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Center for Policy Studies
Public Affairs Discussion Group

The Attack on Social Security Disability Insurance (?)

Joe White, Ph.D. - Luxenberg Family Professor of Public Policy
Friday January 23, 2015
12:30-1:30 p.m.
Dampeer Room
Kelvin Smith Library
Case Western Reserve University

Dear Colleagues:

I thought there would be another topic, but our speaker had to reschedule. So, for this coming Friday, it's timely to discuss a recent political maneuver with serious possible implications for a vital government program.

The trust fund for Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) is on the verge of running dry. This fund is one of two associated with Social Security. Workers and their employers each pay 6.2% of payroll, up to a cap. Of these 6.2% contributions, 5.3% goes into the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI), fund, and 0.9% into the DI fund.

Economic and demographic conditions change, so the share needed for each fund can change. Therefore, on six occasions since 1970, contributions have been shifted from one pot to the other. Most significantly, funds were shifted from DI to OASI as part of the 1983 Social Security "rescue." Without that shift, the DI fund would be in fine shape now. Therefore advocates for DI say Congress should just shift revenues back now.

As they adopted the Rules of the House of Representatives for the 114th Congress, however, House Republicans made reallocating funds out-of-order unless that is part of a larger law that "improves the overall financial health of the combined Social Security Trust Funds." Considering their general attitude towards taxes, and frequent comments by Republican leaders that disabled workers are "gaming" the system, the new rule looks like part of a plan to hold DI hostage in order to force Social Security cuts.

So what are the merits, and what are the likely politics?

I will talk about the meaning and condition of the DI trust fund, the history of transfers between the funds, the underlying reasons for DI's spending exceeding its revenue at the moment, the political divide about DI and the implications for the overall political disputes over Social Security, the budget, and the 2016 election. Lots to discuss, some of which can be explanation and some speculation!

All best regards,
Joe White
Luxenberg Family Professor of Public Policy and Director, Center for Policy Studies

About Our Guest

Aside from serving as moderator for the Friday Public Affairs Lunch discussion, Joe White also serves as Chair of the CWRU Department of Political Science, Director of the Center for Policy Studies, and has a secondary appointment as Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. His research focuses on federal budget politics and policy; health care, especially cost control and reform; the politics of social insurance programs such as Medicare and Social Security; and differences between rich democracies' health care systems. His most extensive analysis of Social Security policy is False Alarm: Why the Greatest Threat to Social Security and Medicare is the Campaign to "Save" Them (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003). Along with his coauthor Aaron Wildavsky, Joe also analyzed the 1983 Social Security legislation in The Deficit and the Public Interest: The Search for Responsible Budgeting in the 1980s (University of California Press and The Russell Sage Foundation, 1991). Some of Joe's writings on health policy and budgeting can be found at

Where We Meet

The Friday Public Affairs Lunch convenes each Friday when classes are in session, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. We usually meet in the Dampeer Room of Kelvin Smith Library. The Dampeer Room is on the second floor of the library. If you get off the elevators, turn right, pass the first bank of tables, and turn right again. Occasionally we need to use a different room; that will always be announced in the weekly e-mails.

Parking Possibilities

The most convenient parking is the lot underneath Severance Hall. We regret that it is not free. From that lot there is an elevator up to street level (labeled as for the Thwing Center); it is less than 50 yards from that exit to the library entrance. You can get from the Severance garage to the library without going outside. Near the entry gates - just to the right if you were driving out - there is a door into a corridor. Walk down the corridor and there will be another door. Beyond that door you'll find the entrance to an elevator which goes up to an entrance right inside the doors to Kelvin Smith Library.

Friday Lunch Upcoming Topics and Speakers:

January 30: Is It Time for a New U.S. Grand Strategy? With Patrick Doherty, Co-Director of the Strategic Innovation Lab, Weatherhead School of Management.

February 6: What I Learned About American Electoral Politics: Memoirs (in brief) of a 2014 Congressional Candidate. With Michael Wager, Taft Stettinius and Hollister LLP.

February 13: TBD

February 20: The Warren Commission and the Academy: Exploring Truth in a Political World. With Judge (ret.) Burt W. Griffin.

February 27: TBD

March 6: What Explains the Price of Gasoline? With Steven W. Percy, former Chairman and CEO, BP of America.

March 13: Spring Break

March 20: TBD

March 27: Talking Turkey: Some Personal (and Historical) Perspectives on Turkish Politics and Society. With John Grabowski, Krieger-Mueller Associate Professor in Applied History; Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society.

April 3: Origins and Prospects of the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. With Karl C. Kaltenthaler, Professor of Political Science, University of Akron.

April 10:
Obama's White House and Management Style: A Recipe for Success or Failure? With David B. Cohen, Professor of Political Science, University of Akron.

April 17: TBD

April 24: TBD
January 20, 2015

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Upcoming Events

Hydraulic Fracturing: the Changing Landscape of Energy and Technology

Dean N. Malouta, CPG, a nationally recognized expert in conventional and unconventional oil and gas exploration, and alternative and renewable energy, Thursday January 29, 2015, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Nord Hall, Room 356, Case Western Reserve University, 2095 Martin Luther King Jr Drive, Cleveland, OH 44106. Sponsored by the Great Lakes Energy Institute.

Since the dawn of the new millennium, the energy industry has increased its attention on unconventional tight gas, shale gas and shale oil reserves. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) indicates US gas reserves have nearly doubled to about 354 TCF in 2013. Reserves for the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale are estimated to be a combined 122TCF. The boom in tight gas and shale gas production became possible due to advances in technologies such as reliable horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracturing in horizontal wells as well as in more sophisticated geological and geophysical detection methods to detect and integrate stress and fracture directions. The talk will include some general awareness of hydraulic fracture procedures and techniques.

Sustainable development means ensuring use of the best possible techniques for safety and well design, for protecting ground water, for minimizing foot print, for mitigating air quality issues and to increase public awareness and assurance. Industry is taking significant public steps toward greater public awareness of its actions with respect to safe and environmentally responsible operations. In addition, much work has been done to distinguish between the practically negligible effects of seismicity resulting from fracturing vs. seismicity which may result from high rate, high volume fluid disposal into disposal zones with inappropriate geologic parameters. Examples of such activities will be discussed.

Anonymity and Technology

A discussion with federal judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Thursday, February 5, 2015, 4:30-5:35 p.m., Moot Courtroom (A59), Case Western Reserve University School of Law, 11075 East Boulevard, Cleveland, OH 44106-7148. Sponsored by the Spangenberg Center for Law, Technology & the Arts

Evolving technology has stimulated two divergent trends: We conduct so many of our economic and social interactions behind the pane of a computer screen that our lives feel more anonymous than ever before; yet reliance on technology also means that our daily routines are increasingly monitored, chronicled and analyzed by an endless array of prying eyes, not least of which those of the federal government. We all think anonymity is great for us, but we’re not so sure we trust other people with it. This lecture discusses these paradoxical trends inherent in technological evolution, and assesses how we can sculpt laws and policies that take into account both the good and the bad aspects of anonymity.

Judge Alex Kozinski is a prolific writer on a wide range of issues. His work has appeared in several prominent law journals as well as in the New York Times and Slate. Judge Kozinski's influence as a Circuit Judge has been particularly pronounced in the field of intellectual property law. Most recently, he wrote the majority opinion in Garcia v. Google, rejecting Google's argument that it has a First Amendment right to continue hosting the controversial clip Innocence of Muslims on the basis that it allegedly infringes actress Lee Garcia's copyright.

January 2015







































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