“I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you.”
—-Vice President Joe Biden, in reply to a supporter at a campaign stop in southern Virgina who told him, “I’m glad you all are not talking about doing anything with Social Security.”
I know this feels like “Pick on Poor Joe Biden Week” at Ethics Alarms, but everyone has a lot of catching up to do in that regard.
The Washington Post picked up on the above quote by Biden, which it made the subject of an editorial and pronounced “depressing.” It is more than depressing, but then, the Post has to protect Democrats even when they prove themselves irresponsible or dishonest, as Biden does with this “guarantee.” As the Post quite accurately points out, Social Security is going broke, its trustees have called for immediate reforms, and the longer the government waits to do what is needed, the harder it is going to be to do it. Biden, however, and presumably his superior, President Obama, apparently believes that either refusing to take the steps that are essential to prevent a Social Security meltdown or lying to the public about the fact that they will have to take them is preferable to the alternative: responsible fiscal policy and governance and leveling with the public. Critics can scream about the broken system, economists can repeat the math, op-ed writers can warn against constantly “kicking the can down the road” until, like Greece and other profligate and incompetent societies, there is no more road, but if our leaders refuse to show political courage and do their duty, the U.S. has a guarantee, all right—a guarantee of future fiscal catastrophe. That’s okey-dokey with politicians like Biden however. He doesn’t need Social Security, and besides, he’ll be happily drooling in Madam Kluck’s Home for the Bewildered by then. Based on his recent conduct, maybe sooner than he thinks.
Of course, the voter who prompted Biden’s dishonest or irresponsible “guarantee”—and let’s hope it was just dishonest, in this case the lesser of two ethical breaches—is equally at fault. He doesn’t care what happens to the nation in the future either, to retirees-to-be or the next generation of tax-payers, as long as he gets his, now. His attitude is also irresponsible, and quite despicable. He is part of the voting public (or the ignorant and lazy non-voting public) that is responsible for electing feckless and pandering pols like Biden, and as such, it is his responsibility to pay for the damage they do with his blessing. That means accepting a reduction in Social Security benefits to ensure there is Social Security of some sort for seniors who need it decades from now. He, and the millions like him, most of whom reside on the membership rolls of the AARP, are just as unethical as Biden.
But they aren’t Vice President.
Facts: Washington Post
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
25 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Week: Vice-President Biden (No, Not THAT Unethical Quote!)”
Are we absolutley sure SS is going broke? I’m attaching an alternate theory worth at least considering. Slightly off topic as it relates to the “ethics” of what Joe said, but still highly relevant to the discussion. Will be interested to read your thoughts…. http://bit.ly/RVDFzv
The fund’s trustees say it is going broke, and that’s all that matters. “Alternate theories” are interesting, but not germane—they are just a basis for rationalization and inaction.
The link is idiotic. There are, in fact, insufficient funds available for Social Security, and making up what has already been “borrowed” out of the funds will increase the Federal deficit and debt. The article is intellectually dishonest and deluded.
OK. So is the issue the fact that we allow the government to continuously borrow from it? We all pay into SS, and that money should be locked, and used for its intended purpose only. I think it’s dishonest and deluded to blame one President for failing to stop in 3.5 years what we all know is a flawed way of accounting. How is it that Obama and Biden have more culpability than previous administrations? Or you and I for that matter?
No, No, No, No, the issue is not that we allow the government to borrow from the trust fund. This year alone social security brought in 150 billion less in payroll taxes then it spend on benefits. That 150 billion comes out of either the trust fund and/or the general revenue, but either way you slice it when a programs spends more than it takes in it is going broke.
No one is blaming one president here. No one is saying this person is better than that person. The point is what the Vice President says is dishonest and unethical. It would dishonest and unethical if anyone said it.
I’ll second this, and add:
Whoever is currently President and does not deal with Social Security, the debt, Medicare and the deficit is 100% at fault for not doing so, just as prior Presidents were negligent and wrong not to address it when they had the power. Obama has the power, and the job, now. I recognize that his theory of accountability is that all unsolved problems are the other guy’s fault, but that’s not how real leaders think, talk, or act. The one is charge is responsible for fixing serious problems, no matter who left the mess. Obama has never grasped this, and apparently his supporters don’t either.
