Who's serious about reducing the deficit?

Cut Medicare payments and tweak Social Security. Cut defense spending by directly reducing spending and getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Raise income, corporate, and payroll taxes. These issues essentially define what it means to be serious about eliminating the federal deficit, because all of them need to happen before the deficit can truly be brought under control. Serious people can debate how much of each is necessary and where to make the largest changes, but anyone who rejects even one of the issues is either ignorant of the scale of the problem, blindly beholden to their preferred ideology, or lying.

Yesterday we discussed these issues. Today we look in greater detail at the public statements of various individuals and organizations to see if they are actually serious about cutting the deficit, or if they just claim to be serious.

The Republican Party

Since President Bush II presided over a massive expansion of government during his eight years in office, the GOP has, in most respects, become the party of “spend and don’t tax.” This analysis relies largely on two documents – the2008 GOP platform and the 2010 guideline document called “A Pledge to America” (APtA).

  • Cutting Medicare Benefits: APtA does not directly discuss cutting Medicare benefits, but there are a couple of statements that, combined, provide some information about the GOP’s view of Medicare. The section on repealing the health care legislation discusses the costs of the legislation and how it relates to Medicare, specifically saying that “the new health care law includes… $528.5 billion in Medicare cuts, which will be used to create new programs not related to seniors” and that the cuts “will fall squarely on the backs of seniors.” The implication is that the GOP would not be willing to cut Medicare in a way that forces millions of seniors out of Medicare, but the APtA is not more specificThe 2008 platform commits the GOP to fixing Medicare by “rewarding quality care, promoting competition, [and] eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse.” In the past, such vague language has meant that the GOP is interested in cutting Medicare benefits, but it is unclear whether this would be sufficient to effectively address Medicare’s effect on the deficit.
    Judgment: Unclear
  • Cutting Social Security Benefits: APtA mentions Social Security only twice, and in neither case does it discuss benefit cuts. The 2008 platform, however, has more information. For example, while the platform says that current and near retirees shouldn’t be affected by Social Security reforms, it calls for “comprehensive reform” that would create “personal investment accounts which are distinct from and supplemental to the overall Social Security system.” Shifting Social Security from a public system to a largely private system based on “personal investment accounts” would dramatically cut spending on Social Security.
    Judgment: Serious
  • Cutting Defense Spending: According to APtA, the GOP is committed to doing “all that is needed to protect our homeland, support our troops and the veterans who have so honorably served us…” and to “ensure critical funding is restored to protect the U.S. homeland and our allies from missile threats from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.” The first statement has no dollar amount expressed, but the language implies no limits. The second statement goes further and calls for putting missile defense money back into the budget, a clear increase in the defense budget.The 2008 platform goes much farther, however, calling for the GOP to “significantly increase the size of our Armed Forces,” and an expansion in the size of the armed forces is incompatible with cutting defense spending.
    Judgment: Not Serious
  • Exiting Iraq and Afghanistan: The APtA doesn’t mention US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan at all except in relation to Iran. The 2008 platform, however, says that the GOP “[owes] the commitment that American forces will leave [Iraq] in victory and with honor. That outcome is too critical to our own national security to be jeopardized by artificial or politically inspired timetables.” This is clearly an open-ended commitment, a position that is incompatible with exiting Iraq (and presumably Afghanistan) in time period appropriate for deficit reduction.
    Judgment: Not Serious
  • Raising Taxes: According to APtA, the GOP plans prevent the Bush-era tax cuts from expiring in order to “help the economy by permanently stopping all tax increases, currently scheduled to take effect January 1, 2011.” Furthermore, the GOP will lower small business taxes by allowing “small business owners to take a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their business income.” The 2008 platform said essentially the same things but with more detail. These policies are explicitly against the need to increase taxes.
    Judgment: Not Serious

The official stated positions of the Republican Party are contrary to deficit elimination on three of five issues and unclear on a fourth. Only on Social Security is the Republican Party actually serious about doing what must be done to eliminate the deficit. As a result, the Republican Party must be considered not serious about eliminating the deficit.

