Anita Hill and Sandra Fluke: Does 20 years really make a difference?

Tonight while I was surfing around looking for updates on the Malaysian jet still missing somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam – or perhaps somewhere else – I happened upon a long story in the New York Times about the new documentary about Anita Hill.  Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s review of the movie is actually a long profile of Hill.  I’m very happy that Hill allowed the documentary to be made because it means that a whole new generation of young men and women will be introduced to a remarkable person.

Back then there was no social media, no Facebook, no Twitter but the word still spread quickly among women that someone was about to accuse a nominee for the United States Supreme Court of sexual harassment.  No one knew exactly who she was, but we knew this was going to be important.  I was in Washington, D.C. that day at a meeting, but I remember sitting in a bar that afternoon with several other women all of us transfixed by what was happening on the television.  I was astounded that none of the men, and the Judiciary Committee was all white men, had any clue.  Stolberg puts it this way

“I think this event changed the course of her life and gave her a public mission that she took on,” said Fred Lawrence, the Brandeis president and a Yale Law School classmate of Ms. Hill’s. “It’s not a duty that she volunteered for, but I think she understood that the circumstances had put her in a unique role, and gave her a voice.”

The hearings were a surreal spectacle, as senators prodded an obviously uncomfortable Ms. Hill through awkward testimony about penis size, pubic hair and a pornographic film star known as Long Dong Silver — shocking public discourse at the time. When the hearings ended, Ms. Hill returned to teaching commercial law at the University of Oklahoma, trying, as she says in the film, to find “a new normal.” It proved difficult.

Ms. Hill at the hearings.

Ms. Hill at the hearings.

And I think every women who watched the hearings remembers that electric blue suit.

There were thousands of letters of support, but also death threats, threats to her job. Conservative state lawmakers wanted her fired; fortunately, she had tenure. Even years later, she felt “a discomfort,” she said. One dean confided that he had tired of hearing colleagues at other schools remark, “Isn’t that where Anita Hill is?”

In Washington, her testimony reverberated. Sexual harassment claims shot up. “Our phones were ringing off the hook with people willing to come forward who had been suffering in silence,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, where Ms. Hill serves on its board.

Congress passed a law allowing victims of sex discrimination to sue for damages, just as victims of racial discrimination could. Waves of women began seeking public office. In 1991, there were two female senators. Today there are 20.

Clarence Thomas was confirmed even though, as Hill puts it

“I believe in my heart that he shouldn’t have been confirmed,” she said in a recent interview, acknowledging that it irritates her to see Justice Thomas on the court. “I believe that the information I provided was clear, it was verifiable, it was confirmed by contemporaneous witnesses that I had talked with. And I think what people don’t understand is that it does go to his ability to be a fair and impartial judge.”

And there are still those who believe she made the whole story up. Then I started thinking about a more recent woman’s experience with Congress. This is from a story in the Daily Beast.

Rep. Darrell Issa’s Thursday hearing went off the rails early. “What I want to know,” demanded Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, as she looked at the all-male panel of clerics before her, “is, where are the women?”

The hearing, titled “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience,” was about religious freedom, Issa said, but it took place against the backdrop of a national controversy regarding the White House’s mandate that all employers provide birth control as part of their insurance plans.

As it happens, there was one woman present prepared to testify on the issue of birth control. Sandra Fluke, a 30-year-old Georgetown University Law School student, had been contacted earlier in the week by committee minority leaders after Democrats saw a video of her speaking about the mandate at the National Press Club on February 9.

Sandra Fluke

Sandra Fluke

Congress had a woman to ask the question, but the panel was all men.  Fluke went on to testify at an informal hearing arranged by Democratic women.  The Huffington Post described it this way

This week she received almost rock-star treatment as the lone witness at an unofficial Democratic-sponsored hearing. While the rest of the Capitol was mostly empty, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, three other Democrats and dozens of mainly young women supporters crowded into a House office building room to applaud Fluke as she spoke of the importance of reproductive health care to women.

Prominently displayed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., was a photo of five religious leaders, all men and all appearing at the invitation of the Republican majority, testifying last week with Fluke visible in the background, sitting in the visitors’ section.

Democrats pounced on that image of a hearing discussing contraceptive rights being dominated by men while the one person Democrats had asked to appear on the witness stand, a woman, was turned away. Pelosi, D-Calif., said they had since heard from 300,000 people urging that women’s voices be heard on the issue.

