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Talking Social Security | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Talking Social Security

With Congress in recess until after the midterms, many members are heading home to face tough reelection bids. If Democrats really want to rally their base and win over voters who are either on the fence or thinking of sitting this one out, they’d be smart to start talking Social Security.

You won’t find any lack of enthusiasm at the grassroots when it comes to protecting this centerpiece of FDR’s New Deal reforms. Over the past 75 years, it’s proven to be our nation’s most effective anti-poverty program while also providing Americans a measure of dignity and hope and lasting security against the vicissitudes of the market and life.

Currently, Social Security provides the majority of income for two-thirds of the elderly population, and one-third receive nearly all of their income from it. According to the Congressional Budget Office, if no changes were made to Social Security it would still be able to provide full benefits to every recipient through 2039, and approximately 80 percent of benefits thereafter. (By simply ending the cap of taxing only up to $106,000 of earned income, that problem is solved.)

So it’s stunningly bad politics and policy that at this moment—with record poverty and economic inequality, and a shrinking middle-class—Republicans and ConservaDems are looking to slash benefits under the guise of deficit reduction. It’s quite possible they will vote on a plan—via the White House National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform—to do just that in a lame duck session of Congress come December.

But the Strengthen Social Security Campaign (SSSC)—a coalition of over 125 national and state organizations, representing over 50 million Americans—and their Congressional allies are pursuing an effective inside-outside strategy to stop that plan in its tracks and protect Social Security for American workers, seniors, children and people with disabilities.

At the grassroots, activists are focused on petitioning to protect benefits and pressing congressional members and candidates to declare their positions on ideas like raising the retirement age, privatization, means-testing and changing the cost of living adjustment (COLA) formula—all of which are (not so) stealth ways to cut benefits.

Inside Congress, 105 Members have signed onto Congressmen Raúl Grijalva, John Conyers and Dan Maffei’s letter to President Obama stating their opposition to these and any other efforts to cut Social Security.

“If any of the Commission’s recommendations cut or diminish Social Security in any way, we will stand firmly against them,” the letter states clearly.

Senator Bernie Sanders and eleven cosponsors introduced a resolution that “put the White House commission on notice that raising the retirement age, privatizing the program, or cutting benefits would meet stiff opposition on Capitol Hill,” according to a press release from Senator Sanders’ office.

The Senate resolution notes that Social Security has run surpluses for the last 25 years, currently has a $2.6 trillion surplus, and “has not contributed a dime to the Federal budget deficit or national debt.

“Benefit cuts should not be proposed as a solution to reducing the Federal deficit,” the resolution reads.

Coalition members—including the AFL-CIO, National Council of Women’s Organizations, MoveOn, Alliance for Retired Americans, AFSCME, Campaign for America’s Future, NAACP, Food Research Action Center, SEIU and others—are already reporting results that belie any so-called “enthusiasm gap."

"For those of us on the ground, we’re seeing that voters across the political spectrum are extremely vocal in their support for Social Security,” said campaign communications director Alex Lawson. “Coalition members are reporting record responses from activists on this issue."

That’s not surprising, since poll after poll show overwhelming opposition to cuts in Social Security—huge majorities of Democrats, Republicans, Independents, even Tea Party supporters don’t want to see benefit cuts.

Shaunna Thomas, Director of P Street Project, the lobbying arm of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), noted thousands of calls to Members of Congress by MoveOn, PCCC and other coalition members.

In a conference call with reporters today, Sanders—who was joined by Senator Sherrod Brown, Congressmen Grijalva, Conyers and Maffei, and other coalition leaders—said, “It is important for the American people, as they go to vote in this important election, to have a sense philosophically of where the different members and parties stand on this issue.”

SSSC co-director Eric Kingson echoed that call to make the battle lines over social security clear. “It’s our hope that every candidate, every incumbent, will be asked by voters where they stand on raising the retirement age?” he said. “On Privatization? On cutting the cost of living adjustments? And on a number of other cuts that are proposed. This is a broad, bipartisan concern and we hope Members will go on record saying where they stand."

You can help make that happen. It’s time to start talking Social Security now.

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