The Democratic Party

The Democratic Party has been long branded the “tax and spend” party, but in recent years it too has morphed somewhat to a “spend but don’t tax” position. The party website has an issues page where an overview of the party’s views on all the issues below is available. The 2008 Democratic platform document has more detail.

  • Cutting Medicare Benefits: The Democratic party website touts improvements made to Medicare in the health care bill that “will improve care across the board, reduce fraud, and finally close the hole in Medicare drug coverage” as well as provide “free coverage for certain preventive services.” The 2008 platform goes further, however, saying that Democrats “will protect and strengthen Medicare by cutting costs, protecting seniors from fraud, and fixing Medicare’s prescription drug program.” While all these things are good to do and will help Medicare, none of them are going to be sufficient to truly fix Medicare – benefit cuts will also be required, and there appears to be no indication that the Democrats will be willing to take this step.
    Judgment: Not Serious
  • Cutting Social Security Benefits: The website also touts Democratic successes in stopping “Republican plans to privatize Social Security.” In addition, the website touts a February 2009 Recovery Act payment to Social Security recipients that added directly to the deficit in 2009. While opposing privatization is not inherently in opposition to cutting Social Security benefits, adding to the deficit directly with one-time payments is.The 2008 platform calls for “safeguarding” and “strengthening” Social Security, and for ending penalties for public service, all things that imply a rejection of Social Security benefit cuts and may indicate actual increases.
    Judgment: Not Serious
  • Cutting Defense Spending: The party website calls for “modernizing” the military while also “eliminating outdated programs and unnecessary spending.” The 2008 platform goes further, calling for the government to “renew the defense R&D system” and “increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and the Marines by 27,000 troops.” While modernizing and weapons research are not inherently budget busters, boosting the number of soldiers in the military is.
    Judgment: Not Serious
  • Exiting Iraq and Afghanistan: The party website touts Obama’s removal of 140,000 troops from Iraq and the “ending the US combat presence,” but regardless of whether the remaining troops will be funded using deficit “supplemental” funding of rolled into the defense budget, leaving troops in Iraq clearly isn’t “exiting” Iraq. And the “surge” of troops into Afghanistan with an uncertain timetable for leaving again also doesn’t qualify as exiting Afghanistan.
    Judgment: Not Serious
  • Raising Taxes: The Democrats claim to be for “ending tax loopholes that let corporations hide profits overseas,” “tax cuts to small businesses,” and providing alternative energy tax credits. Closing loopholes increases taxes, small business cuts decreases taxes, and alternative energy tax credits would decrease taxes, but it is unclear how much. None of these issues directly relate to payroll or income taxes, which represent over 80% of federal taxes.However, the 2008 platform talks about eliminating federal income taxes for millions of seniors, exempting start-ups from capital gains taxes, ending “tax penalties on married families,” and offering “additional tax cuts for middle class families” beyond refusing to raise taxes for households making less than $250,000 per year. And while closing corporate loopholes and increasing Social Security payroll taxes on the wealthy will offset some of these issues, the additional revenues will be small compared to what is lost in the cuts described above.
    Judgment: Not Serious

The official stated positions of the Democratic Party are contrary to deficit elimination in all five issues and so the Democrats must be considered not serious about the deficit.

The Libertarian Party

The Libertarian Party focuses on small government and maximal personal freedom. They wrote a platform for the 2010 election.

