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November 09, 2006

Goodbye To Lyin' Annie Northup

Anne Northup is many things. Among them are: (1) a powerful Republican representative from Kentucky who was just defeated by John Yarmuth, and (2) a shameless liar.

I assume she lies about many things, but where I have direct experience is her lies about Social Security. Last year I was writing a lot here and for various publications about Bush's privatization plan. The first time I ever saw Northup was when she went on Hannity & Colmes and said this:

COLMES: So tell me, Congresswoman, how would he pay for the transition cost, something he hasn't addressed?

NORTHUP: Well, I think he has addressed many of these things, and we've talked about the fact that there's a $10 trillion unfunded liability. And when you reduce that significantly, and it costs $2 trillion to go through that transition, overall, you've reduced the overall liability debt of this country.

COLMES: I don't know what you -- where does the $2 trillion come from? It's going to cost $2 trillion for the transfer. Where does that money come from?

NORTHUP: Well, the fact is, you borrow it, but you reduce the $10 trillion liability.

Wow, that's a lot of lying.

The "transition cost" and "unfunded liability" of Social Security are completely separate issues. The transition cost refers to the money the government would have to borrow to set up a system of private accounts. But this would do nothing to reduce the system's unfunded liability. Only two things can do that: cutting benefits and/or raising taxes. You could spend money to set up a system of private accounts without reducing the unfunded liability. Likewise, you could eliminate the unfunded liability without a system of private accounts. One of the chief goals of the Bush administration was to confuse people into thinking these two things are the same, and Northup was doing her part here. (If you feel like hearing me rehash the mechanics of Social Security, just ask. Otherwise you can take my word for it.)

But that's not all! Northup's official position on Social Security was that "Any reforms should be accomplished without raising taxes, without raising the retirement age, and without reducing benefits." Again, if Social Security genuinely has the "$10 trillion unfunded liability" which Northup claimed, it's literally impossible to eliminate it without doing these things.

I was irritated by this, so I contacted Northup's office and (very politely) asked her press secretary Annie Reed to justify what she'd said. Reed said: no, no, Representative Northup really DOES have a plan to do this! Moreover, this plan is "is scored [by the Social Security Administration] to cost just over $1 trillion."

The plan to which she referred was the Ryan-Sununu bill. I looked it up, and sure enough it didn't raise taxes or cut benefits. Instead, according to the SSA's actuaries, IT BORROWED 8.5 TRILLION DOLLARS.

That's right: the Anne Northup scheme to handle this purported gigantic crisis was to borrow all the money to deal with it. For some perspective, $8.5 trillion is perhaps 80% 70% of the entire 2005 U.S. GDP. (Again, ask for details if you're curious.)

Now, that's (1) completely insane (which is why that particular plan never was taken seriously by anyone), and (2) not at all what Annie Reed claimed. So I first emailed her to direct me to the specific place in the SSA's scoring of Ryan-Sununu where it said it would "cost just over $1 trillion." No response. Concerned I'd misunderstood something, I then contacted the SSA Chief Actuary and doublechecked. No, he said, that plan would indeed cost $8.5 trillion. I forwarded the SSA email to Annie Reed. No response. I called four or five times and left messages. No response.

Meanwhile, Anne Northup kept making the same false claims in numerous media appearances.

Generally with these people it's hard to tell whether they're idiots or liars. But in the case of soon-to-be-ex-Rep. Northup and her staff, we can answer that question definitively: they're liars.

Posted at November 9, 2006 10:34 AM | TrackBack

Don't worry, there will be another liar to replace her in no time. Probably memorizing the talking points as we speak.

Posted by: abb1 at November 9, 2006 11:55 AM

Surviving, as I am, on the SS handout, I really don't know much about it. But I do know that she is sporting one hell of an ugly hairdo.

Posted by: Jesus B. Ochoa at November 9, 2006 12:37 PM

I fell asleep about two paragraphs into your post, right about where you mentioned "transition costs" and "unfunded liabilities".

Posted by: saurabh at November 9, 2006 01:13 PM


I'm sure you're right. But there's a sweet respite as the talking points are memorized. Plus the Democratic talking points are slightly different, and it's always nice to alternate punishments.

Jesus B. Ochoa,

The first thing you should keep in mind is IT'S NOT A HANDOUT. Really, it's a mistake to refer to it that way even jokingly. What you're doing now is collecting on the insurance for which you paid the premiums.


That's all right. I fell asleep several times while writing it.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 9, 2006 01:38 PM

Yes... I'd like details. Why? Because I'm a loser.

I don't get $8.5 trillion as 80% of 2005's U.S. GDP... but math isn't my strongest suit. Bitchy posts with requests for clarification are.

I've left an e-mail address in case you don't want to put everyone else to sleep again.

Posted by: Sully at November 9, 2006 02:15 PM

Sully, are you only curious about the $8.5 trillion part? If so: it would be borrowed over a period of many decades under the crazy Northup plan, so the government wouldn't have to borrow $8.5 trillion next year. I just mentioned that it's 80% of U.S. GDP to give people an idea of the scale of $8.5 trillion. It's a whole buttload of cash. Even expansive estimates of the cost of the Iraq war only put it around $2 trillion.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 9, 2006 03:37 PM

I guess you're right. Suffering from an attack of dumb based on a misguided sense of "I'll save the feds some money", I didn't apply until I needed to at 68 when I got sick. I received a check for back benefits dating back to when I should have applied at 65, which my daughters immediately gobbled up with felt necessities and many unfelt also.

I also got whocked with a "penalty" and found out to my dismay that my medicare premiums, which currently stand at a round $100 monthly, would have been significantly lower had I applied when I should have at 65. Seems there was a penalty waiting to have at the unwary. And me a retired lawyer in love with the self sufficiency bit.

I mentioned this a couple of years back to the optometrist I've been going to for some time, and he said, "shit, I'm 64, I'm sure glad you told me." I think there's a bunch of us dummies running around loose.

Then when Bush came along with the fabled prescription plans and my meds went through the roof, I panicked and slunk on over to the VA a year ago. I had not gone earlier because I don't have any service connected injuries or disabilities, and felt kinda guilty about it, and I earned a royal chewing out from the intake people who said I was a by God vet and never to forget it and one of them even gave me a neat Navy gimme cap, of which I am now inordinately proud.

Anyway, I'm though trying to save the godamm feds any more money. All I get are chewings out.

But what about her hairdo?

Posted by: Jesus B. Ochoa at November 9, 2006 04:35 PM

Wait, what? The Iraq war cost $2 trillion?!? HOLY JESUS FUCKSTICKS that is a LOT of money! I had no idea it was so much...

Posted by: saurabh at November 9, 2006 08:40 PM

Hey Jon,
can I borrow a trillion dollars? Actually, I only need 900 billion. I heard once that if you act like you don't need the money people are more likely to give it to you. I need to up-armor my Honda Civic, and a bigger engine so the car can actually merge into traffic once it weighs 9,000 pounds. I'm good for it, right?

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at November 9, 2006 10:05 PM

I should have been clearer.

The IMF's World Economic Outlook Database for this year puts the U.S. GDP at just under $12.5 trillion-- that is, only so much that $8.5 trillion is 68%.

I agree with you in all but the particulars; I was just wondering what you were using for your GDP statistic.

Posted by: Sully at November 10, 2006 08:33 AM

what you were using for your GDP statistic

You know, I don't remember. But whatever it was, clearly I was wrong. I've fixed it above.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 10, 2006 09:32 AM