some) senators he helped elect when he was DSCC chair. But his self-centered abrasiveness and liberal bent also alienates some members, particularly moderates. Durbin may be signaling to those moderates that “hey, I’m just as concerned as you are that Republicans will use the deficit to bludgeon us, and I’m willing to do something about it.”

    Two, I think Durbin is trying to signal (some) Democrats’ willingness to open up Social Security to changes, as a way to keep Republicans at the table when they discuss tax increases. (His Gang of Six colleague Sen. Coburn, for example, has criticized Grover Norquist’s “no tax increases ever” orthodoxy.) My concern here is that Democrats tend to compromise to the chagrin of its base, while Republicans tend to take an “all or nothing” approach that often does get them what they want or their base’s praise for being “principled” when things don’t go their way.

    Three, not all proposals for lower Social Security benefits are cynical attempts to undermine the program. The highly respected, left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, for example, wasn’t a fan of the $250 payments to SS beneficiaries. The Center also thinks that we should change the way benefits are indexed to inflation (, which would lower the benefit amounts for many. And although the issue of increasing the retirement age is very controversial, I think you could make a strong case for it IF the disability side of SS is strengthened and broadened. I’m guessing Sen. Durbin is open to considering these options.

    Four, Sen. Durbin isn’t out on a limb here. Take a look at that Sanders Amendment (S.Amdt.207; search on “To express the sense of the Senate that Social Security benefits for current and future beneficiaries should not be cut and that the Social Security program should not be privatized as part of any legislation to reduce the Federal deficit.” This symbolic resolution only has 15 cosponsors. Now, this doesn’t mean that the other Democratic senators who haven’t declared their support don’t support it. But the fact that the list is so short isn’t nothing. In general, Democrats are very, very worried about looking like wasteful politicans who are bankrupting the country with taxpayer-financed bailouts to people and institutions who don’t deserve them. Never mind that Social Security — or many discretionary spending programs, for that matter — aren’t the real problems in our fiscal mess. I think Sen. Durbin is just heeding the reality that Social Security will still have to be a negotiating chip, partly due to the simple fact that so many progressives care so much about it.

  6. Sen.Durbin…This is not going away as soon, as you might be? We forbid you frm making cuts to the Social Security program in any way what so ever. “We the People” will discuss this within our base n make our decision as to you’re tenure but assured that you’re decision will be remembered. Have great day, Sir?

    Mark Ybarra
    Detroit, MI

  7. Tony C.,
    I agree with your concerns. Everyone who pays in should be able to receive benefits, but the earnings cap has got to go.
    Well said. These T-bills are a big reason why we must not privatize Social Security.

  8. Who Owns the US Debt?

    Nope, not the Chinese…

    The largest lender to the U.S. government is the people of the United States – we own 42.1 percent of the national debt in the form of Treasury bills held in our pension funds, 401(K)s, etc.

    And 4.6 trillion – about a third – is held by the government itself. Almost 18 percent of the T-bills outstanding are sitting in the Social Security trust fund, earning interest and making the retirement program incredibly secure despite all the claims to the contrary.

    Five Fun Facts About the $14 Trillion National Debt

  9. @Rafflaw: The only “cut” to Social Security I could remotely support, in some fevered part of my imagination, is to stop giving the wealthy their social security checks. In other words, a means test. But I am loathe to do even that, lest the means test creep down to include the vast majority incapable of supporting themselves.

    So, although I believe a good 10% of those receiving social security checks do not need them at all, I’d rather pay that 10% “tax” to ensure the lower 90% keep receiving them, than to risk the “exception” becoming the “rule.”

    I do agree with raising the ceiling, but that cannot be defined as a cut.

  10. He is Risen “LOTTAKATZ…. After all she [Maddow] would rather go to the beach and look at women in bikinis!”
    “!” indeed. Lol, don’t you? It sounds good to me, watching men in bikinis too. If people go to all the troule to wear a bikini it’s downright uncivil not to look at them. 🙂

  11. Durbin is really letting me down. I had always thought he was a straight up guy but talking of cutting Social Security is gonna bring down the Wrath of “We the People” on his ass! And for helping out the banks too with fee’s when he ran an Amendment through with the Dodd/Frank bill. He”l be back in town(DC) soon and then the shit will hit the fan! LOL

  12. AY,
    Think you hit upon the underlying reason, along with the opportunity to put trillions into the hands of the banksters.

  13. Isn’t SS fully funded by the people paying into it? So what cuts are they wanting to make and why? The government does not want to pay back the money it stole?

  14. Itsallgood,
    Social Security was designed to help Seniors. If you privatize it it will subject to the ups and downs of the marketplace. That didn’t work out too well a couple of years ago. Social Security has worked for decades and will continue to work unless the Right succeeds in its goal to privatize it.

  15. Why does a person who has a healthy pension plan need social security? It was not set up as a national retirement plan but as an assistance plan for seniors who needed to make ends meet.

    It should be cut and hard and given only to those seniors who truly need some help.

    The amount taken from the individual can then be reduced and additional income could be invested by the individual.

  16. wow heisrisen

    you do seem to know alot about rachel maddow. you know how she smells, what she believes, where she spends her weekends and what she does when she gets there.

    are you that stalker producer that works for bill orielly?

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