  • Cutting Medicare Benefits: The 2010 platform claims that retirement planning is an individual responsibility, and that the Libertarians support “restoring and reviving a free market health care system.” Combined, these two positions imply that the Libertarians would eliminate Medicare entirely.
    Judgment: Serious
  • Cutting Social Security Benefits: The 2010 platform says “Libertarians would
    phase out the current government-sponsored Social Security system and transition to a private
    voluntary system.”
    Judgment: Serious
  • Cutting Defense Spending: The 2010 platform calls for “the maintenance of a sufficient military to defend the United States against aggression.” Such a military would have few if any foreign bases, would require little if any deep water navy, and could support a radical reduction in air and strategic forces. All of these produce a major reduction in defense spending.
    Judgment: Serious
  • Exiting Iraq and Afghanistan: The 2010 platform calls for the US to “avoid entangling alliances and abandon its attempts to act as policeman for the world.” Given that our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan could be interpreted as “policeman” roles, this implies exiting both nations.
    Judgment: Serious
  • Raising Taxes: The 2010 platform says that the Libertarians “support the passage of a “Balanced Budget Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution, provided that the budget is balanced exclusively by cutting expenditures, and not by raising taxes.”
    Judgment: Not Serious

The Libertarian Party is serious on four of the five issues above. The last, balancing the budget without raising taxes, is technically not serious but requires a major caveat – the Libertarians would slash so much spending that taxes would naturally drop dramatically as well. Because of this, the Libertarian Party has to be considered serious about the deficit.

The Green Party

The Green Party initially created a detailed platform in 2004, but have since updated certain issues.

  • Cutting Medicare Benefits: The 2004 platform says that the Greens would “pursue savings and cuts from abundant waste and fraud, eliminate unnecessary services that benefit providers more than patients, and rein in pharmaceutical industry price-gouging.” However, there is no call for benefit cuts for anyone in the platform.
    Judgment: Not Serious
  • Cutting Social Security Benefits: The 2004 platform specifically calls for maintaining Social Security’s integrity, opposes privatization, and expanding effectiveness. These may, or may not, include cuts to Social Security Benefits.
    Judgment: Unclear
  • Cutting Defense Spending: The 2004 platform calls for foreign military bases to be shut down and demands that the US cuts the defense budget by half.
    Judgment: Serious
  • Exiting Iraq and Afghanistan: The 2004 platform doesn’t mention either Iraq or Afghanistan, but two different recommended 2010 updates call for an “immediate cessation of US combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan” and a complete withdrawal of military forces and bases from both nations.
    Judgment: Serious
  • Raising Taxes: The 2004 platform and 2010 recommendations suggest raising both Medicare and Social Security taxes by applying payroll taxes to all income, not just the $110k, boosting corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy, imposing a carbon tax, and more.
    Judgment: Serious

The Green Party is serious about three of five issues, unclear on a fourth, and not serious on the last. However, given the willingness to increase taxes and to radically cut defense spending, it’s entirely possible that the Green Party’s unwillingness to cut Medicare benefits would be more than offset by cuts in defense and additional tax revenues. For this reason the Green Party is considered serious about the deficit.

In conclusion, these four political parties take eliminating the federal deficit with varying degrees of seriousness. The Democrats take the deficit the least seriously, the Republicans slightly more, the Greens even more, and the Libertarians the most. This doesn’t take into account the political palatability of the solutions into account, however, and so it’s possible to make an argument that the Green approach to the deficit is the most serious because it’s more likely to be acceptable to voters than the Libertarian approach.

Political VIPs

There are a slew of high-flying political VIPs who also claim to care about the deficit, but in most cases they’re no more serious than the party or special interest they represent.