“We almost ought to thank the chairman for the lack of judgment he had,” in denying a seat to Fluke, Pelosi said.

Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., had said at last week’s hearing that the panel’s focus was on whether the administration policy was a violation of religious freedom. He said at the time that Fluke, invited by Democrats in her capacity as former head of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice, was not qualified to speak on the religious rights question.

“I’m an American woman who uses contraceptives,” Fluke said, when asked Thursday by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., about her qualifications to speak on the issue.

So maybe we have made progress in the years since Anita Hill.  Some Republican men don’t seemed to have learned much, but there were plenty of woman and men in Congress who wanted to hear Fluke’s testimony.  And we can thank Anita Hill for her part in making change happen.

Photograph of Anita Hill: American Film Foundation

Photograph of Sandra Fluke:  Getty Images

Daily Beast story: Matthew DeLucca

Huffington Post story: Jim Abrams

Winners and losers

Not talking about baseball today but about  the 16 day drive toward the fiscal cliff.   One of my favorite commentators, Ana Marie Cox, has compiled a list that you can see in its entirety here in the Guardian.  You can agree with her or not about her choices, but she gives us some things to think about.  Here are my favorites among Cox’s choices.

Winners

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz. The punchline for a thousand Twitter humorists and the lead for most of the many stories about GOP dysfunction, Cruz is laughing in that whiny way of his all the way to the campaign war chest. He raised over $1m in the third quarter that ended 1 October, before the shutdown, half of it through the new “Ted Cruz Victory Committee” formed last year specifically to benefit from Cruz’s “defund Obamacare” petition. Cruz’s floor speech before the Senate vote seemed to imply that the fundraising was continuing at that pace; he referred to the “millions of millions [sic] of American people rising up across this country, over two million people signing a national petition to defund Obamacare”. The online petition is also an email harvesting gambit from the Senate Conservative Fund, the PAC that helped bring Cruz to Washington in the first place.

Harry Reid

Harry Reid. The former pugilist only won a technical knockout, but that’s probably the way the Senate majority leader likes it. That Reid’s compact and focused rage held Democrats together and in chorus was obvious from the outside. Senator Dick Durbin’s insinuation that we will “never know, you will never know, how much he put in to accomplish this” only ups the suspicions about the incredible power Reid wields.

Speaker Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi. Drudge called it, naming the Democratic congresswoman from California the once and future Speaker of the House. In other words, Matt Drudge thinks the Democrats have a serious chance of winning back the House of Representatives in the 2014 midterms. Or, you know, he could have been trolling us.

John McCain

John McCain. The septuagenarian’s bipolar relationship with the media started on the upswing with his early ridicule of Cruz (though now Cruz wears “wackobird” as a badge of honor). With the threat of a shutdown, the love affair really flared back up. McCain gave both earnest indictments of the strategy and exasperated quips. He dusted off the chestnut that congressional popularity is down to “paid staffers and blood relatives” and declared sarcastically of the GOP, “We’re livin’ the dream.”

And now the

Losers

majority rule

Majority rule. While the fundamental principle of democracy seems to have survived the 16-day crisis, the fact of the shutdown and the tiny minority of congressmen that created it, the Tea Party Republicans of the House have nonetheless managed to poke serious holes in the constitution they hold so dear. Presumably, the second amendment was left unscathed.

economic principles

Economic principles. People who didn’t even know what the debt limit was last month now think it’s some kind of conspiracy. Even as the US dodged a bullet this time – though suffering the collateral damage of further credit-rating downgrades – one can’t help feeling that we haven’t heard the last of the GOP’s new caucus of “debt default skeptics”.

apples and oranges

“False equivalence” reporting. James Fallows at the Atlantic documented some of the worst offenders and as “it’s everybody’s fault” became a Republican talking point, many media critics joined him in denouncing the faux-even-handedness as actually putting a finger on the scale. The “serious people” trope (as in, “serious people are above partisan bickering”) popularized by op-ed writers such as Michael Kinsley and Ron Fournier became especially ridiculous as the crisis wore on. Kinsley’s column beseeching Obama to “give in” to Republicans “for the sake of the country” (“media will no doubt call Obama weak”!) should be taught as a cautionary example against this desire to be “taken seriously”.

gop logo

The GOP. I mean, really.

