Cheney Lectures Us About Responsibility?
March 06, 2006
Editor's Note: While TomPaine.com editor Alexandra Walker is on vacation, we are delighted to have Tamara Draut as a guest blogger. Draut is director of the Economic Opportunity Program at Demos, where she oversees the research, policy and advocacy work on economic security issues. She is the author of STRAPPED: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead.
In a speech at the 2006 Summit on Retirement Savings , Vice President Dick Cheney observed that too many Americans aren’t saving enough. “The American Dream begins with saving money, and that should begin on the very first day of work . . .Yet a lot of American families live paycheck to paycheck—often finding, as the saying goes, too much month at the end of the money,” he said.
Now lest we take from this quote that Cheney understands the real culprit behind America’s dismal savings rate is lackluster earnings and bad public policy choices, the rest of his speech made it quite clear that is not where he’s coming from.
Instead, he went on to reiterate tax “relief” as the best way to help Americans keep more of their paychecks. He also touted the benefits of health savings accounts; paid lip service to strengthening social security; and urged the nation to begin addressing the looming entitlement crisis as the baby boomers begin to retire.
Nowhere did he address what to do about the fact, which he stunningly admitted, that millions of people live paycheck to paycheck. He also didn’t acknowledge that instead of saving, Americans are increasingly indebted to credit card companies in order to keep the lights on, food in the fridge and the car running.
It turns out he was just giving us a nod. Just showing us that he’s “in touch” with the reality that most Americans are caught in a vise grip of dwindling earnings and rising costs. But rest assured: As his remarks made quite clear, this administration isn’t going to address these issues. Rather, they’re going to tighten the vise with more tax cuts for the wealthy and by brutally cutting public services like food stamps and Medicaid—and then give us a finger-wagging lecture about how we need to save more.
In a distant time, from a leader long, long ago, the rest of this speech might have offered a clarion call to give the American worker, particularly the young worker who is supposed to start saving from the first day of work, a real chance of getting ahead. The speech, which started with such promise—yes, American workers are hurting—might have talked about the need to raise the federal minimum wage. Or boost the earned income tax credit. It might have, and I’m just thinking out loud here, mentioned today’s young workers without college degrees are making about $13,000 less in real dollars than they did a generation ago. Or, again, just thinking out loud, might have proposed ending the debt-for-diploma system that leaves the average college grad with $20,000 in student loan debt—which would free up about $200 a month of their paychecks to actually put in a savings account.
But alas, we’re living in different times.