  • Nancy Pelosi:Pelosi’s statements at her House website are not clear on the idea of Medicare or Social Security cuts, support the withdrawal of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and are generally supportive of lowered spending at the Pentagon. However, she appears to be enamored of lower taxes, meaning that on balance Nancy Pelosi is not serious about tackling the deficit
  • John Boehner: Boehner, soon to be Speaker of the House, is very good at making his views on his House website so vague as to be nearly meaningless on Medicare and Social Security. However, as one of the primary architects of “A Pledge to America,” that document’s lack of seriousness on deficit reduction, along with Boehner’s admitted desire to cut taxes, means that John Boehner is not serious about eliminating the deficit.
  • Harry Reid: Reid has worked to increase the size of the military and lower taxes when what is necessary to address the deficit is lower defense spending and higher taxes. His stance on Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts are unclear based on his Senate website, but he does support withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of his stance on defense spending and taxes, Harry Reid is not serious about tackling the deficit.
  • Mitch McConnell:According to McConnell’s website, he is opposed to cutting Medicare benefits and has no opinion whatsoever on Social Security. He opposes tax increases but doesn’t specifically advocate cuts on his website, but he does oppose any specific timetable to withdraw from Afghanistan. As such, Mitch McConnell is not serious about eliminating the deficit.
  • Jim DeMint: DeMint’s website indicates that he supports lower taxes, wants to privatize Medicare and Social Security, and supports high levels of defense spending. His statements about military “honor” imply an unwillingness to withdraw from Iraq or Afghanistan as described “A Pledge to America,” even though DeMint was not officially associated with its writing. From his stated position, Jim DeMint is not serious about eliminating the deficit.
  • Rand Paul: Paul’s stated positions don’t match up with his rhetoric on reducing the deficit. While Paul would like to discuss changes to Medicare and Social Security, he believes in increasing defense spending and is unwilling to consider tax increases. Therefore, Rand Paul is not serious about tackling the deficit.
President Barack Obama

The President is in a unique position with respect to his ability to influence the deficit. First, he’s a member of the Democratic Party and is allied with members of his party in Congress. Just looking at his allies and party would suggest that his positions on reducing the deficit is not serious. After all, the Democratic Party’s position on the deficit was the least serious of all the parties and both Senator Reid and Congresswoman Pelosi are also not serious about eliminating the deficit.

Obama has also produced a Fiscal Year 2011 Budget that represents his national priorities. It’s easy enough to look at the summary tables and see that deficits are reduced by not eliminated between 2011 and 2020. If Obama were some other president, this might have been enough to declare him as being not serious about the deficit, but Obama has done something that most other Presidents haven’t – he created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (NCFRR) specifically to investigate how best to eliminate the deficit.

And what does the NCFRR recommend? In essence, they recommend cutting all spending instead of just defense spending, raising taxes by eliminating loopholes and deductions, cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age and other cuts, cutting Medicare benefits by limiting Medigap plans and eliminating dual-eligibility (with Medicaid) and other cuts, and eliminating “supplemental” spending requests by building such spending into the budget explicitly. There are many details in the official plan, but on the face of it, it appears to meet all the requirements of being serious about reducing and ultimately eliminating the deficit.

As for what this says with respect to President Obama’s seriousness about eliminating the deficit, it’s probably fair to say that it’s unclear.

10 replies »

  1. I’m guessing that if any of the apparatchiks in the Senate were even remotely serious about cutting the deficit, then they wouldn’t have voted for a tax cut plan that adds $900 billion to the evil deficit. (And never mind that the bulk of those cuts will go to people less likely to spend the money, i.e. add it to the real economy.)

    It’s all a charade. Damn the icebergs, full speed ahead!

    • I was not at all surprised about how non-serious the various VIPs I looked at were about cutting the deficit. I was going to look at Palin and a number of others like her as well, but I ran out of time to dig (and I couldn’t get to SarahPAC for some reason).

      I looked at Jim DeMint and Rand Paul because their public statements indicate that they’re all serious about the deficit, but when I looked their actual positions are incompatible with cutting the deficit.

  2. You’re joking about the SarahPAC, right? That’s been a major target of the WikiLeaks supporters who have been attacking various websites.

  3. I can’t help but notice that your criteria today are somewhat incompatible with your analysis yesterday. In the cases of Medicare and Social Security, yesterday your analysis was actually pretty good. To quote the key parts:

    “Either way, however, Medicare represent a massive portion of the deficit and there’s no way to be serious about the deficit without fundamentally changing how Medicare pays benefits and significantly increasing Medicare payroll taxes.”

    “However, because Social Security is such a small part of the deficit at present, fixing it with small reductions in benefits and/or small increases in payroll taxes will be easier and can be done later than the other changes discussed above.”