This effort has only cost us an estimated 24 Billion dollars (and counting) and there is no saying that it won’t happen again in January.  It drives me nuts that the President is blamed by many while Ted Cruz used me – and everyone else who pays taxes and needs government services – to raise money for his 2016 Presidential bid.  But the silver lining is that if the Democrats get to work, it looks like they can hold on to the Senate and take back the House.  And then John Boehner will really have something to cry about.

The daughters of Nancy Pelosi

I’ve always thought Nancy Pelosi was one tough woman.  She would never have allowed her caucus to do to her what is happening to John Boehner and she knows how to count her votes.  I remember watching C-SPAN during the votes for health care – that was a cliff hanger – but I knew that before it came to the follower Speaker Pelosi had counted her votes.  Maybe it would be close, but it would pass.  I don’t know if she will want to stick around long enough for the Democrats to take back the majority again, but she has women coming up behind her.  I’m not talking members of Congress here like Patty Murray and Tammy Duckworth,  to name only two of many, but at the state and local level.

I was reminded of this by a story in the Daily Beast yesterday.    What first caught my eye was that one of the pictures is of my former boss and current Boston Mayoral candidate, Charlotte Golar Richie.

Dem WomenCharlotte is in the upper left.

The story by Patricia Murphy begins

They’re fierce, they’re fearless, and they’re shaking up races and state houses across the country. Meet the new breed of Democratic women who make no apologies for themselves, their beliefs, or their party.

The article says this about Charlotte

In 2000 The Boston Globe wrote, “People who matter in politics predict that Charlotte Golar Richie will be the first black mayor of Boston.” Thirteen years later the former adviser to Mayor Tom Menino and Gov. Deval Patrick, onetime state legislator, and nonprofit executive is finally making a run at the Globe’s prediction in a crowded Democratic field. At a recent campaign rally, she danced herself onto the stage and told the crowd, “If you really want to make change, you can’t be sitting on the sidelines, people! You’ve got to be in it to win it. And I’m in it.” As for the chance to be the first woman to run the city, Golar Richie said, “Women in politics have been dutiful followers. Now it’s my turn. It’s our turn.”

As with the two others in the top row with her, Alison Lundergan Grimes and Wendy Davis,  Charlotte is in a tough race.  Actually Davis hasn’t said yet if she is running for re-election as Texas state rep or will run for governor, but Lundergan Grimes is taking on Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

Like Christine Quinn who is running for mayor in New York City (bottom right), Charlotte is the woman in a race for with a lot of the candidates – all men.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if New York and Boston both elect their first women mayors this year?  Nancy Pelosi will be proud and the Republicans who like to rail against her will have lost again.

The House passes still another restriction on abortion

Nancy Pelosi tweeted this picture with a quote from Representative Dent last night

Embedded image permalink

Clearly the Republican leaders didn’t listen to Dent.  They love to have votes on abortion, birth control and, the favorite – repealing the Affordable Heath Care Act instead of actually passing measures that might also pass in the Senate and get signed into law.
The result of pandering again to their base was passage of a bill that will ban abortions after 22 weeks.  According to the New York Times story

The measure, which would ban abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy based on the medically disputed theory that fetuses at that stage of development are capable of feeling pain, passed in a 228-to-196 vote that broke down mostly along party lines. Reflecting how little common ground the two parties share these days, just six Republicans voted against the bill; six Democrats voted for it.

“I’m not waging a war on anyone,” said Kristi Noem, Republican of South Dakota, offering a rejoinder to the Democratic assertion that Republicans have waged a war on women, a line of attack that harmed conservative candidates in 2012. “Regardless of your personal beliefs, I would hope that stopping atrocities against little babies is something we can all agree to put an end to.”

How about stopping atrocities like cutting food stamps and voting against bills that would provide health care and jobs for after this child that you have “saved” is born, Representative Noem?
But, remembering the bad press from hearings where all the legislators and all the witnesses were men discussing birth control the leadership did show they can learn something.

The tableau in the House chamber on Tuesday was intentionally far different from the scene last week at a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee at which all 19 of the Republicans arguing for and then voting to approve the bill were men. Republican leaders made sure that their female members were front and center for the debate this time.

Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina conservative and Tea Party favorite, and Representative Marsha Blackburn, a longtime abortion opponent from Tennessee, were assigned to manage the floor debate. Representative Candice S. Miller of Michigan and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, one of the Republican conference’s more moderate members, controlled the gavel.

