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Remarks of Barbara Kennelly Poll Conference

July 15, 2010

I am Barbara Kennelly, President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and the National Committee Foundation.  We are a membership organization with over 3 million members and supporters.  Our members come from all walks of life and all political persuasions - what they share is a passion for protecting Social Security and Medicare not just for today, but for future generations.  The National Committee Foundation is a non-profit organization formed to help us achieve this goal.

Today we are here to share the results of the National Committee Foundation's poll, conducted by the non-partisan, well respected University of New Hampshire Survey Center, and I am pleased that Dr Andrew Smith, Director of the Survey Center, is here with us today to help present the findings.

What our poll reveals is that despite the understandable alarm about the deficit, Americans' views on Social Security continue to reflect their solid belief that this is a program critical to them and their families which does not belong in discussions about deficit reduction.

The poll shows a huge disconnect between what many policymakers here in Washington are proposing and what the American people will accept.  As you know, President Obama created a Commission on Fiscal Responsibility charged with reducing both the short-term and long-term deficits.  The Co-Chairs of this Commission - in addition to a number of its members - have made it quite clear that they believe cutting Social Security benefits is a fiscal strategy that is both responsible and easily implemented. 

Our report shows that this strategy runs completely counter to the opinions of American people today.  The public knows we have a deficit problem and they are rightfully very concerned about it.  But they also know that Social Security didn't cause the deficit, and they absolutely reject the notion that Social Security benefits need to be cut in order to reduce the deficit. 

These views are not limited to Democrats or older people.  In fact, as you will see when Dr. Smith goes through the detailed results, opposition to cutting Social Security benefits, including raising the retirement age, is virtually universal among all age groups and all political parties. 

Raising the retirement age to 70 or older is getting a lot of attention these days but most of the people proposing this are professionals - economists, lawyers, think tank leaders, even some Members of Congress.  Frankly, it's not that hard for them to keep working  well into their 70s. 

But for most Americans, it's not that simple.  They're not working desk jobs in air conditioned offices and covered by good health insurance.  Many are working in demanding, exhausting jobs in today's service industries. Working until 70 is just not physically possible for many.  And finding alternative employment, even in a good economy, can be a real challenge for an older worker. 

In addition to physical hardships, raising the retirement age even higher creates additional financial strains by forcing another form of a benefit cut. The normal retirement age is already rising to age 67.  Raising it even further will mean most workers who are forced to retire early at age 62 will see a cut in benefits of about 45%.  The average annual benefit today is less than $14,000 - cutting it almost in half will result in millions of today's workers living out their retirement years in poverty; an unacceptable forecast for any American.

Before I turn the podium over to Dr. Smith, I would like to tell you that today's poll release marks the beginning of the National Committee's month-long campaign "Social Security at 75 - Keeping the Promise" leading up to the August 14th anniversary.  Our goal is to educate the public and mobilize our millions of members, supporters and friends to let policymakers and the Fiscal Commission know that Social Security is critical to the American people.

We are wrapping up a postcard campaign from our membership which is estimated to have generated more than 100,000 pieces of mail to the commission co-chairs asking them to not cut Social Security.  Next week we will begin airing ads on WTOP and each day of the countdown celebration to Social Security's 75th birthday, we will introduce a new activity, event or publication. More information is available on our website at www.ncpssm.org.



   

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