    Yet today, to look at whether people are serious, you looked only at one portion of one possible solution in each of these two cases – cutting benefits. By this criteria, your analysis from yesterday isn’t very serious about reducing the deficit, as most of your commentary WASN’T about cuts to either of those two programs; in fact, you never specifically mentioned cutting medicare AT ALL – you merely mentioned ‘changing how Medicare pays benefits’, which could amount to changing the fee schedules, working for greater efficiency in care delivery, or various other programs which would not necessarily reduce the benefits given.

    I have to wonder why, when writing your analysis today of how serious various groups are, you chose to ignore your own analysis from yesterday on two of the five topics.

    • Re-read what I wrote, please. I said “fundamentally changing how Medicare pays benefits and significantly increasing Medicare payroll taxes. (emphasis added)” That means Medicare cuts and tax increases. It will not be possible to significantly change the payments without cutting them to someone. Believing otherwise is wishful thinking.

      As for Social Security, it’s possible that just increasing taxes might close the Social Security hole. However, cutting benefits to those who don’t need Social Security due to their other income is IMO a fairer and more serious response. That will qualify as a “Social Security cut.”

      Nice try, though.

  4. ” It will not be possible to significantly change the payments without cutting them to someone.”

    This is not the same as cutting benefits, though. The benefits would be the actual services covered. One could cut expenditures or outlays without cutting benefits, yet your entire summary seems to hinge on benefits rather than other, wider, terms.

    As an example, you said, “The 2008 platform goes further, however, saying that Democrats “will protect and strengthen Medicare by cutting costs, protecting seniors from fraud, and fixing Medicare’s prescription drug program.” While all these things are good to do and will help Medicare, none of them are going to be sufficient to truly fix Medicare – benefit cuts will also be required”

    In this example, for instance, you are rejecting outright the possibility that decreases in outlays can solve this budget issue without decreases in benefits.

    “As for Social Security, it’s possible that just increasing taxes might close the Social Security hole.”

    As per your analysis in this article – with regards to the Democratic party, you said, “The 2008 platform calls for “safeguarding” and “strengthening” Social Security, and for ending penalties for public service, all things that imply a rejection of Social Security benefit cuts”, and so, by virtue of your criteria in this article, your own suggestion that this is a real possibility is “not serious”.

    Now look, I don’t really disagree with your previous analysis. Based on your comments to me, it sounds like we are absolutely in agreement in terms of the magnitude of the problem, and on at least 4 of the 5 issues, the specific kinds of solutions absolutely have to be looked at if we’re going to take this seriously.

    However, the plain fact is that your original analysis – and your comments to me – are at odds with the definition of “seriousness” you used in this article.

    By the genuine analysis you provided, and the standards you used both in the previous article and your commentary to me, I would say that the Democratic party – going by its platform, at least – is at least as serious on each of the first two issues as the Republican party is. And your own quotes from the Green Party’s platform shows that they are serious on Social Security (I think it’s clear that ‘maintaining Social Security’s integrity’ is a reference to increasing the Social Security tax rate (or removing the cap and fixing the payment schedule to prevent an increase in outlays as a result, thereby increasing revenues), even if it is a bit oblique), and they are at least as serious on Medicare as serious as the Republicans, who you ranked as ‘unclear’, as both propose reducing outlays, but neither specifically advocates raising taxes (and based on context, it’s pretty clear that the Republican party has no intention of raising taxes).

    Now, ultimately, how would this change the overall conclusions of your article? Well, not a whole hell of a lot, and I’ll be the first to admit it. The Democrats and Republicans still aren’t serious, and the Greens and Libertarians are. However, the devil is, as they say, in the details, and I stand by my position that your analysis is inconsistent between the first article (and your comments to me) and this second article.

    This isn’t a “nice try” – I’m not trying to play “gotcha”. I was legitimately surprised by the discrepancy, as I read your first article when it was posted to reddit. It seemed to be some sober and well-considered analysis, and so I upvoted it. I then saw this follow-up the next day, and was shocked by the difference in your treatment of the two subjects. Nothing you have said in your response suggests to me – even in the least – that you have, in fact, been consistent in your analysis; if anything, your response reinforces to me that you’re using different standards at different times, even if you don’t realize it yourself.

