Biden’s Conservatism

I wouldn’t necessarily argue about Joe Biden’s campaign promises or anyone else’s campaign promises, not even those of Donald Trump. But what does concern me is the actual political record of each individual. And in the case of Biden on Social Security, it’s a very mixed and not reassuring political history. That shouldn’t be dismissed lightly nor rationalized away with nice-sounding rhetoric. 

That said, what the Democratic Party does during the next administration is not limited to Biden, as there could be other political actors and the public putting pressure the DNC elite. Even if Biden at this point still wanted to cut Social Security, he would have a hard time accomplishing this end, even with bipartisan support, because of the extreme unpopularity of doing so. I’m sure someone would pull him to the side and explain to him that Social Security shouldn’t be touched, but in the past he took pride in ignoring that warning by grabbing hold of that third rail. He could get sneaky about cuts as he did in the past.

His decades of interest and willingness toward cutting Social Security remains a concern, not only Social Security but also Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits, etc — everything will be on the table, he said in the past to emphasize this point. Biden and other corporatist Democrats will have to be watched carefully in the coming years. Fiscal hawks like Biden might go slightly left, if we force them to do so, but that is far from guaranteed. We have almost no way to force him to do anything, other than by threatening with protests, riots, and revolts.

Behind the scenes, the corporatist Democrats will find ways to work with corporatists Republicans, and the corporate media probably won’t report on it or else will spin a narrative to hide the truth. This means we’ll need to watch the alternative media closely to stay informed. That is a depressing thought. I’d rather leaders who would do the right thing on their own without constant threat and scrutiny from the public, but the sad fact is Biden is not such a leader. 

Even so, I understand the hope of leftists that the Biden administration could be pulled left, however naive is this expectation. There is nothing in the recent history of the Democratic Party to cause one to think it’s likely. Let’s take it as an interesting experiment. And I’d love to be proven wrong. As one critc put it, if Biden suddenly becomes the next FDR, I’ll become a Biden Bro cheering him on. But if I’m proven right, will the loyal Democratic partisans ever admit to once again failing? Of course not. It will be lesser evilism again next election leading to ever greater evil each time. That is how we ended up here. 

Think about Biden’s kind of politics. Back in the 1980s, he was sometimes to the right of Ronald Reagan on fiscal issues, such as about cutting Social Security. Biden was one of the strongest supporters of GOP policy during that time, from cutting taxes on the rich to increasing military spending that created our present permanent national debt, not to mention his advocacy of the balanced budget amendment which was code for slashing everything that helped Americans. 

By the way, the permanent debt was created on purpose. It was part of the Starve the Beast Strategy, combined with the Two Santa Claus Theory. Reaganonomics was a continuation of Jimmy Carter’s austerity politics, but the Republicans realized how unpopular it was under the Carter admistration. So, they sought to force austerity and cuts to social programs in an indirect way. The idea was that by creating a massive national debt it would create a financial crisis, but this failed and the debt growing. And no matter how much they cut social programs and taxes on the rich, as also happened under Bill Clinton, there was somehow always more money for big biz subsidies and more war.

Obviously, there is nothing about cutting taxes while increasing spending that is fiscally responsible, but that wasn’t the purpose. They were hoping to dismantle the New Deal and Biden was all on board. As a Reagan conservative, it was Democrats like Biden who ensured Reagan had a conservative majority, even when he didn’t have a Republican majority. Biden remained friendly with Republicans and kept working with them. He supported the far right 1998 Republican budget, at a time when the GOP were well on their way toward ever greater extremism. 

This has continued into recent politics. The Obama/Biden administration for several years kept trying to cut Social Security by ensuring payments wouldn’t keep up with US inflation, but the Tea Partiers in power were too dogmatic to accept the lopsided deal in their favor. And it goes on and on. There are plenty of signs that Biden has not changed his stripes. A 40 year long political record speaks loudly, no matter what rhetoric he has thrown out to gain votes and win the electiion. Don’t be distracted by his words. Look to his actions.

One of Biden’s top campaign advisors is Bruce Reed who is a far right economic conservative. Reed is being made the Head of the Office of Management and Budget, a powerful position. Put this in context. Reed ran the commission that pushed for Social Security cuts, something he has been pushing since the 1990s. This isn’t the only fiscal hawk, along with other kinds of right-wingers (war hawks, corporate lobbyists, anti-environmentlists, etc), that is being brought into the Biden administration. There is Janet Yellen, Antony Blinken, Cedric Richmond, etc.

Putting fiscal hawks and opponents of Social Security into power is probably not what a president does if they genuinely are seeking to protect, strengthen, and expand Social Security. Biden does not appear to be signalling that he will allow himself or his administration to be pushed left — quite the opposite. Why expect someone like Biden to suddenly reverse the course of his political career, no matter what he claims to get votes?

