There was a time when former Congressman Barney Frank said you couldn’t pay him enough for sitting on a panel with Karl Rove. As it turns out, he mused, “you can.” Frank is doing well on the speaking circuit but returned to his roots on Friday, speaking to the New England Council. The long-time Congressman hasn’t lost his fast ball.
“The notion that Social Security won’t ‘be there’ is the dumbest thing anyone can say.” It’s good for another 20 years, plenty of time to remediate any shortfall. He opposes further hikes in the retirement age (now 67), noting the physical impact on many, including, for example, women who wait tables for 30-40 years or men who do construction work.
Nor would he tinker with the formula for adjusting cost-of-living increases (so-called chained CPI), something to which some have become resigned, but he makes a clear case for why we shouldn’t throw in the towel. “Don’t tell me that people getting $1500-$1600 a month” can make a go of it. He prefers the strategies of increasing taxes on for those earning more than $75,000 (in addition to Social Security) even to the point of eliminating Social Security benefits for the wealthy. He’d lower the floor for increasing income taxes from the $400,000 floor that President Obama supported to the $250,000 floor that candidate Obama favored. That will be a tough thing for a lot of middle class families to swallow. Finally, he’d also lift the tax base on the income on which Social Security taxes are imposed (now at $113,700), which would be a lot more palatable. Would that those still in Congress would discuss the specifics!
He reflected on the importance of the Dodd-Frank bill and shared some of the back stories in getting the comprehensive legislation passed. More importantly, Frank said he expects the implementation of the included Volcker rule by the end of the year. (Recommended by former Fed head Paul Volcker, it will limit risky investments by banks.)
While legitimately concerned by federal debt, Frank urges that, short-term, further budget restrictions be deferred. Over the long haul, he still feels cuts to the military can help with the deficit and can be sensibly made. We can reduce the military budget by $100 billion a year without weakening our nation. “Terrorists are not the existential threat of the Nazis and the Communists,” he observed, noting that “We are not the indispensible nation any longer.” Others can and must step up to the plate. “Even the best military in the world can’t bring coherence to an incoherent society.” (He faults Obama, for example, for trying to mediate between Sudan and South Sudan.) “We have to be more realistic about our needs and capacities.” While Frank had opposed sequestration, as he views the impact of sequestration cuts in the military, “no American will be one inch less safe.”
Not surprisingly, Frank observed that one of the single greatest reasons for Washington dysfunction is the filibuster. To those who defend it because it is a tradition, he recalled the words of Winston Churchill fighting those who resisted reorganizing the Royal Navy on the basis of tradition: “The traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash.”
In addition to cashing in on the speaking circuit, Frank is writing a book. I look forward for it to be published. For all his curmudgeon-like qualities and, for many years, not infrequent rudeness, Frank will continue to be missed for his intelligence, incisive wit, and ability to work across the aisle for legislative effectiveness.
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