    • I apologize – I felt you were going for a gotcha, and so I didn’t take your response as seriously as perhaps I should have.

      The problem with simply reducing fraud is that there’s no-one I know of who seriously believes that there’s so much fraud in the system that it accounts for half of the difference between Medicare receipts and expenses. The same is true of cost cutting. Fixing the drug benefit means reducing the “donut hole,” which is a benefit increase and thus increases the deficit, which is exactly opposite of what’s needed.

      Let’s look at just the Medicare drug benefit as an example. It was passed by a GOP Congress with no way to pay for it – no additions to Medicare payroll taxes, no guaranteed funds from the general fund, nothing. So in order to get the drug benefit on neutral footing, something needs to happen – payroll taxes need to increase, the benefit needs to go away entirely (since it is essentially deficit funded), or some combination of both. Since it’s far too popular to be erased entirely, we can look at the kind of benefit changes that might be made to it, in combination with payroll tax increases, to reduce its costs. First, we can add a prescription deductible. Second, we could require minimum per-drug payments. Third, we could reduce or eliminate Medicare as an option for wealthy seniors who can afford to pay for their own insurance. I personally think that all three of those changes are reasonable if done properly, but all three amount to eliminating or reducing a benefit that presently exists. As such, they qualify to my mind as a benefit cut.

      I scored the Democrats “not serious” on Medicare because I do reject the idea that fraud prevention and cost cutting measures will come anywhere near what is required to address the Medicare problem, and because they intentionally made the problem worse by growing a deficit-funded drug benefit.

      My thing with the Democrats and Social Security is that removing the public employment exemption increases the deficit. I interpreted “safeguarding” and “strengthening” as a rejection of even reasonable cuts (like eliminating benefits for the wealthy who don’t need the additional income). I could be wrong about that, but I think it’s a reasonable interpretation given how vague some of the language actually is. As for the Greens, I interpreted the language you quoted as being a rejection of benefit cuts, not as an acceptance of tax increases (although the Greens’ general acceptance of higher tax rates means that they probably would be fine with just boosting Social Security payroll taxes to cover the difference).

      I see how your interpretations of some of the same lines I read could be different, and how as a result you could reach somewhat different conclusions. I hope I’ve better explained how my interpretations led me to my conclusions, and why I don’t think that my conclusions here run counter to my conclusions in the prior analysis.

  5. Well, I had a long comment nearly complete, when the page refreshed and wiped out my work. That’ll teach me to not type up my comment in notepad, I suppose. :-

    Let’s see if I can recreate my post.

    I think you have better explained your position, but I still disagree somewhat with both the third paragraph of your comment, and with your analysis of who is and isn’t serious. I’ll address your comment first.

    Fraud certainly doesn’t account for half of the difference between Medicare receipts and expenses, but some sources suggest it may account for around 20% of it (around $60 billion/year, currently; in contrast, you mentioned that Medicare part D is entirely deficit funded, but the total Medicare part D benefits in 2009 were also around $60 billion). To suggest that this is not a major factor is more than the equivalent of someone trying to fix the deficit without addressing Social Security at all, ever. Perhaps as serious as twice Social Security. It may not solve the problem on its own, but it’s significant enough that it is a good step towards solving the problem.

    Furthermore, though, there are other ways to save money without reducing benefits. One way is comparative effectiveness studies, which help to ensure that money is not being wasted on ineffective (or no more effective than less-costly) treatments. Another is to work on streamlining medical information – it is not entirely uncommon in hospitals for someone to receive the same diagnostic work multiple times, when multiple doctors need the information and are unaware that it has already been performed, and there are other procedural changes which could be made to save time and money (and lower risk to patients).