Biden is the spirit of the Clinton Democrats or what used to be called New Democrats, what now is a moderate Republican (the reason he gained support from conservative Republicans like Bill Kristol). He was promoting Third Way politics and triangulation before there was a name for it, before the Clintons were in Washington. This has meant pushing right while punching left. He built his career on demanding fiscal responsibility by cutting benefits to the average person while ensuring big spending continues for wars, corporate subsidies, bank bailouts, etc.

We the public will have to go to heroic efforts in trying to even nudge Biden an inch to the left (at least on economic issues) or simply keep him from going further right, as he likes to do, by working with Republicans to get things done. That is what centrism meant to Biden in the past. He likes to get things done, particularly when the left doesn’t like what he gets done. He has stated in no uncertain terms that he hates the left and prides himself on beating the ‘socialists’, what used to be considered standard liberalism and progressivism.

To be fair, he might throw a few bones to the left on social issues.

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Videos about Social Security (the first few are footage of Biden over the decades):

Joe Biden’s Decades of Trying to Cut Social Security and Medicare
Biden Calls for Cuts to Social SecurityJoe Biden Brags about Trying to Cut Medicare, Social Security, & More while Bernie Defends ThemBiden’s Record on Social Security
Biden Can’t Outrun His Social Security RecordBiden Can’t Stop Lying About His Social Security RecordBernie Relentlessly HAMMERS Biden’s Social Security LiesHuff Post Reporter: Biden’s documented history of trying to cut social securityEven Biden’s Staff DISTRUSTS His Ability To Discuss Social SecurityDavid Sirota: Biden’s Reported Budget Pick Tried To CUT Social SecurityBernie CALLS OUT Joe Biden’s Huge Lies On Social SecurityBiden Lies Lies Lies About His Social Security Record
Joe Biden Would Go After Social SecurityDear Joe Biden’s Older Supporters, He Wants to Cut YOUR Social Security!Did Biden Endorse Cutting Social Security and Medicare? ft. Brandon Sutton (TMBS 91)Joe Biden Keeps Trying to Cut Social SecurityJoe Biden’s Indefensible Record

Also, see these videos and articles about Biden picks for his administration, as an early sign of which direction he will go:

Saagar Enjeti: Biden’s Cabinet Is FULL Of Deficit Hawks, War Lovers and GlobalistsBiden’s Cabinet A Who’s Who Of Corrupt Corporate Lobbyists
Joe Biden Punches Bernie Sanders Square In The Balls With Cabinet Appointments.
Under a Biden Administration Bush-era Neoconservatives Own the Democratic Party. Not the “far left”

It seems Joe Biden wants Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the Senate, not his Cabinet

Snubbing both Warren and Sanders for moderates won’t please the left-most wing of the party, especially when Biden’s transition team reportedly seems more interested in courting Republicans than progressives. During the NBC interview, Biden said he wasn’t opposed to nominating a Republican who voted for President Donald Trump to his administration, but that political watchers shouldn’t expect that kind of announcement.”

Joe Biden Is Freezing Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Out of His Cabinet

“Though the summer months elicited a flurry of frenzied speculation about an ambitious liberal agenda on the near horizon, one only needed to take a cursory glance at Biden’s Wall Street donors, senior advisers, and public rhetoric to see what the character of his administration would almost certainly be. The appointment of figures from the likes of Uber, Lyft, Amazon, and JPMorgan to his transition team certainly does little to alter the general impression.

“Needless to say, the emerging character of the Democratic administration that will take office next year continues to give lie to the fable of a transformative, FDR-like agenda primary-fatigued liberals were so reassuringly offered throughout the late spring and summer. At this early stage, Biden could be using his transition to set the stage for a bullish one hundred days beginning in January. Instead, he’s surrounding himself with corporate operatives and freezing the Left out of his cabinet.”

Articles and quotes about Social Security cuts:

Social Security and Medicare Are Not Safe With Joe Biden

Did Biden Twice Vote To Tax Social Security While in the Senate?

“What’s True: While serving as a U.S. senator representing Delaware, Joe Biden voted for two pieces of legislation — once in 1983 and once in 1993 — that resulted in taxing some Social Security income of some recipients.

How Corporate Media ‘Factchecked’ Biden’s Calls for Social Security Cuts Into Oblivion

“Whatever clever dodges politicians propose for cutting Social Security, whether through “raising the retirement age,” “chained CPI” or “freezing” spending, it’s important for media outlets to cut through the jargon and inform citizens by accurately labeling what they want to impose on the US’s most successful anti-poverty program: cuts. Otherwise, these “guides” to Social Security debates should be understood by readers as apologies for austerity (Extra!, 5/99).”

