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From the category archives: privatization

What You Did and Did Not Hear about Social Security Last Night

Debate watchers predicted last night’s Vice Presidential debate might put policy above personality (for a change) and to some degree that happened.  For starters, the words Social Security and Medicare were finally uttered by participants.  That’s progress given that millions of average Americans and their families depend on these programs, plus the fact that the candidates’ records couldn’t be more different. The discussion itself; however, certainly wasn’t very deep. Here is the exchange.

There are a couple key points here.  Mike Pence absolutely refused to acknowledge or address in any way his record as one of Congress’ leading supporters of privatization.  As we reported earlier, when Pence was in the House he supported a privatization scheme that was even more draconian than the failed effort by President Bush.  Even after the President admitted defeat, Pence continued to push for the privatization of Social Security.  But Pence’s dodge and deflect skills were in full force last night:

KAINE: But -- but you have a voting record, Governor.

PENCE: And I get all of that. I just, look...


PENCE: There's a question that you asked a little bit earlier that I want to go back to.

KAINE: I can't believe that you won't defend your own voting record.

PENCE: I have to go back to.


PENCE: Well, look, I -- you're running with Hillary Clinton, who wants to raise taxes by $1 trillion, increase spending by $2 trillion, and you say you're going to keep the promises of Social Security. Donald Trump and I are going to cut taxes. We're going to -- we're going to -- we're going to...

KAINE: You're not going to cut taxes. You're going to raise taxes on the middle class.

PENCE: ... reform government programs so we can meet the obligations of Social Security and Medicare.

Republican talking points have long required that candidates use “reform” when they mean cut, and “protect” when they mean privatize.  The promise to protect current seniors’ benefits is also a poll-tested strategy designed to misdirect attention away from plans to cut benefits for future generations. This “greedy geezer” approach assumes seniors only care about their own benefits, not their children and grandchildren’s.   

“The purest articulation of intergenerational warfare as a wedge to break up Social Security's political coalition is a 1983 paper published by the libertarian Cato Journal. It was titled "Achieving a 'Leninist' Strategy," an allusion to the Bolshevik leader's supposed ideas about dividing and weakening his political adversaries.

The paper advocated making a commitment to honor Social Security's commitment to the retired and near-retired as a tool to "detach, or at least neutralize" them as opponents of privatization or other changes. Meanwhile, doubts among the young about the survival of the program should be exploited so they could be "organized behind the private alternative."

So when you hear a politician promising to exempt the retired and near retired from changes to Social Security, while offering to make it more "secure" for future generations, you now know the game plan.”...Los Angeles Times, 2012

Senator Tim Kaine was right to try and force some clarity from the Trump/Pence campaign on their specific plans for the nation’s most effective retirement and health security programs because, in a nutshell, the Donald Trump of this campaign does not resemble the “Social-Security- is-a-Ponzi scheme” Donald Trump of any other year.  Why, is not really mystery as Trump 2.0 himself has said:

"As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen" ...Trump at 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference

Hopefully, last night’s VP debate won’t be our only chance to hear the Presidential campaigns address Social Security and Medicare.  American voters deserve to hear specifics about what these candidates have done and said...not just what they promise they’ll do. 

Why Tonight’s Debate Matters – Especially for America’s Seniors

By most accounts, tonight’s Vice Presidential debate candidates Democratic Senator Tim Kaine and Republican Governor Mike Pence will meet for the only time as virtual unknowns to many voters. NBC has this analysis:


“The two running mates are among the least known vice presidential candidates in recent elections. Remember Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney and even Joe Biden? Of course. But many voters in 2016 have never heard of Clinton's and Trump's number two. In the latest NBC/WSJ poll, 55 percent of respondents either didn't know enough about Kaine to form an opinion about him or were completely neutral. And 49 percent said the same thing about Pence.