    There are other ways to realize savings, too. While medicare already uses fee schedules for services, there are little in the way of cost controls on medical care in the United States – which makes it unlike the vast majority of first world nations. There are no cost controls on pharmaceuticals, nor on medical equipment (and don’t get me started on things like the cost of getting a medical education in the United States; between that and malpractice insurance costs, it’s no wonder doctors charge so much), nor on, well, basically any aspect of providing medical care. Medicare, as I mentioned, *does* have a fee schedule for services, but with proper cost controls, perhaps they could either lower the growth rate of those schedules, and possibly reduce transportation costs as more doctors (and hospitals) accept Medicare reimbursement. And cost controls on pharmaceuticals could substantially lower not only Medicare part D expenditures, but the cost of many hospital stays (and other medical care) which are covered under parts A and B.

    It’s not immediately clear how much savings could be realized from most of these proposals; I’ve brought up several different ideas, each of which alone would make a significant impact on the Medicare deficit. Would all of them together be sufficient to eliminate it entirely? Well, it’s difficult to say for certain, but at the least, it’s likely to be within a first-order approximation of the deficit. It’s possible that, even if it’s insufficient by itself, a modest tax increase could pay for the difference. This means that one can be serious about fixing Medicare without cutting any benefits at all. I personally would have some disagreements with them, but it’s possible.

    Now, with regards to your analysis of who is and isn’t serious. First of all, let’s look at your quotes from the Democratic and Republican party platforms on the topic of Medicare – I’ll remind you that you said the Republicans were “unclear”, whereas the Democrats were “not serious”.

    “rewarding quality care, promoting competition, [and] eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse.” versus “will protect and strengthen Medicare by cutting costs, protecting seniors from fraud, and fixing Medicare’s prescription drug program.”

    These quotes seem awfully similar, don’t they? Yet you said that, ‘In the past, such vague language has meant that the GOP is interested in cutting Medicare benefits’. Does it? When has the GOP seriously proposed cutting Medicare benefits? And aren’t they the ones who, less than 10 years ago, created the huge unfunded EXPANSION of Medicare benefits? How can it be said that they are any more serious about it than the Democrats?

    Additionally, the Green Party advocates most of the cost-saving measures I mentioned above, according to your description, and so, I would argue that it is unclear whether they are serious or not, and could be reasonably argued that they are serious.

    Then, we have the issue of Social Security. You said that it is “unclear” whether the Green Party is serious about Social Security, presumably because it is unclear whether they support cuts to Social Security benefits. However, at the same time, under ‘Raising Taxes’, you said that they suggest raising Social Security taxes by applying payroll taxes to all income, not the current standard. The most recent data I have on this is for 2006, but in that year, in order to be in the top 5%, a household had to have an income of at least $191,060; this would mean that more than 40% of their income was not subject to Social Security taxes – and remember, this is the low end. That same year, 2006, the top 1% of households received 21.3% of all income in the United States. The top 5% as a whole had just over 1/3 of all income. This would suggest that something greater than 15% of all income was not taxed for Social Security. This alone would make up the shortfall… and then some. In short, by your own criteria, it is abundantly clear that the Green Party is serious about Social Security, regardless of whether they support any benefit cuts or not.

    I think our positions aren’t all that far apart – it looks like the only points of contention are whether a reasonable case can be made that the Social Security and Medicare deficits can be fixed without either benefit cuts or excessive tax increases, and perhaps how to interpret the context of some groups’ statements on these subjects (in fact, our differences on this topic are fairly small, I think; we disagree on whether Democrats and Republicans are equally clearly not serious about Medicare, and how clear it is/whether the Greens are serious about Social Security and Medicare). However, your position – according to this article, at least, though in my mind not the previous one – is that the arguments I have made in this post would not be ‘serious’. I don’t personally advocate the exact details of all of the proposals I’ve outlined in this post, but I think it is a valid set of points which address these deficits in a serious manner, and to lump them in with the people who claim to want to fix Social Security but who really don’t want to raise taxes OR cut benefits is a disservice to reasonable discourse IMO.