Kuhl's Social Security Ad

In Randy Kuhl's new ad, we see the staple of Social Security propaganda:  the confused and outraged old person.  After the obligatory grainy black-and-white montage,  Granny appears and delivers the line: "Raise taxes?  Cut benefits?  Sounds to me like this fella Massa has his priorities a little messed up."

Well, Granny, someone whose priority list includes "remember stool softener" and "put teeth in glass next to bed" probably shouldn't be throwing stones.  Nevertheless, I'm going to try to reason with you.  Turn up your hearing aid for a moment, and I'll tell you how Randy Kuhl tried to pull a fast one on people like me by using you to change the subject.

Let's start with the one citation in Kuhl's ad:  a 15-month-old story in the Elmira Star-Gazette (which is still in Google's cache).  In that story, Massa talked about a four-point plan:

  1. Raise the income ceiling for the Social Security deduction exemption above $90K.
  2. Delay benefits for people just entering the workforce (and the SS system).
  3. Exempt the first $10,000 of income from Social Security taxes.
  4. Stop raiding the SS trust fund for general revenue.

This plan is a bit different from the one Massa mentioned in the debate, and I'll get to that in a moment.  But first, does this mean he'll raise taxes?  The median family income in the 29th was about $50K last census.  Almost 5% of families had an income less than $10K.  This means that the vast majority of the 29th won't pay more tax, and the poorest would actually pay less.

Will he cut benefits?  Not for Granny, or anyone else retiring in the next 40 years.  This plan raises the retirement age , which hasn't happened since the beginning of the Social Security program.  A modest increase in the retirement age for those who will be healthier longer is not "cutting benefits" for people like Granny.

Even so, over the last year, Massa has changed his position.  In the debates, and in a recent interview, he mentioned only reindexing the income cap from $90,000 to $140,000.  His argument is that the cap was based on the 90th percentile income in the early 80's and hasn't changed.  His plan just keeps up with inflation and wage growth, and he thinks this will take care of the system for many years. So, as with the old plan, taxes will be raised on the small percentage of the residents in the 29th who make more that $90K.

The positive content of Kuhl's ad is a distortion but not an outright lie. The real issue with Kuhl's ad is what's missing:  a plan to fix the system.  Unlike Granny, I don't know anyone of my generation or younger who plans to receive a single cent from Social Security.  While everyone pays attention to seniors' incessant whining about their supposedly scant benefits, the post-baby-boomer generation is quietly planning for a future without any benefits whatsoever, since their financial planners won't even include Social Security in retirement income projections.   Our frustration and cynicism grows as plans like Massa's, which are modest and practical, get shot down over and over by scare ads, like Kuhl's, that are aimed at the elderly.  The only programs that end up being discussed are ones, like privatization, that promise fairy-tale endings without sacrifice.

Kuhl has no plan, only a sentiment:  "I regard Social Security as sacred trust".  He was on-board with the soundly rejected Bush plan to privatize Social Security, and he now makes the inane distinction between "privatizing" and "private accounts", saying he's for the latter and not the former.  Well, I'm for eating all the ice cream I want, but not getting fat.  Randy's Social Security "policy" is the financial equivalent of that impossible dream. 

The Kuhl fast one is criticizing someone who makes hard choices without making any of his own, and advancing the fiction that Social Security can be fixed without hard choices.  But that doesn't matter, because Granny is pissed, and a 30-second ad will probably get her to the polls to vote against that bad, bad man, Eric Massa, who's trying to raise her taxes and take away her benefits.


I just checked Kuhl's House page and his campaign page, and there is no longer any heading for Social Security on either under issues. Talk about trying to duck an issue. And he ducks the fact that he was the only NY Rep who signed on to a bill creating private accounts, not to mention fails to mention his sponsorship of a bill to invest SS surplus in the stock market, which you can read at http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h109-3913. How do we fight this guy?

Great post.

OK---Now H E R E ---H E R E !---is where Massa needs to fight back and hard and fast and broad, particularly in Steuben, Allegheny and Chemung Counties. High high numbers of retirees here, who turned out in droves to convince Rep. Kuhl, eighteen months ago, not to sign on with the Bush plan. Randy shouldn't be allowed "to own"
the social security issue and Massa will suffer if he doesn't hit back and big.

If, as Massa's campaign website says, Rep. Kuhl gets only a 25 per cent favorable rating from AARP--now THAT is the type of info Massa needs to respond with. Not via a campaign website, which only the faithful will read, but in purchased tv/newspaper/radio ads. I'm telling you, the retired and approaching-retirement population is MAJOR in the southern part of this District----much more significant than veterans, I believe. Massa needs to hit back, and in the mainstream media, right now.

Tom: Thanks.

Kathy/Pepper: How to fight back is difficult because a 30 second ad doesn't allow much subtlety. I wouldn't recommend a direct attack. Instead, I'd get some senior citizens who actually live in the 29th and show them them with their grandkids. Have them say something like this: "We want our children to have the same great Social Security benefits as we do, so we're supporting Eric Massa. He has a practical plan that will make sure the same social security we have will work for our grandkids. We trust Eric because he reasons with us - he doesn't try to scare us."

I don't know the practicalities of producing a TV ad, so I don't know what the Massa campaign can do at this late date.

Rottenchester - I had emailed one of Massa's field people and he replied today that they are going to respond with an ad. I emailed back and said I hope it's not a negative one. I love your idea, but I would like to tuck in a few facts.

R--- T E R R I F I C script for the Social Security fight-back ads. Really terrific. Believe me, this is a hot and pivotal issue down here.