Stop the Stealth Attack on Social Security
The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is moving under cover of darkness to recover the billions spent on Wall Street bailouts, tax breaks for the wealthiest and unfunded wars. How? By cutting benefits under the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs. President Obama created the commission to review the country's budget deficit but recklessly also gave the body authority to consider Social Security and other entitlement programs.
The commission is stacked with people who are hostile to Social Security and/or indifferent to the devastating effect cuts would have on millions of middle-class people, especially women. Congress can stop this runaway train, but only if there is the political will to do it. During this August break, we need to demand promises from every member of the House and Senate that they will do whatever it takes to prevent any cuts to Social Security -- including raising the retirement age and privatization.
Call, email and visit your representative and both senators. They are home for the August recess, so you can meet with them in their district offices. Urge them to personally promise you they will do everything in their power to prevent cuts to Social Security -- no direct benefit cuts, no raising the retirement age (which is approximately an eight percent cut for every year the retirement age goes up) and no privatization. Even if you are in a Republican district, make that call or visit. Polls show huge majorities of Republicans, Independents, even self-styled Tea Partiers, as well as Democrats, are opposed to cuts in Social Security. Every representative who is not retiring is up for re-election this year, as are 37 senators. Let them know they need to stand with the people of this country and against the secretive Fiscal Commission's assault on Social Security.
We never thought that with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress and the White House we'd be fighting once again for Social Security's very life, but here we are.
The president is not with us on this fight (just look at his actions and inactions). The good news is that many of our friends in Congress are. But we need to go beyond our own base of support and get every single representative and senator we can to make a personal commitment to stop the Fiscal Commission's stealth attack on Social Security.
Former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, a long-time foe of Social Security, co-chairs the Fiscal Commission along with Democrat Erskin Bowles, who advocated for privatization in the 1990s. There are 18 members of the Commission altogether -- six appointed by the White House, six by the Senate and six by the House (three Republicans and three Democrats from each chamber). Despite repeated requests for openness and transparency, the commission members meet behind closed doors, so it's impossible to say exactly what they're up to. But Simpson and Bowles have made no bones about the fact that they view Social Security cuts as a potential way to fix the federal deficit.
When President Obama created the Commission, he charged it to develop a plan to address the federal budget deficit and the government's long-term debt. Then, recklessly, he gave the Commission a green light to fold Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid into its deliberations, despite the fact that Social Security has nothing to do with the federal budget deficit. The idea that Social Security caused or could fix the budget deficit is a flat falsehood pushed by ideologues on the right who oppose New Deal programs like Social Security and by Wall Street moguls who want to convert Social Security into a privatized profit-maker for themselves. Cutting Social Security will not put a dent in the deficit. What it will do is quickly push millions of people out of the middle class and into poverty, while cratering the integrity of the system for future generations.
The threat to women's economic security is especially dire. The "three-legged stool" of retirement -- pensions, personal savings and Social Security -- is already frighteningly wobbly for most women. Only one in three of us have any pension at all. And after a lifetime of wage discrimination, many women approach retirement with little or no savings. Indeed, according to a recent study by the Insight Center, women of color often have negative net worth as they grow older. As a result, millions upon millions of women are kept out of poverty only because of their Social Security check. To people like Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, Social Security may not be what keeps a roof over their heads or food on their tables, but for millions of women -- women who vote -- it's everything!
Social Security, with a separate funding source and a separate fiscal system, is completely detached from the federal operating budget. Social Security is funded by a payroll tax. Some of our payroll taxes are used to pay current retirees, and the rest are invested in U.S. Treasury Bonds -- the safest investment you can make. Currently, the Social Security system has more than a $2 trillion surplus. It was set up that way in the 1980s to account for the baby boomers' retirement years. There is no Social Security crisis -- the program is solvent for at least the next 27 years, and with moderate tweaking (like lifting the cap so higher-income people would pay closer to their fair share) it would be solvent even further into the future.
The federal budget deficit was caused primarily by three things: 1) unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2) Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest, and 3) a Swiss cheese financial regulatory system that tanked our economy, losing millions of jobs and the income tax revenues that went with them. When you talk to your representative and senators, let them know that you, and other voters like you, understand the difference between the budget deficit and the Social Security system, and you're counting on them to prevent any cuts to Social Security.