But the simple math was difficult to ignore. Only 19 of the 234 Republican House members are women. Nearly all of them spoke on Tuesday. Only three Republican men were allowed to participate in the debate. Notably, Trent Franks of Arizona, the bill’s sponsor who last week caused an uproar after claiming that instances of pregnancy after rape were “very low,” said nothing from the floor.

I think that 22 weeks is getting close to the time of viability which most see as 23 to 26 weeks.  As bills move ever closer to that line,  those of us who agree that women have a right to choose to continue the pregnancy or not will be faced with a difficult question and one that we need to be prepared to answer: where, if anywhere, should the line be drawn?

Even if Democrats believed the political upper hand was theirs as they used the issue of reproductive rights to portray their opponents yet again as hostile and indifferent to the needs of women, it was clear that the question at hand — the termination of pregnancies that are five months or more along — was an uncomfortable one.

At a news conference Tuesday morning led by Democrats who favor abortion rights, the mood quickly turned tense after two journalists tried to press the representatives about their support for late-term abortions. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado cut off questions after being asked whether she would draw the line at legal abortion later in pregnancy. “The Supreme Court has spoken, and this bill is unconstitutional. Next question,” she said.

As medical science advances, the time limits laid out in Roe v. Wade may no longer hold.  There are medical and social costs to having a child born at 25 weeks.  In a 1997 story, the New York Times reported

”At the time of Roe vs. Wade it was around 26 weeks pregnant,” Dr. Ezra Davidson, past president of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said. ”It has come down a couple of weeks since that time.”

But many babies who survive birth at that stage have terrible problems.

”You have to temper any discussion about viability because though you may get into a 24-week period, or a 23-week period, a large portion of those infants are going to have serious disabilities,” Dr. Davidson said.

Most experts believe that the current limit of viability is 23 or 24 weeks into the normal 40-week term of pregnancy. Babies born at this stage are known as micropreemies and are extremely fragile. The typical micropreemie weighs 500 to 600 grams — slightly more than a pound — and can fit in the palm of a hand.

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, fewer than 40 percent of infants born from 23 to 25 weeks’ gestation survive.

Moreover, Dr. William Taeusch, chief of pediatrics at San Francisco General Hospital, said: ”That’s strictly survival. That’s getting out of the hospital alive, usually at three months, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And if you get out of the hospital alive and you haven’t had major problems, then your chances of having a normal brain are 90 percent.”

But according to the obstetrics and gynecology group, nearly 50 percent of surviving children who weigh less than 750 grams at birth experience moderate or severe disability, including blindness and cerebral palsy.

Things haven’t really changed a great deal since 1997.  This is from the Wikipedia article on fetal viability.

Fetal Viability Chart

Fetal Viability Chart

Of course, most women who don’t have late term abortions have a full term baby.  This means the mother and hopefully father need to have jobs and assistance in caring for the baby for the next 18 years – the kind of assistance the Republicans often vote against.  It means available contraception so women aren’t faced with the choice at all.  It means sex ed  beginning in middle schools that includes information on what it is like to care for a baby.  (What happened to those programs where teens had to care for a doll that was life-like and demanded diaper changes and feedings 25/7?)

I personally have problems with late term abortions that are not for medical reasons – either the mother’s or the child’s.  But I also think we should be spending what is needed to make sure those children are fed, educated and not abused.  And I understand why sometimes the decision is so late.

Jessica Valenti has column in the Nation thinking through many of these issues, but it is her conclusion that sticks with me.

Abortion is complicated, as are our lives and health—and the fact that these  choices are so complex and nuanced is precisely why we can’t legislate them.  Wishing otherwise will never 
make it so.

The Democratic House Women of the 113th Congress

The New York Times Caucus blog has posted this picture.

Female members of the House Democratic caucus posed for a photograph on Thursday on the steps of the Capitol.

This is most of the 61 women of the Democratic House caucus.

Favoring hues of deep reds and blues, they gathered in the chilly January air, waving to old friends and greeting the new. They laughed and joked, cheekily inviting Representative Barney Frank, a departing Democrat from Massachusetts, to hop in the picture. (He politely demurred.) At one point, a young male aide to Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, scurried up to grab some of the members’ coats, juggling the fur and wool throw-overs in his left hand while trying to snap iPhone photos with his right.

As latecomers wandered up, the women called for the photographer to wait, pointing out the stragglers.

There will be 20 women in the Senate and 81 in the House – a record.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz is among the missing from the photograph, however.

But Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida emerged from the House moments too late, just as the group was dispersing. However, all was not lost; the photographer took some shots of the late arrivals, and the caucus plans to Photoshop them in.

What did we do before Photoshop?  And don’t the women who did make it look wonderful?

Photograph by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The “old” House votes on the fiscal cliff

David Jarman posted an interesting analysis of the voting on the Senate Bill to dodge the fiscal cliff in which he credits Nancy Pelosi for getting it done.  Here are some of the highlights.

Tuesday’s House vote on the fiscal cliff is one of those rare votes where you don’t get a straight party line vote like most contentious votes, but one where the House shatters into pieces and the winner is the side that reassembles the most fragments. Of course, this time it was Nancy Pelosi who did that, putting together a strange coalition of most of the Dems (minus a few defections on the caucus’s left and right flanks), plus the bulk of the establishmentarian and/or moderate Republicans (including the vote of John Boehner himself, no “moderate” but certainly “establishment”).

On the Republican side, there were 85 yes and 151 no votes (with 5 non-votes, from Ann Marie Buerkle, Dan Burton, Sam Graves, Jerry Lewis, and Ron Paul). That’s too many votes to replicate the entire list, but there was a significant geographic dichotomy here, one that seems to support the larger idea that the GOP is increasingly becoming a regional rump party.

Look at the New York Times map.  They also have the entire roll call at this link.

Map of fiscal cliff votes

Of those 85 yes votes, only 13 were Republicans from the Census-defined “southern” states, and many of those were either ones with ties to leadership (ex-NRCC chairs Tom Cole and Pete Sessions, Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers) or ones with atypical, moderate districts in Florida (Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Bill Young). Rodney Alexander, Kevin Brady, Howard Coble, Ander Crenshaw, John Sullivan, Mac Thornberry, and Steve Womack, most of whom are also pretty establishment-flavored, round out the list.

And how did the Democrats vote?

On the Democratic side, there were 172 yes and 16 no votes (with 3 non-votes, from Pete Stark, Lynn Woolsey, and John Lewis). Within those 16, though, there seem to be two camps: Xavier Becerra, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Rosa DeLauro, Jim McDermott, Brad Miller, Jim Moran, and Bobby Scott (most of whom are Progressive Caucus members) voting against it from the left, and John Barrow, Jim Cooper, Jim Matheson, Mike McIntyre, Colin Peterson, Kurt Schrader, Adam Smith, and Pete Visclosky (most of whom are Blue Dogs) voting against it from the right.

It may not be that simple, though: DeFazio has in recent years been one of the likeliest members of the Progressive Caucus to stray from the party line (for example, he voted against both the Progressive budget and even the leadership budget last year); it’s increasingly hard to tell if he’s becoming more conservative or if DeFazio, always irascible, has just gotten more willing to dig his heels in on bills that feel like half-measures. Adam Smith, on the other hand, has generally been a New Democrat establishment-type player, but he might be looking to remake himself a bit with his newly configured, much more liberal district, which now contains a slice of Seattle. And Moran and Visclosky, even though Moran (who represents northern Virginia) is significantly more liberal than Visclosky, are probably coming from the same mindset, whatever that might be; they’re tight, and are some of the last remaining members of that John Murtha/Norm Dicks appropriations clique that didn’t really fit within any of the Dem caucuses.

Jarman doesn’t talk about Bobby Scott and John Lewis but both are in the Black Caucus as well as in the Progressive Caucus.  Lewis just didn’t vote, but Bobby (who I knew from back in my Virginia Days) represents a district that touches Eric Cantor’s and he might also have had the conservative white voter from his district in mind.

Jarman leaves us with this to think about

Fifteen of the GOP “yes” votes were members who, either because of defeat or retirement, won’t be coming back (Charlie Bass, Judy Biggert, Brian Bilbray, Mary Bono Mack, Bob Dold, David Dreier, Jo Ann Emerson, Elton Gallegly, Nan Hayworth, Tim Johnson, Steve LaTourette, Dan Lungren, Todd Platts, John Sullivan, and Bob Turner). Twenty end-of-the-liners, however, voted “no” (Sandy Adams, Todd Akin, Steve Austria, Rick Berg, Quico Canseco, Chip Cravaack, Jeff Flake, Frank Guinta, Connie Mack, Sue Myrick, Mike Pence, Ben Quayle, Denny Rehberg, David Rivera, Bobby Schilling, Jean Schmidt, Tim Scott, Cliff Stearns, Joe Walsh, and Allen West), though I suspect some of the more establishment-flavored names on that list would probably have been willing to offer a “yes” if the vote had looked closer than it actually was.