 “While both candidates' primary goal is to reassure skeptical voters that their ticket can be trusted and that they compensate for the presidential candidates' perceived weaknesses, a secondary goal will be to drive home policy differences. Because both Pence and Kaine, with long histories of governing, are well steeped in policy, this could be the most substantive debate of any of the three presidential debates.”

If issues finally take center stage tonight, we would certainly hope to hear the stark differences between the two candidates on Social Security and Medicare described for voters. As we first detailed here, Mike Pence, was one of Congress’ most aggressive Social Security privatization supporters. As leader of the Republican Study Committee, the House’s far-right wing caucus, during the Bush administration, Pence doubled-down on President George Bush’s failed privatization efforts by calling for an even larger private accounts scheme to be implemented sooner, putting Americans at even greater fiscal risk than the President’s doomed plan. The Washington Times reported in 2005:

“The Bush plan allows workers to divert 4 percent of their wages into investment accounts, and to choose from a set of investment strategies. But the conservatives are leaning more toward a plan sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, which would allow diversion of 6 percent of wages.

‘Conservatives want to see personal retirement accounts that have immediate relevance to younger Americans, that they can see the value, and that will require that they be big and that they be implemented in the final bill without delay,’ said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and chairman of the 100-member Republican Study Committee (RSC).”

Beyond privatization, Pence’s comments make it clear there isn’t a Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefit cut he won’t embrace:

“I think everything has to be on the table...I think it’s absolutely imperative, whether it’s Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.”

“With regard to entitlements we’re going to have to take some deep cuts in domestic spending.” CNN, 2010

“I was tea party before it was cool.”  Indianapolis Monthly, 2011

On health issues, Pence’s record is just as anti-senior as his Social Security stance. He aggressively opposed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and fought for its repeal, which would worsen Medicare’s solvency and take away billions in added benefits and cost savings for seniors.  He voted against the creation of a prescription drug benefit (Part D) in Medicare, opposes allowing the re-importation of prescription drugs and allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices, he supported legislation that would deny non-emergency treatment for lack of a Medicare co-pay, and most importantly supports the GOP/Ryan budget which would destroy Medicare in favor of “Couponcare,” giving seniors a voucher to take shopping for insurance rather than protecting traditional Medicare’s guaranteed coverage.

Not surprisingly given his legislative history, we scored Mike Pence at 0% on issues important to seniors during the 2011-2012 Congress since he voted for multiple pieces of legislation that would cut benefits and programs that protect senior’s health and financial security.

Tim Kaine, on the other hand, has long opposed the privatization of Social Security.  He supports healthcare reform through the Affordable Care Act and has co-sponsored the Medicare Prescription Drug Negotiation Act (S. 31), which would end the ban on prescription drug price negotiations for Medicare, allowing the government’s largest health care program to use the same price negotiation process that the Veterans Administration uses to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies.  Kaine is also a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging and co-sponsored the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act. 

The differences between the two Vice Presidential candidates on the issues of Social Security and Medicare couldn’t be starker.  We only hope tonight’s debate provides an opportunity for voters to hear about the issues which directly impact millions of Americans’ lives. 

Social Security Administration Cuts Hurt Americans in Every State

Congress has cut the Social Security Administration’s core operating budget by 10 percent since 2010, after adjusting for inflation. Incredibly, this is happening at the same time a record number of Americans retire each year.  It’s not like the baby boom generation is a surprise.  Our nation built extra schools when they were young and housing as they reached adulthood; however, today’s Congress has chosen to ignore the fiscal realities of their retirement. 

A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities details the dramatic impact Congress’ SSA budget cuts have on service nationwide:

  • SSA’s staff has shrunk 6 percent nationwide since 2010. Five states — Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and West Virginia — have lost more than 15 percent of their staff since 2010.
  • Disability Determination Service (DDS) staff, who decide whether applicants’ disabilities are severe enough to qualify for Disability Insurance (DI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) has shrunk 14 percent nationwide since 2010.  Seven states — Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas — have lost over 20 percent of their DDS staff.
  • Staff shortages have contributed to a record-high disability hearing backlog of over 1 million applicants.
  • SSA has been forced to close 64 field offices since 2010, at least one in nearly every state.

