Saturday, August 15, 2015

Yesterday Social Security Turned 80-- What About Tomorrow?


Yesterday, on the 80th anniversary of the enactment of the Social Security Act-- which had been vilified as "socialism" by conservatives-- we took a look at the NY-24 congressional campaign of Social Security Works co-founder Eric Kingson. Kingston, of course, is only one of many progressive Democrats who are militant about preserving and expanding Social Security. Alan Grayson, for example, announced a new bill he is introducing after Congress returns from vacation, the Seniors Deserve a Raise Act. If it were to pass both Houses of Congress and be signed into law by the president it would increase Social Security payments by 2.9%-- on top of the annual cost of living adjustment-- starting next year. Grayson's bill mandates that the Social Security Administration use the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E)-- an index that gives additional weight to items seniors are more likely to purchase-- whenever that index is higher than the currently used CPI-W (Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers), to determine the Cost of Living Adjustment starting next year.

"Since 1975, we have been cheating our seniors out of an amount that has now escalated to $25 billion each year," Grayson explained to Florida voters. "Right now, every monthly check seniors get is 3% lower than it ought to be. This adds up more than $300 billion that we have unfairly kept out of the hands of some of our most vulnerable citizens. And since the increases build upon themselves, it means the older you are, the more you’ve been cheated. Our seniors deserve a raise... It makes sense to base cost of living increases for seniors on what they actually spend their money on. This bill ensures that they are getting at least the increase their specific spending habits would require. We owe our seniors, and our retired military, so much. They fought wars for us, marched in the street for us, raised us, and worked to make our lives better."

Yesterday Elizabeth Warren warned that "Social Security is under attack. The Republicans are doing everything they can to privatize and cut benefits for millions of seniors who rely on Social Security to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads." Obviously, Grayson and Warren aren't the only progressive in Congress working to shore up Social Security. In fact, I asked the incumbents Blue America has endorsed where they were at on this. Mike Honda, for example, told his supporters yesterday that "I firmly believe that people who have worked their whole lives deserve to have peace of mind in retirement... We have a responsibility to take care of our older citizens, and even more importantly, to make sure that our future generations have the same security. I think about this every time I look at my children and grandchildren."

Mark Pocan (D-WI), who shares a birth date with Social Security, warned that "attacks on it are rampant, and calls to strengthen it are all too rare. We must fight to protect social security and move the debate to how we can expand it and continue its promise." The co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) issued a joint statement Friday on behalf of the Caucus:
Eight decades after these earned benefits began, the need for Social Security is greater than ever.  Stagnant wages, a shift from defined benefit pensions to less secure individual 401(k) and IRA accounts, and growing income inequality have made it difficult for working families to put aside the savings needed for a secure retirement.  With more Americans relying on Social Security as a primary source of retirement income, it’s not a surprise that 61 percent of Americans believe the current benefits are too low. By expanding benefits and requiring the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in payroll taxes, we can secure the program’s future and help American families adapt to this new economic reality.

But instead of working to protect and expand the promise of Social Security, Republicans continue their efforts to erode, privatize, and undermine the program despite its overwhelming success and popularity.  Despite the fact that Social Security has a $2.8 million surplus and can pay full benefits until 2033, Republicans are threatening to use a manufactured crisis to cut Social Security Disability Insurance benefits by 20 percent in 2016.  An attack on one component of Social Security is an attack on the program as a whole, and an attack on the millions of people who rely on it. The Progressive Caucus stands united with Congressional Democrats in our commitment to protect Social Security and to expand its promise to guarantee the future of every American.
Bonnie Watson-Coleman (D-NJ) has brought her passion and her progressive vision from the New Jersey legislature to Washington, DC. She reminded us that Social Security "fundamentally changed the lives of retiring Americans. Prior to enactment, older Americans were one of our most vulnerable populations and faced tremendous risk of retiring in poverty. Today, Social Security keeps 22 million Americans above water, including a million children and 15 million seniors. Some critics question whether government is capable of offering solutions to problems in our society, but our nation can point to Social Security as a clear example-- and as proof that government can play a positive and active role in improving the lives of Americans. That’s why I remain committed to defending and expanding access not only to Social Security, but also Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, and the many other programs that level the playing field and provide a stepping stone to the middle class."

Matt Cartwright, the progressive Democrat in northeast Pennsylvania who defeated a reactionary Blue Dog Establishment type to win his seat, told us that "Every time I think about Social Security, it makes me proud to be a Democrat. It was the Democrats who conceived of Social Security. It was the Democrats who enacted it. And it is the Democrats who for 80 years have successfully defended it from attacks by irresponsible, uncaring and downright mean-spirited Republicans who would take it away in a heartbeat if we Democrats ever for that long step away from our guns."

Many consider Barbara Lee, the progressive who represents Oakland in Congress, a national treasure because of her principled stand against Bush's wars. She has a career of principled stands, all of them serving the interests of working families who don't employ their own lobbyists. "The story of black America’s middle class," she told her supporters yesterday, "is also inextricably linked to the establishment and continuation of Social Security. Because lifetime earnings for African Americans tend to be far lower than lifetime earnings for whites, Social Security provides the only income for 40 percent of African American retirees. It's obvious that Social Security benefits touch the lives of every single American. So why is Social Security constantly under attack? Because there is a small-but-growing faction of hard-line Republicans who believe that Social Security is insolvent and contributes to our national debt. That’s flatly untrue: The Social Security Trust Fund is $2.8 trillion-strong. Without any adjustments, Social Security can continue to pay benefits for decades. And there is another reason. Many Republicans would simply prefer to prioritize millionaires and billionaires over our most vulnerable citizens. We must fight these attacks on Social Security. Our most vulnerable citizens are counting on us."

Donna Edwards (D-MD), who, like Grayson, is running for Senate this cycle, reminded us that "Social Security provides earned benefits to nearly sixty million Americans; lifting twenty-two million individuals, including one million children, out of poverty. In Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, Social Security is often a lifeline for many of the 97,000 beneficiaries, of which over 71,000 are 65 or older. Social Security plays a critical role for seniors, children, the disabled, and veterans in our communities and throughout the country. Social Security is value not a bargaining chip. As we celebrate the historic achievement of Social Security, we must also commit ourselves to strengthening and protecting Social Security for generations to come. We must fight any proposals to reduce benefits or increase the retirement age or otherwise chip away at this earned benefit. I am a proud original cosponsor of the Social Security 2100 Act, which would ensure that Social Security remains financially stable for decades to come. That is the kind of reliability the American people deserve. I look forward to continue working with my Congressional colleagues to strengthen and expand Social Security benefits for millions of Americans."

When Jeb Bush and other Republicans talk about "reforming" Social Security they mean wrecking it and when they talk about a "broad bipartisan consensus," they're talking about all the Republicans and a handful of reactionary DINOs like Patrick Murphy (New Dem-FL), Kirsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ) and Sean Patrick Maloney (New Dem-NY), dangerous fake Democrats who vote with Republicans and should be treated like Republican at the ballot box. Watch:

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