I disagree. He grasps it very well. And while not perfect, he’s not alone in failing to fix it. He appears willing to go down this path, yet is continuously met with a republican my way or the highway attitude. it shouldn’t be like that. Putting 100% of this on him or any previous President in my opinion is not fair and has ethical shortcomings as well.
Nonsense. He doesn’t grasp it, because he has done nothing but blame his predecessors for almost 4 years. Obama has made no proposals on Social Security at all. That is per se irresponsible. You seem to be willfully ignoring the facts of life and leadership: he’s got the job, and he either can do it, or not. He is 100% responsible. They all are.
That’s simply not true. (Nor is the example I linked the only example). You could argue that he wasn’t serious because he knew the offered deal would not be accepted; or you can argue that he was lying and would have withdrawn the offer had it been accepted; but you can’t argue that he didn’t propose the deal at all.
By the way, Jack, I’d encourage you to write a similar post to this one criticizing the many Republican leaders who have promised never to raise taxes. (Or maybe you already have and I missed it.) That’s a far more irresponsible position than what Biden said.
Indeed, I have written about this, in several contexts, including Bush’s irresponsible tax cut while waging two wars.
Point well taken!
I don’t consider a negotiating position never put into formal form with published specifics a proposal—do you? Back room what if’s aren’t proposals, they are tactics.
As someone once said, “I think this is semantic game-playing.” If someone proposes something, it can be called a proposal. If what you meant was “Obama has made no proposals that he’s put into the form of a proposed law,” then you should have written that, rather than writing something that’s obviously false on its face.
Really? So if he makes a hypothetical suggestion to Michelle over breakfast, that’s a “proposal” too? Ryan’s budget was a proposal. It was announced and put out there. A quid pro quo offer in negotiations is technically a proposal in contract terms, but a second hand account of what may be offered in enough is offered back just isn’t. A President who is serious about fixing a long-term problem says exactly how he proposes to do that, and he works to have a bill passed through Congress. Has Obama done so? I haven’t seen it. If he has, then I’ll agree with you.
He did not propose a deal he was willing to take, the Washington post had a great article on the debt deal collapse placing most of the blame on the President backing out of the deal:
If holding the president of the United States of America up to his responsibility as Chief Executive of the Federal Government is unethical in your mind, then who else exactly should we hold responsible?
The Republican’s in the house have passed a budget for the last 3 years and each one has attempted to reform entitlements.
Bush in fact proposed a plan to put social security onto a fiscally sustainable path. It went nowhere and was politically very unpopular, but putting out a plan was the responsible thing to do.
McCain, in the presidential debate no less, admitted that Social Security needed to be fixed and although he did not outline his solution, he at least acknowledged the obvious problem
Which brings us back to Biden. See, not only does he not have a plan, but he ‘flat guarantees’ there will be no changes. Do you understand the fundamental difference between Biden and the republican’s in the house/Bush/McCain, they understood a problem existed and outlined a solution. Biden ignores the problem and pretends that everything is fine.
Take a minute to read back over your posts and look at the evolution of your thought as it is full on rationalization. You go from originally questioning if there really is a problem to grasp at all, to defending your preferred politicians on the basis that they ‘grasp it very well’. You have made up your mind that they are not at fault, when your understanding of the facts changes you don’t change your opinion, you change your defense.
The trustees don’t say it’s going broke, Jack. The Washington’s Post editorial writers say it’s going broke, and they’re wrong.
To prove their point, the Post quoted a technical document which said that the fund will be “exhausted” in 2033. “Exhausted” is a term of art that means they no longer have enough money to pay 100% of benefits (they’d have to instead pay 75% of benefits); “broke,” in contrast, means “completely run out of money.” Social Security is not projected to be broke, anytime in the next 75 years, which is as far as the projections go.