Added to this list, according to a recent audit of the SSA, are reduced hours of service at the remaining offices, the limited mailing of the annual earnings statement, increased wait times, crowded lobbies and limited appointment availability.  

As we reported last month:

Unfortunately, this budget slashing effort is nothing new. “Starve the beast” and shrinking government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub" are long-held goals for Congressional conservatives.  Today’s budget cutters are continuing that decades-long campaign to diminish successful government programs which, since the vast majority of the American public of both parties supports them, can’t be killed outright.

“Cutting staff when SSA is processing historically high claims is irresponsible and a sign that the Republicans who voted for this cut are not interested in providing tax payers with good service regarding SSA,” said Witold Skwierczynski, president of the American Federation of Government Employees SSA Council. “Instead they appear to be creating a scenario that insures the collapse of the program and will enhance the push to privatize it.  If the public loses trust and faith that the federal government can administer SSA, they will look to privatization proposals as an alternative.”...Washington Post, August 9, 2016 

We recommend you read the full CBPP report here to see what’s happening in your state and nationwide. 

Will America's Seniors Vote Against Their Own Self-Interests...Again?

Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEOby Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

As a seniors’ advocate who’s worked on aging policy issues for decades, one of the most common questions I hear during campaign season is, “Why do America’s seniors vote against their own economic self-interests?” or more specifically, “Why have so many older (65+) Americans shifted to the Republican Party, even as it supports cutting the Social Security and Medicare benefits they depend on?” There is no single answer to this political quandary because there is far more at work in our fractured, divisive and polarized political system than simply age demographics. However, there’s no denying we could see American seniors vote against their own self-interests, once again in 2016, unless there’s a major awakening to what that vote means for them economically.

It’s important to start with some historical context. Democratic Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, created Social Security and Medicare and -- for decades -- the party’s strong support among seniors and the middle-class reflected that reality. However, that was then. The erosion of senior support for Democratic candidates has been steady.  In 1993, Democrats had a 12 point advantage over Republicans among senior voters.  Today, that advantage is gone and is instead a deficit.

While the GOP claims this shift proves cutting earned benefits is no longer the “third rail” of American politics, the increasingly populist tone of this 2016 Presidential campaign combined with the nomination of a GOP Presidential candidate who’s promised no cuts certainly belies that assertion. In truth what’s happened in recent years is that conservatives have successfully co-opted the Social Security and Medicare political debate by promising Americans they’ll “preserve” and “strengthen” these vital programs on the campaign trail, while actually proposing benefit cuts, Social Security private accounts, or coupon care for seniors in Medicare only after they’re elected. This Orwellian doublespeak isn’t accidental but a well-crafted (and apparently effective) messaging strategy. Donald Trump has now taken that messaging a step further by promising he’ll leave Social Security and Medicare alone, even as he surrounds himself with staff and a Vice Presidential running mate with very different plans. Trump himself supported the privatization of Social Security for more than a decade, calling it a “Ponzi scheme,” but by 2013 he’d done the political calculus and warned conservatives they simply couldn’t win elections that way:

“ ‘As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen,’ Mr. Trump said, adding that polls show that tea partyers are among those who don't want their entitlements changed."  Donald Trump, 2013 CPAC speech, Washington Times

You know the Republicans also have to get elected, you do know that. And if you watch Bernie, and if you watch Hillary, they don't only want to not cut, they want to increase Social Security.” Donald Trump, Morning Joe, February 2016

The American people, of all ages and political parties understand we don’t have to destroy Social Security and Medicare to “save” them. The latest survey by the National Academy of Social Insurance shows large majorities of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, agree on ways to strengthen Social Security, without cutting benefits. 74 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats agree that “it is critical to preserve Social Security even if it means increasing Social Security taxes paid by working Americans.”  Simply put, the American people are willing to pay more for Social Security.  They understand the growing impact these benefits have on individual lives and on our larger economy.  They know first-hand what America’s retirement crisis looks and feels like.

