Despite their virtues, many conservative Republicans have an unfortunate habit of picking on the weak and disadvantaged, slandering the people least able to fight back. We saw a glimpse of this callousness in Mitt Romney’s disparagement of the “47 percent” who are “takers” living off the hard-working “makers.” The newly empowered GOP majority in Congress is going down the same road—targeting the millions of sick or injured Americans who receive Social Security disability payments.
This is a favorite old canard of self-righteous right-wingers. They label these unfortunate people as shiftless and suggest none too subtly that many are faking their injuries and illnesses. The GOP has been pushing this cold-hearted slander for at least thirty-five years, ever since the glorious reign of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s (who remembers Reagan’s imaginary “Welfare Queen” who drove to pick up her welfare check in a Cadillac?).
McConnell-Boehner Republicans are now reviving the Gipper’s big lie, claiming the Social Security system is in crisis because of swollen disability benefits. Allegedly to save the system, these so-called fiscal conservatives intend to cut benefits and throw out those supposedly able-bodied slackers. Once again, their facts are bogus. Never mind, their story line is concocted to arouse anti-government resentment among people who are themselves strapped for income.
This is why we need “bleeding-heart liberals”—politicians who will stand up to defend the scorned and tell the truth about the Republicans’ propaganda. This season, the country has two tough-minded senators assuming that role—Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Sanders is ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and Brown is ranking member of the Finance Committee’s subcommittee on Social Security. They will be heard in Washington. Given broad public support, they can smash Mitch McConnell’s plot to disable and maybe destroy Social Security.
Some quick facts Senator Brown and Senator Sanders have put before their Republican colleagues: disability insurance goes to nearly 11 million Americans, including more than 2 million veterans and 1.8 million children. Like Social Security retirement, this is an insurance program that workers have paid into with their FICA deductions. Nobody gets rich on disability. The average benefit is less than $1,200 a month, and for 30 percent of beneficiaries that is their entire income. The GOP’s ploy, an accounting rule change already adopted by House Republicans, would set up the disability system for a 19 percent reduction in benefit payments, casting millions into official poverty status.
The legendary fraud that Republicans claim to bemoan is itself a giant lie. The Government Accounting Office and the Social Security’s own inspector general have both found that fraud in this program is less than 1 percent. Compare that to fraud committed by Pentagon contractors, by too-big-to-fail bankers, by auto companies concealing deadly flaws in cars, by elected politicians or by newspaper reporters.