As So­cial Se­cu­rity Turns 77, the Most Suc­cess­ful Pro­gram in Amer­i­can His­tory is Un­der Fierce At­tack

Stanstead Journal - - FORUM - Burling­ton, VT

“We are now in the midst of the fiercest and best­fi­nanced at­tack against So­cial Se­cu­rity in our life­times,” Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.) warned to­day on the 77th an­niver­sary of the most suc­cess­ful pro­gram in the mod­ern his­tory of the United States. “Hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars are now be­ing spent to de­stroy So­cial Se­cu­rity and en­dan­ger the well-be­ing of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. We must not al­low that ef­fort to suc­ceed.”

In the years since Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt signed So­cial Se­cu­rity into law on Au­gust 14, 1935, the re­tire­ment pro­gram has been one of the na­tion’s most suc­cess­ful anti-poverty pro­grams. “Be­fore So­cial Se­cu­rity ex­isted,

about half of Amer­ica’s se­nior cit­i­zens lived in poverty,” San­ders said. “To­day, less than 10 per­cent live in poverty. Since its in­cep­tion some 77 years ago, through good eco­nomic times and bad, So­cial Se­cu­rity has paid out ev­ery penny owed to ev­ery el­i­gi­ble ben­e­fi­ciary. This is a re­mark­able suc­cess story,” said San­ders, the head of the Se­nate De­fend­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity Cau­cus.

De­spite right-wing mis­in­for­ma­tion, the pro­gram that ben­e­fits 55 mil­lion se­niors, dis­abled Amer­i­cans, wid­ows, wid­ow­ers and or­phans has a $2.7 tril­lion sur­plus. So­cial Se­cu­rity, which is funded by the pay­roll tax, has not con­trib­uted one nickel to the deficit and, ac­cord­ing to its trus­tees, can pay 100 per­cent of all ben­e­fits owed to ev­ery el­i­gi­ble Amer­i­can for the next 21 years.

De­spite So­cial Se­cu­rity’s over­whelm­ing suc­cess, House Bud­get Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ryan has been a pro­po­nent of pri­va­tiz­ing the re­tire­ment pro­gram by putting se­niors’ sav­ings into risky Wall Street in­vest­ments. Even be­fore tap­ping Ryan as his run­ning mate, Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney had said he wants to be­gin the process of pri­va­tiz­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity. He also would grad­u­ally in­crease the re­tire­ment age to 68 or 69. And he fa­vors slow­ing the growth of ben­e­fits for per­sons with “higher in­comes.” Un­der a plan floated by Rom­ney’s al­lies on Capi­tol Hill – Sens. Lind­sey Gra­ham (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) – some­one mak­ing about $45,000 a year to­day who re­tires in 2050 would re­ceive 32 per­cent less in an­nual So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits than un­der the cur­rent for­mula. By that def­i­ni­tion, the top 60 per­cent of all wage earn­ers would be con­sid­ered “higher in­come.”

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, mean­while, was a staunch de­fender of So­cial Se­cu­rity in his 2008 cam­paign. So far this year, how­ever, Obama has re­fused to stand be­hind his four-year-old op­po­si­tion to cuts. In fact, the pres­i­dent has sig­naled that he may be open to low­er­ing ben­e­fits by chang­ing how they are cal­cu­lated. “It is long past time that the pres­i­dent told the Amer­i­can peo­ple in no un­cer­tain terms, as he did in 2008, that he will not cut So­cial Se­cu­rity on his watch,” San­ders said.

To keep So­cial Se­cu­rity’s fi­nances sound in the fu­ture, San­ders in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion – iden­ti­cal to a pro­posal that Obama ad­vo­cated in 2008 – to ap­ply the pay­roll tax on in­come above $250,000 a year. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is among 10 cospon­sors of San­ders’ bill. Un­der cur­rent law, only earn­ings up to $110,100 are taxed. The Cen­ter for Eco­nomic Pol­icy and Re­search has es­ti­mated that ap­ply­ing the So­cial Se­cu­rity pay­roll tax on in­come above $250,000 would only im­pact the wealth­i­est 1.4 per­cent of wage earn­ers.

Those who would un­der­mine So­cial Se­cu­rity have ad­vo­cated a so-called “chainedCPI.” That ap­proach changes how the Con­sumer Price In­dex is cal­cu­lated so that a per­son 65 years old to­day would earn $560 a year less in So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits once they turn 75. Ben­e­fits would be cut by nearly $1,000 a year once they turn 85. In­stead, San­ders has spon­sored leg­is­la­tion to base So­cial Se­cu­rity cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ments on a Con­sumer Price In­dex for the El­derly, a mea­sure that would in­crease ben­e­fits be­cause it would take into ac­count the real-life im­pact of ris­ing health care costs and pre­scrip­tion drug ex­penses paid by se­niors.

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