Retirement USA reports the gap between what Americans need to retire and what they actually have is $7.7 trillion. In fact, about half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings and a third of current workers aged 55 to 64 are likely to be poor or near-poor in retirement. Unfortunately, the median retirement account balance is a puny $3,000 for all working-age households and $12,000 for near-retirement households. Vanguard reports that 401K balances, for those who do have them, fell a median of 11% last year.  Social Security remains the only stable retirement income for many Americans.

Social Security is also a stabilizing force for the economy.  A new report from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation shows that, in 2014 alone, Social Security delivered a $1.6 trillion fiscal boost nationwide as benefits were spent and cycled through the economy.  Unfortunately, Social Security’s economic contributions to communities, counties, and states continue to be misunderstood and often ignored in Washington’s fiscal debates. This election could change that.

The party that created Social Security and Medicare has an opportunity to regain lost ground by drawing a clear line in the sand in defense of the core American values of hard work, fairness and compassion embodied in our nation’s most successful programs – Social Security and Medicare. The Democrat’s 2016 platform is the strongest statement on strengthening Social Security seen in decades.  By pledging to fight efforts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, supporting expansion of the program, lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula for seniors, the Democrats have tackled head-on the critical challenges facing millions of average Americans. Conversely, the Republican 2016 platform says benefit cuts must be considered, raising revenue rejected and privatization (the “power of the markets”) preferred. It’s no wonder Donald Trump has been running noticeably silent on Social Security and Medicare this summer, given the Republican Party’s clear rejection of his Social Security and Medicare campaign promises.

Senior turnout will play a huge role in November’s elections which means Democrats must continue to say what they mean, and mean what they say in a full-throated defense against attacks to America’s most effective health and retirement security programs.  Senior voters must also remain vigilant and demand more from candidates than empty promises and political double-speak, otherwise they may cast yet another vote against their own economic self-interests and end up with the biggest case of buyers’ remorse in American political history. 

Two Party Platforms –Two Starkly Different Views on Social Security

The Democratic Platform released today clearly shows that the differences between how the Democratic and Republican parties will approach the future of Social Security couldn’t be starker. The GOP platform promises to consider all benefit cut options, refuses to lift the payroll tax cap and suggests sending Americans’ earned benefits to Wall Street through privatization. The Democratic Party platform, on the other hand, offers the strongest statement on strengthening Social Security seen in decades.  By pledging to fight efforts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, supporting expansion of the program, lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula for seniors, the Democrats have tackled head-on the critical challenges facing millions of average Americans. 

“For too long, many in Washington have ignored the retirement crisis facing Americans nationwide.  The Democratic Party’s platform acknowledges what average Americans and their families understand first-hand – Social Security is an economic lifeline to millions which should be improved. Boosting Social Security’s benefits to provide economic security while also extending the program’s solvency can be done at the same time.  The Democrats get that.

The National Committee proudly worked closely with the Democratic Platform Committee and DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to ensure efforts to improve the current cost of living allowance (COLA) formula are investigated.  The current formula isn’t measuring seniors’ expenses properly and they’ve seen no increase for too many years, while their expenses (especially health costs) continue to grow.  We need a COLA for the elderly and are happy to see Democrats address that reality in this 2016 platform.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO and Democratic Platform Committee Member

It’s also very telling that while the GOP buried their cuts and privatization plans for Social Security under the Platform’s Government Reform heading, the Democrats addressed Social Security, as they should, as part of their plan to restore economic security for average Americans. That’s been Social Security’s fundamental role for more than 80 years -- providing an economic lifeline impacting the lives of virtually every American family.

A new National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation report also released today, called Social Security Spotlight, illustrates very clearly the huge economic impact Social Security benefits have in every state and county throughout the nation.  This research can be especially helpful during the 2016 election cycle for voters, journalists, policy makers and campaign staff as the future of Social Security is debated.

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