You write “there are, in fact, insufficient funds available for Social Security.” Perhaps you just messed up your tense, but what you wrote is untrue. There are projected to be sufficient funds to pay for 100% of Social Security retirement for the next 21 years, and 75% after that. Disability Insurance will be in trouble much sooner, but because DI is smaller than Social Security as a whole, it’s much easier to address.
Regarding your original post, it’s not true that cutting current beneficiaries Social Security is the only solution. The Social Security shortfall is relatively small (about 1% of GDP, much smaller than the Bush tax cuts), and could be fixed with a tax increase, no cuts required. And, of course, we could also choose a combination of modest, careful benefit cuts and a small tax increase. To suggest that the only solution is benefit cuts is inaccurate.
I agree with you that Biden’s statement was foolish and wrong, by the way. Small adjustments to Social Security, such as have been made several times in the past, are responsible and should be on the table. But I think the “it’s BROKE! We’re DOOMED! It’s an EMERGENCY!” attitude is just as bad, since it could encourage people to support extreme and unwise policies.
I think this is semantic game-playing. I’d call Greece “broke,” but Greece has assets. If I have more bills than I have money to pay, I’m broke, in my book. If SS can’t pay 100% of its obligations, “broke” is a fair description.
Knowing the facts and getting them right isn’t “semantic game-playing,” Jack.
The head of the Social Security administration explicitly urged reporters not to do what the Washington Post did, and what you’re now doing – use the technical term “exhausted” to justify using panicky words that exaggerate how bad the situation is.
SS can pay 100% of its obligations through 2033, and with minor adjustments can be continued indefinitely. How can that be fairly described as “broke”?
Well, among other things, because they will be operating on IOU’s from a government that itself is “broke” in my terms and “exhausted ” in yours. Doesn’t this seem like a problem to you?
Your source claimed in an earlier article that Paul Ryan is “eliminating” Medicare in cutting it by 16%. He claims here that a 25% reduction isn’t going broke.
Yes, it is going broke. Go read those partisan hacks at the Office of the Chief Actuary:
If you can’t be bothered, or don’t like numbers, then here is the short summary from the report, ‘Both Medicare and Social Security cannot sustain projected long-run program costs under currently scheduled financing, and legislative modifications are necessary to avoid disruptive consequences for beneficiaries and taxpayers.’
It’s inspired! A “flat guarantee” from Biden is worth nothing, but the idea is out there. As if now we can all relax because we have this worthless guarantee from JoeBiden. It’s revealing that his supporters think SS is being saved by the fact that they aren’t talking about doing anything with it.
I think what the Vice-President meant to say is that there will be no changes to Social Security, so he guarantees that it will flat-line.
I’m putting this response down here, because we seem to have gone as deep into the nested comments as the software will allow. 🙂
The idea that Obama has not put forward a detailed budget is a right-wing myth. It’s right here. What Obama doesn’t have is the magical ability to force Congress to take it up.
But since there is zero chance of Obama’s budget passing and the GOP has no interest in negotiating a compromise (especially in an election year, when both parties rational interest lies in emphasizing their differences), trying to pass it as a bill would just be a political stunt, and a waste of taxpayer money.
* * *
The US Government is not broke, by any evidence-based definition. We have the ability to pay our bills not only this year but for the foreseeable future.
The US government is so reliable that investors are literally offering to pay us to borrow money from them, rather than us paying them interest as would usually be the case. Our T-bills are going for 3% less than inflation (.005%) – which means that thousands of investors are choosing to lose money in order to have the US government hold on to their cash, because the US gov’t is THAT safe an investment. That wouldn’t be happening if the US was broke.
By the way, you keep on suggesting the US is nearly in Greece’s situation. But Greek T-bills pay 4% or 5% interest – because Greece is broke, and so investors need a good return to be willing to risk their money on Greece. Germany, in contrast, pays about 0% on its T-bills. In other words, the US’s situation is much more like Germany’s than Greece’s.
Did I say he didn’t submit a budget? I know he did, so I certainly didn’t intend to say that, and apologize profusely if I did.. Nobody thought it was a serious budget though, not even “in-the-bag-for-Obama” journalists like Dana Milbank, who pronounced it cynical and embarrassing.And it was rejected by Democrats and Republicans alike.