Did Joe Biden Just Deny Calling for Social Security Cuts? There are videos of it.

Joe Biden, 1984 (Senate):

“So, when those of my friends in the Democratic and Republican Party say to me, ‘How do you expect me to vote for your proposal? Does it not freeze Social Security COLAs for one year? Are we not saying there will be no cost-of-living increases for one year?’ The answer to that is ‘Yes, that is what I am saying.'”

“Within the next 12 to 18 months this country will face an economic and political crisis of extraordinary proportions if Congress refuses to take decisive action on the deficits that we face.”

Joe Biden, 1995 (Senate):

“When I introduced the budget freeze years ago, the liberals in my party said, “It’s an awful thing you’re doing, Joe. You are… All the programs we care about, you’re freezing them. Money for the blind, the disabled, education…” And so on. And my argument then is the one I make now, which is the strongest, most compelling reason to be for this Bu…this amendment, or an amendment. And that is that, if we don’t do that, all the things I care most about are going to be gone.”

“I mean whatever happened to that old conservative discipline about paying for what you spend?”

“I’m up for re-election this year and I’m going to remind everybody what I did. At home, which is going to cost me politically. I… When I argued if we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well!I meant Medicare and Medicaid! I meant veterans’ benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the government.And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time and I tried it a fourth time.

I introduced the Balanced Budget Amendment in 1984! It got nowhere. I’m one of those Democrats who voted for the Constitutional amendment to balance the budget. I introduced it on four occasions. Four occasions, entire plans to balance the budget, knowing I’m not president, and I’m not the leader. But for illustrative purposes. I tried with Senator Grassley back in the ’80s to freeze all government spending, including Social Security. Including everything.”

Joe Biden, 1988:

I introduced an amendment, notwithstanding my quote liberal credentials, of freezing the federal budget, absolute freeze. I did it for a simple reason: I sat on the Budget Committee for 11 years. And I’d find the same thing occur every time. We’d start off with grandiose ideas of how we’re going to cut the budget. We would never touch entitlements, we would never touch the defense budget, and we couldn’t touch the interest on the debt. Which meant that out of a trillion-dollar budget, that left us only $156 billion And what we would do each year is we would go out and cut out education, food stamps, Head Start, [welfare] payments, on down the line, everything that I cared about got cut, because at the very end, we’d say, ‘Well, we’ve gotta make some cuts.’ And that would be the path of least resistance.”

Joe Biden, 1995:

I am a Democrat that voted for the constitutional amendment to balance the budget. I have introduced on four occasions — four occasions — entire plans to balance a budget. I tried with Senator Grassley back in the 1980s to freeze all government spending, including Social Security, including everything.”

When I introduced my budget freeze proposal years ago, the liberals of my party said, ‘It’s an awful thing you are doing, Joe. All the programs we care about, you are freezing them — money for the blind, the disabled, education and so on. My argument then is one I make now, which is the strongest, most compelling reason to be for this amendment — or an amendment — that if we do not do that, all the things I care most about are going to be gone — gone.”

Joe Biden, 2007 (Meet the Press interview):

Tim Russert: “Senator, we have a deficit. We have Social Security and Medicare looming. The number of people on Social Security and Medicare is now 40 million people. It’s going to be 80 million in 15 years. Would you consider looking at those programs, age of eligibility, cost of living, put it all on the table?

Joe Biden: “The answer is absolutely. […] Social Security’s not the hard one to solve. Medicare, that is the gorilla in the room, and you’ve got to put all of it on the table.

Joe Biden, 2007 (Iowa’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner):

The American people know we have to fix Social Security. They know we can’t grow our way to a solution. They know we’re going to have to make some tough decisions. They’re ready to make those decisions. They’re ready to step up. We have to be ready to straightforwardly tell them what we’re about to do.”

Joe Biden, 2018:

“Paul Ryan was correct when he did the tax code. What’s the first thing he decided we had to go after? Social Security and Medicare. We need to do something about Social Security and Medicare. That’s the only way you can find room to pay for it.”

FACT CHECK: JOE BIDEN HAS ADVOCATED CUTTING SOCIAL SECURITY FOR 40 YEARS

BIDEN’S FIXATION on cutting Social Security dates back to the Reagan era. One of Ronald Reagan’s first major moves as president was to implement a mammoth tax cut, tilted toward the wealthy, and to increase defense spending. Biden, a Delaware senator at the time, supported both moves. The heightened spending and reduced revenue focused public attention on the debt and deficit, giving fuel to a push for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

In the midst of that debate, Biden teamed up with Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley to call for a freeze on federal spending, and insisted on including Social Security in that freeze, even as the Reagan administration fought to protect the program from cuts. It was part of the Democratic approach at the time not just to match Republicans, but to get to their right at times as well, as Biden also did on criminal justice policy. […]

“In 2014, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said at a conservative event that Biden had privately told him he was supporting of raising the retirement age and means-testing Social Security benefits. “I asked the vice president, don’t we have to raise the age? Wouldn’t means-testing and raising the age solve the problem?” Paul recounted, with Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee on stage, adding that Biden said, “Yes in private, but will not say it in public.” Paul hadn’t been paying close enough attention.”

