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From the category archives: entitlement reform

State of the Union 2016 – Will Washington Really Strengthen Social Security?

You don’t have to agree with his politics to acknowledge that President Obama’s final State of the Union address was, as promised, an aspirational and ambitious look forward.  The New York Times summed it up this way:  

“In a prime-time televised speech that avoided the usual litany of policy prescriptions, Mr. Obama used his final State of the Union address to paint a hopeful portrait of the nation after seven years of his leadership, with a resurgent economy and better standing in the world despite inequality at home and terrorism abroad.

He acknowledged that many Americans feel frightened and shut out of a political and economic system they view as rigged against their interests, even as he offered an implicit rebuke of Republicans who are playing on those insecurities in the race to succeed him.

‘As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘We can’t afford to go down that path.’ "

In a sweeping speech that touched on issues as diverse as curing cancer to fighting ISIS, retirement security played a small role.  However, it did provide the President an opportunity to deliver one of his best one-liners of the night:

“After all, it’s not much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package, for 30 years, are sitting in this chamber. For everyone else, especially folks in their forties and fifties, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.

That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.”

American families know first-hand what this looming retirement crisis feels like. 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. 


However, just as with the climate change debate, many conservatives continue to deny the retirement crisis even exists.  This too often used head-in-the-sand political approach led the President to challenge his Congressional audience: 

“How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?  

Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.”
 
Undoubtedly, acknowledging the economic challenges facing average Americans has to be the first step to find solutions; however, equally important is for citizens to hold their elected officials accountable for saying what they mean and meaning what they say.  Too often, candidates promise to “strengthen” Social Security while on the campaign trail when, in truth, they actually support plans to slash benefits.  They promise to protect Social Security and Medicare while actually planning to privatize them.  

What does the candidate asking for your vote really mean when he/she promises to “strengthen” Social Security and Medicare?  For the majority of Americans of all political parties, strengthen means no cuts to benefits.  A growing movement also supports boosting benefits; however, voters can't assume the same of candidates on the campaign trail in 2016.  

So, our challenge to all voters is to ask each and every candidate who hopes to come to Washington,“What are your true plans to strengthen Social Security?”


The GOP Poverty Solution...Do Less and the Poor Will Do Better?!?

In 2014, 46.7 million people (14.8%) were living in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. The poverty rate for people aged 65 and older was lower, at 10%, thanks to the success of earned benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare.  In spite of these programs’ undeniable success in providing improved income and health security for older Americas, GOP leaders in Congress and most running for President, continue to target Social Security and Medicare for cuts. They also have supported cuts to other vital safety net programs serving America’s poor.  

While this weekend’s GOP Poverty forum may have signaled a shift to softer rhetoric on poverty (an issue that has seldom been addressed by Republican candidates, so far) there’s no sign that their policy prescriptions have changed at all. 

Robert Greenstein is the founder and President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and provides this Huffington Post analysis of the GOP’s primary poverty proposal:

Our analysis suggests Paul Ryan's "Opportunity Grant" proposal carries substantial risk of increasing poverty, rather than reducing it, for the following reasons:
  • Although Speaker Ryan has described the proposal as maintaining the same overall funding for anti-poverty programs, that would be a practical impossibility. 
  • Funds would likely be shifted away from direct assistance to needy families.
  • The proposal would jeopardize basic nutrition assistance for poor children, which research has shown reduces child malnutrition and improves children's long-term prospects.
  • Not only would food assistance funding likely decline, but total funding to assist low-income families would likely decline as well.
  • History shows that when federal policymakers merge programs into a broad block grant, federal funding typically declines over time, often dramatically.”
Economist Jared Bernstein says: 
“This is merely a gussied up version of “if your only tool is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” The idea, and Ryan’s budgets very much underscore this point, is that we can help the poor more by doing less for them.
The evidence points strongly in the opposite direction. As CBPP’s Arloc Sherman noted yesterday (and Ben Spielberg and I have explained in detail), a large and growing body of high-quality research...shows that the impact of income support and safety net programs like SNAP and Medicaid do not just occur upon receipt and immediately fade away. They have important, positive long-term benefits for children.  Next, the idea that liberal policies have failed is belied by…you know…data.”

Paul Ryan’s long-held and often-expressed Ayn Randian view of every man for himself and claims that federal safety-net programs (including earned benefits in Social Security, Medicare) only provide a “hammock” for the “dependency culture” of “makers and takers” remain as the core value that fuels the GOP approach to poverty.  Although, Speaker Ryan now acknowledges his “maker-taker” rhetoric was a mistake, that clearly hasn’t moderated his policy approach.  

“Under his “Opportunity Grant” proposal, Ryan has proposed converting a number of programs to state block grants, a decision that nonpartisan analysis suggests would reduce families’ ability to access key programs such as nutrition and housing assistance. In crafting this idea, Ryan and other conservatives often point to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program as a model—even though it does very little to mitigate poverty and hardship and is unresponsive to recessions.
Furthermore, in their most recent congressional budgets, Republicans obtained two-thirds of their cuts from programs helping low- and moderate-income families, while channeling additional resources towards tax cuts for the wealthy.” The Nation

The GOP/Ryan budgets have all been characterized by tax cuts for the wealthy, program cuts for the poor and turning Medicare into “Coupon Care.”

