Is Earl Blumenauer the stalking horse for progressive surrender on Social Security?

Earl Blumenauer is a House Democrat from Portland, Oregon, and a kind of west coast version of Bernie Sanders. That’s him on the left. As a branding device, the bow tie creates a nice professorial image, and his reputation is every bit as liberal as Bernie’s is.

His district used to include all of Portland, including the money, but in 2002 the money side went to the 1st district and David Wu. Blumenauer now represents the decidedly working-class neighborhoods of the 3rd district.

So why’s he hanging with Matt Bai, the inaugural member of our Stealth Conservative Activists list? And by “hanging” I mean helping to make Matt Bai’s anti-Social Security point (my emphasis throughout):

But Mr. Blumenauer sides with the White House on the notion that Democrats need to do something now about the federal debt, starting with cuts in wasteful federal spending (like some farm subsidies and military outlays) and with changes to cherished entitlement programs.

Mr. Blumenauer doesn’t argue that government does too much, or that programs like Social Security and Medicare aren’t vital. Rather, in two recent conversations about the nation’s finances, Mr. Blumenauer argued that if Democrats really want to protect a vast array of federal programs from repeated Republican onslaughts, then they need to bring the costs of the programs in line with reality.

Your basic Blue Doggery, right? It’s all about the cost. But Blumenauer has serious leftie cred — as Bai points out, a 100% rating from the League of Conservation Voters. And he came out strong for the public option, back in the day. You might even call Blumenauer a “progressive.”

Turns out Mr. Blumenauer is a sham when it actually counts. He clearly talks the talk; but he wobbles when he walks. From Jane Hamsher:

July 2007: Earl Blumenauer signs a letter saying he won’t vote for any more war funding that doesn’t have troop withdrawal provisions.

June 2009: Earl Blumenauer votes for war supplemental without troop withdrawal provisions — when his votes actually counts. 39 Democrats could have stopped it; only 32 voted “nay.

Wow. But you’d have to be searching those voting lists to find this. The “firm stand” makes the news; the actual vote makes the bottom of the birdcage.

But what about that public option? Surely he meant that. Well, as Jane points out, our Earl:

In the end, he skated on having to come through. Nancy Pelosi caved to what some called bogus “political reality” in the Senate. Thus, the Senate took the heat for Pelosi, and Pelosi took the heat for those “strong public option” types in the House, like Blumenauer.

Jane Hamsher calls Earl Blumenauer “Lanny Davis in a bow tie … an unprincipled hack.” Strong words. And now it looks like he may have found himself a lead role to play — painting the slow death of Social Security with “progressive” cred. He’s on the Budget committee; just the seat to do it from, if that’s his inclination.

Blumenauer has since responded to Bai’s article with a “clarification” at HuffPost. Click to read it, and decide for yourself what it clarifies. For me there’s a Part A and a Part B, mutually cancelling:

    I do not believe, nor have I ever said, that the Social Security trust fund is either like a “lottery” or “make believe money.”

    I will continue to strongly oppose any effort to privatize or weaken the Social Security system.

Compare the first quote to the statement about costs in the Bai article. For me, this clarifies only the obfuscation. The second quote only makes it more … wobbly.

Mr. Blumenauer, I’m still on alert, and you’re still on the radar. I stand by my title. Are you the stalking horse for progressive surrender? We’re going to watch the walk.

Action opportunity — If you live in Oregon, you can contact Blumenauer’s office (503-231-2300 or 202-225-4811) and ask his representatives if he supports using part of the safety net to buy Jaime Dimon’s next Lamborghini. By that I mean, ask him if he supports No Benefit Cuts, in any form, including raising the retirement age. You can say that raising the FICA ceiling makes a fine next choice, if you’re so inclined.

If you don’t live in Oregon, contact Oregon media and tell them about Earl Blumenauer’s support for Social Security benefit cuts, per the Matt Bai article. Ask politely if his working-class constituents might want to know this as well.

So far, Blumenauer sails past both primaries and general elections with ease. But a crack in his bow-tie cred might make him think twice about sinking his constituents’ safety net in a fit of New Dem fever.


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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