Adam Smith and Suzan DelBene defend their votes on Social Security and the budget

At the King County Democrats’ meeting in Renton Tuesday evening, Rep. Adam Smith spoke and took questions.

I asked him why he didn’t sign onto the Grayson-Takano letter promising not to cut Social Security. He said that the math doesn’t add up: mandatory spending is too high and it has to be cut, in order to protect discretionary spending.  But the progressives’ letter vowed to protect not only Social Security but also Medicare and other social programs — something which he thought was irresponsible. He thinks that we need to extract savings from the health care system.  Math is stubborn.

[The Grayson-Takano letter states: “We will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.“     Significantly, the letter goes on to say, “We also know that there are common-sense reforms that would reduce health-care costs and save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars without cutting benefits. If Republicans oppose these reforms, and insist on benefits cuts, that proves they are not concerned about the deficit – but instead are trying to tear the social safety net and cause pain for our constituents who can least absorb it.”  I suppose I should have asked a follow-up question: why not cut drug costs, insurance overheads, and high fees instead of benefits?]

Richard Champion asked a question. As background, he said that only 30% of the voters in the new 9th CD where Smith serves voted for Romney;  the district is very progressive. (Smith’s old district was further south and west and included military bases.) “So why did you vote against the progressive House budget last week?”  Smith said the reason is that the progressive budget didn’t cut mandatory spending a penny. Long term we must cut mandatory spending, he said.   [According to Champion, “One of the reasons he stated was that it didn’t reduce the deficit enough. That is not true. The Progressive Caucus’ Budget has $4.4 trillion in deficit reduction , while Patty Murray’s only has about $800 billion”)

But Rep. Smith did say many progressive sounding things about taxation, unions, charter schools, getting out of Afghanistan, and Social Security (it’s insurance, not an entitlement). He voted against the fiscal cliff deal at the very beginning of the year. It made 90% of the Bush tax cuts permanent and bought us only two months, after which the Republicans decided to let the sequestration take effect.  The Dems are making a huge mistake by adopting Republicans anti-tax rhetoric. “We shouldn’t try to out-tax cut the Republicans.”

He pointed out that if we scrap the cap on Social Security, raising the limit of income subject to Social Security tax about $112,000, then that will give ammunition to those who claim that Social Security is an entitlement (redistribution of wealth), not insurance — unless rich people earn more benefits.

Someone asked Smith about fixing the domestic detention conditions of the NDAA, which Smith sponsored. Recently he has worked to remove domestic detention.

Smith said that he debated John Carlsson about taxation. Carlsson said that the richest 1% are already paying more in taxes than ever. Smith replied, yes, it’s true, but that’s because they have accumulated ever larger percentages of the money.

Newly elected Rep. Suzan DelBene also spoke and took some questions.  She said that her seat is on a “targeted” list of seats that the GOP will work to take back.  There are Republican “trackers” following her around, looking for gaffes, etc. She said she’s already started her re-election campaign.

Someone asked her why she voted against the progressive budget and why she voted with the Republicans on some other issues. (The questioner didn’t say which ones.)  DelBene also refused to sign the Grayson-Takano letter.  Here’s her explanation about the budget vote:

Both Smith and DelBene are members of the New Democrats, not of the Progressive Caucus.  But several times Smith called himself a “progressive.”

According to GovTrack.US,  Smith is center-left. (See this graph.)  DelBene is centrist. (See this graph.)

Before the start of the event, I stood outside holding the sign below (printed to fit on a large poster board). As Rep. Smith walked in, I said that the sign was for him, because he’s the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.  I mentioned to Smith that the New Yorker article discussed here accused him of not contesting Republicans when they argued for zero military cuts.  Smith was testy. He said the New Yorker article misrepresented his position. Smith said that for the prior six months he worked on lowering military spending. I asked him why he didn’t write a letter to the New Yorker. He dismissed the idea.

The US Military

Rep. Smith is having a town hall meeting this Thursday [See report on the Town Hall]:

28 March, Thursday, 7pm-8:30pm – Congressman Adam Smith Town Hall in Newcastle, at Hazelwood Elementary School, 7100 116th Ave SE, Newcastle,  98056. Space is limited so please RSVP by calling 425-793-5180 or Toll Free at 888-SMITH09.  You can also email


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