“Once again, the House GOP’s budget would privatize Medicare with a voucher plan, leaving seniors and the disabled – some of our most vulnerable Americans – hostage to the whims of private insurance companies.  Over time, this will end traditional Medicare and make it harder for seniors to choose their own doctor.  Vouchers will not keep up with the increasing cost of health insurance… that is why seniors will pay more.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
The GOP/Ryan Budget: 
  • Ends the Medicaid joint federal/state financing partnership and replacing it with fixed dollar amount block grants, giving states less money than they would receive under current law. 

  • Repeals Medicaid expansion. Since 2014, states have had the option to receive federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage. Over half of the states have expanded their Medicaid programs, and others will likely do so in the future.  Repealing this option would result in at least 14 million people losing their Medicaid coverage and state Medicaid programs would lose a total of $900 billion over 10 years. 

  • Cuts Medicare by $431 billion over ten years.  Over half of Medicare beneficiaries had incomes below $23,500 per year in 2013, and they are already paying 23 percent of their average Social Security check for Medicare cost-sharing in addition to out-of-pocket costs.

Talking about poverty in America is a welcome first step from the Republican candidates; however, talk is cheap if action is just more of the same benefit cuts to pay for tax cuts.  

 

Even the Mainstream Media Supports Boosting Social Security

We live in a media era in which, more often than not, stories about America’s federal retirement programs do little more than parrot quotes offered up by Washington’s billion dollar anti-Social Security lobby.  For decades we’ve been told Social Security and Medicare are to blame for federal debt and deficits and the only way to be fiscally responsible is to slash benefits for America’s seniors.  Of course, the truth has proven to be just the opposite.

The budget deficit for 2015 is expected to drop to roughly $425 billion, according to a report released Friday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).That’s down from the $486 billion the CBO projected in March. If it drops to $425 billion by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, it would be a seven-year low for the government’s annual budget shortfalls...MSNBC

Social Security and Medicare NOT the cause of our deficits and cutting already modest benefits would have devastating consequences for millions of American families and our economy overall. That’s why this weekend’s New York Times editorial on the 2016 Presidential campaign and Social Security marks an important shift in perspective.

This election season offers an opportunity to reframe the debate over Social Security. It is necessary, of course, to ensure the program’s long-term health beyond 2034, when the system is projected to come up short. But this can’t be done by broadly cutting benefits. In fact, there’s mounting evidence that Social Security, which has become ever more important in retirement, needs to be expanded.

Is it possible that the national media is finally coming around to the fiscal reality that the American people, no matter their political party, have long known to be true?

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. Of those polled, 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.

2016 marks the National Committee’s third year of our “Boost Social Security” campaign.  We’ll continue to spread the word, reframe the debate and keep the pressure on Presidential candidates to stop taking their lead from the billion dollar anti-Social Security lobby and instead listen to what the American people support for the future of Social Security.

2016 Determines the Future of Social Security & Medicare

There is a lot at stake in the 2016 election because the differences between candidates’ plans for ‪#‎SocialSecurity‬‪#‎Medicare‬ and Medicaid are stark.  Seniors' votes will make a difference so please help us advocate, educate and keep the candidates accountable for their positions on America's most successful programs!

www.ncpssm.org/novoteforyou


They Never Learn. The GOP Threatens Cut Social Security & Medicare or Else

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has started budget and debt ceiling talks with the GOP’s favorite attack...cut Social Security or Medicare or else ______ (fill in the blank to fit the debate of the day).  This time it’s... “or else we’ll shutdown the government.”

“Mitch McConnell privately wants the White House to pay this price to enact a major budget deal: Significant changes to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and funding the government.”  CNN

“Chained CPI is off the table as an offset to pay for higher spending caps. One person with knowledge of the talks said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened the negotiation with a proposal to offset higher discretionary spending with chained CPI and Medicare means testing, though McConnell's office would not confirm that he made the request.” CQ News

“In a direct rebuke to his Republican counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that raising the debt limit is non-negotiable. Speaking hours before the first Democratic presidential debate, which is being held in his home state, Reid encouraged President Barack Obama not to enter into talks with congressional Republicans, who have plotted to use the debt limit as a means of extracting spending cuts.”  Huffington Post

You’ll also note there is no talk of reversing trillions of dollars in tax breaks and loopholes for large corporations shipping jobs overseas.  No talk of the billions more in tax breaks given to the ultra-wealthy.   Instead, Republican leaders want to cut the whopping $1,291 average monthly Social Security retirement benefit.  A benefit Americans have paid for throughout their working lives. 

The debt limit expires November 5th so there’s not much time to make it clear...once again...that the American people are paying attention and you won’t stand by and watch as Social Security is used as a political bargaining chip.  Make that call!

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