We've all heard it before, repeated ad nauseam by conservative critics of Social Security and Medicare: "Grandma's benefits imperil junior's future." That's the claim Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick and former DNC chairman Howard Dean sought to debunk at last week's Intelligence Squared debate. Arguing for the motion were Fox News commentator Margaret Hoover and media mogul Mort Zuckerman. So how did the progressives fair? Before the debate, the audience was split 33/32 in favor of the motion, with 35 percent undecided. By the time Madrick and Dean were finished, they'd swayed 56 percent of the crowd to their side.
Madrick notes that Social Security and Medicare are already fairly stingy but are critical for keeping the elderly out of poverty. He also points out that these programs didn't produce our current debt levels, which "are a function of the great recession brought on, in my view, mostly due to the excesses of Wall Street, the Bush tax cuts in the early 2000s, and the spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan War." Both sides agree that there should be "tweaks" to the system, but Madrick and Dean argue that these should be progressive changes, like higher taxes on the rich, rather than regressive benefit cuts. "The programs are in some jeopardy," Dean says, "because one side of the political aisle wants them to be in jeopardy... I do not think it's fair to take away Social Security because there is an intransigent group of people in the House who refuse to do anything about it at all."