PolitiFact Wrongly Lets Biden Off the Hook: The Truth About Social Security Cuts

In the speech, Biden says, “we need to do something about Social Security and Medicare” and that Social Security “needs adjustments.” Biden did not elaborate on what these “adjustments” were, but a look at his long history on Social Security is telling.
“In the 1980s, Biden sponsored a plan to freeze all federal spending, including Social Security. In the 1990s, Biden was a leading supporter of a balanced budget amendment, a policy that the Center for American Progress and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (two center-left think tanks who are hardly in the tank for Bernie Sanders) agree would be a catastrophe for Social Security.

“More recently, Biden led “grand bargain” negotiations with Republicans during his time as vice president. This “grand bargain” would have given Republicans structural, permanent cuts to Social Security in return for tax increases on the wealthy that would be rolled back as soon as a Republican president got elected to office.

“Time and time again, Biden kept coming back to the negotiating table, insisting that Republicans were dealing in good faith. Ultimately, the grand bargain fell through only because of hardline House Republicans refusing to make even an incredibly lopsided deal. Biden was fully prepared to make a deal that included Social Security cuts, including reducing future cost-of-living increases by implementing a chained CPI.

When Washington politicians talk about Social Security cuts, they almost always use coded language, saying that they want to “change,” “adjust,” or even “save” the program. That’s because cutting Social Security is incredibly unpopular with voters of all political stripes. When corporate-friendly politicians like Biden use those words, they are trying to signal to elite media and billionaire donors that they are “very serious people” who are open to cutting Social Security benefits, without giving away the game to voters.”

Biden’s Advocacy for Social Security Cuts Has Had Real Consequences

Going back to 1984, Biden has expressed interest in deals that would cut Social Security. He proposed freezing Social Security spending and periodically highlighted that desire; he voted for a balanced-budget amendment even after failing to shield Social Security from it; and he demanded that Social Security be “put on the table” during his last presidential run. He associates himself with a crowd known for foregrounding deficit concerns and fully willing to make “tough choices” on earned benefits like Social Security. Bruce Reed, Biden’s vice presidential chief of staff from 2011 to 2013 and a top campaign aide, was executive director of the Bowles-Simpson commission, which pursued deficit reduction and proposed increases in the retirement age.

“As a coup de grace, in 2012 and 2013 then-Vice President Biden helped lead a publicly advocated scheme to reduce future Social Security benefits as part of a “grand bargain” with Republicans. This cut did not reflect any of President Obama’s campaign promises, but it became part of a negotiation while in office—precisely the fear that liberals have with Biden, that he will revert back to dealmaking with Republicans that sells out core Democratic principles.

“Specifically, Obama-Biden sought to swap out the annual cost-of-living adjustment used to calculate benefits with the so-called “chained CPI,” which uses the concept of substitution. If the price of beef spikes, you could purchase lower-cost chicken instead to stay within your budget. This subsequently grows the inflation index more slowly than other government measures.

“Of course, no real substitute exists for the main drivers of elderly people’s budgets, namely housing, medical care, and prescription drugs, all of which typically rise faster than inflation. You can’t really substitute ham for arthritis medication. There’s a specific inflation calculation for the elderly, which takes this cohort’s higher costs into account, but for some reason it’s not used for Social Security benefits.

“The net effect of chained CPI would have been a Social Security benefit cut, which only makes sense if you think seniors get too sweet a deal with their $1,461 a month in average benefits. The average worker retiring at 65 would have seen a $650 reduction in benefits by age 75, and then $1,130 by age 85, according to economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Calling this a “more accurate” calculation of inflation masks the end goal of reducing future benefits (by about $230 billion over a decade, according to 2013 figures) and saving money within the system. […]

Chained CPI only dates back to 2002. It was an obscure concept mostly favored by deficit hawks and conservative ideologues until the Obama administration elevated itThe Obama-Biden proposal gave chained CPI the legitimacy needed for future administrations to implement it. It was not benign, not just a pose to show how extreme Republicans were. It was not just an ephemeral trial balloon in one negotiation in 2013. It has had long-lasting consequences for millions of Americans. And the vice president of the administration that set the trip wire causing chained CPI’s growth should be held accountable for his actions.