Tomorrow starts a new Congress so we can’t really look to this vote when we are reading the tea leaves about the upcoming fight on the debt ceiling and the budget.  There will be more Democrats – enough so Nancy Pelosi won’t need so many Republican votes (I think it may be 21, 17 with vacancies) – if John Boehner can be persuaded to bring things to the floor.

Playing with Medicare and Social Security

I retired recently from a white collar, management, high stress job at the age I have always expected to retire, 65.  I think I can say that my retirement was a cause of envy among many of my co-workers who are just as tired and stressed as I was but have many years before they can retire.  As I said to my former staff members at lunch the other day, you don’t realize how tired you are until you retire.  And even then it takes time to de-stress.  So I can imagine if I were working a job that was physically demanding (and maybe also stressful) and how it would make me feel if I knew I had to work until 67 or 70 to get any kind of benefits which is where many Republicans (and some Democrats) want us to end up.  I don’t think that some of the corporate CEO’s and elected officials understand this which is why this piece by Ezra Klein caught my eye.

I’ll be clear: Raising the Medicare eligibility age makes no sense. It cuts federal health-care spending but raises national health spending, which is what really matters. It doesn’t modernize the system or bend the cost curve. It doesn’t connect to any coherent theory of health reform, like increasing Medicare’s bargaining power, increasing competition in Medicare, ending fee-for-service medicine, or learning which treatments work and which don’t. I’m not opposed to cutting Medicare — quite the opposite, actually — but this is a particularly brain-dead way to do it.

Its importance in the negotiations is attributable to the fact that raising the age at which Americans can receive Medicare and Social Security has a weird, symbolic power in Washington. As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi puts it, the eligibility age is “a trophy” that Republicans can bring back to their base. Though the policy is deeply unpopular with voters, it’s quite popular among Republican elites.

Klein floats this idea

If it’s age increases that the political system wants, there’s a better way to do it. Ezekiel Emanuel, who advised the Obama administration on health care and now works with the Center for American Progress, calls it “graduated eligibility,” and it would link the age of eligibility with lifetime earnings:

Here’s how it would work. People in the bottom half of the lifetime earnings distribution would become eligible for normal retirement benefits at age 65 for Medicare and 66 for Social Security, just as they are today. But people in the next quarter of the lifetime earnings distribution would become eligible for the respective programs at 67 and 68, and those in the top quarter would become eligible at 70 and 71. All eligibility ages would increase over time, as they are scheduled to now.

This makes sense on a few different levels. For one thing, a favorite argument for raising the age at which benefits begin is that seniors live longer today than they did when these programs began. But those gains aren’t equal: Richer seniors live six years longer than poorer seniors, on average. “Graduated eligibility” accounts for that fact.

This does make a certain amount of sense, but I still worry about those who work physically demanding jobs like construction.  I’m not even sure about the scheduled age increases for full benefits.  Maybe we should lower ages at the bottom, leave the middle, and raise it even highter at the top.

I remembered that I heard somewhere that the average retirement age is 62 and went looking for confirmation.  I found this story in the Financial Advisor from April 2012.

More than one third of pre-retirees (35%) surveyed think they will never retire, an increase from 29% in the 2009 survey. Only one in 10 pre-retirees thinks they will retire before age 60. Half of pre-retirees say they will wait until at least age 65.

In reality, 31% of retirees quit work before age 55, 20% before age 60, and another 10% before age 62.

“There is a major disconnect between when people say they plan to retire and when they actually do,” the survey says. Some of it may be because of health problems or because they are downsized. “Many who lose jobs in their 50s and 60s experience more difficulty finding new employment,” the survey adds.

The survey was taken of 800 pre-retirees and 800 retirees, ages 40 to 80. It is the sixth survey of this type taken by the Society of Actuaries since 2001.

So there is also a disconnect between the proposals on age eligibility and what people so in real life.

I am worried that we are going to end up with a policy that has very bad unintended consequences.  I saw Nancy Pelosi in an interview a few nights ago when she said she hadn’t seen how raising the Medicare age was going to create savings.  She said, “Show me the money.”  I would go further and say, I don’t think that anyone has done the math and I can only hope that the President, Democrats in Congress and maybe some Republicans will do the math first.

Photograph:  Alex Wong