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From the category archives: entitlement reform

How About Giving the Truth about Social Security "Equal Time"

Attempts to reignite the intergenerational warfare campaign against Social Security --  led by the billion dollar austerity lobby -- seem to have hit a new high.  Alternet highlights just a few of the recent instances:

A string of recent examples—rants [3] from MSNBC’s wealthy young commentator, a notorious elderly-attacking [4] House candidate, think tanks promoted [5] on NPR—generational warfare cheerleaders are proclaiming that America is heading toward an epic and immoral conflict as better-off seniors are robbing millennials of shrinking federal dollars because retirement programs cost too much. That’s simply false, as Social Security is solvent [6] through 2033, and spending on all mandatory programs as a percentage of GDP is close to [7] where it’s been since 1975, at 21 percent. 

This line of attack isn’t in a political vacuum. It comes as some Democrats are reframing [8] the debate on Social Security and campaigning [9] for increased benefits. Nor is it a new argument, as a right-wing club of libertarians, Wall Street bankers and deficit hawks have tried for decades to undermine and privatize the program.

For MSNBC’s, Abby Hunstman, this is the second time in as many weeks that she’s taken to the airwaves with a monologue chock-full of errors and political rhetoric heavy of drama and light on the facts.  NCPSSM’s Equal Time, joined the Los Angeles Times and others in pointing out just a few of those errors in her first attempt to “educate” millennials:

Millennials Face Big Problems – Abby Hunstman, MSNBC

 “Here’s the reality, at the rate we’re spending, the system (Social Security) will be bankrupt by the time you and I are actually eligible to get these benefits.”

“We can’t afford it.”

“While we’re living two decades longer we haven’t made any changes.”

MSNBC anchor Abby Huntsman (daughter of GOP Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman) clearly misunderstands Social Security’s funding  and twists both life expectancy data and worker ratios to the breaking point to build a false case for cutting Social Security benefits for millennials.   Contrary to Huntsman’s claims, there is not a single scenario or economic projection in which Social Security goes bankrupt, most  Americans aren’t living 20 years longer and there have been numerous reforms to Social Security in the past,  including raising the retirement age.

If Washington does nothing at all by the time the Trust Fund is depleted in 2033, millennials and generations after them will receive a 25% benefit cut.  Huntsman urges raising the retirement age to 70-75 on top of that which means an even larger benefit cut for our children and grandchildren.  Unfortunately, rather than educating her fellow millennials with the facts,  her “fix” for Social Security comes straight from the multi-billion dollar anti-entitlement lobby’s talking points.   There are ways to fill the funding gap without hitting future generations with huge benefit cuts. Rather than gutting Social Security under the guise of “fixing it”, Congress should lift the payroll tax cap and enact other meaningful reforms to strengthen the program for future generations. 

Inexplicably, rather than address her mistakes Huntsman then chose to double-down on them with a second error-laden missive.  Michael Hiltzik with the Los Angeles Times tried, a second time, to help her with the “basic math” she claims to understand:

Huntsman complained that I called her out for asking how we're going to pay the rising costs of the health and social insurance programs, as though "even raising the question means you're automatically anti-Social Security or against the elderly."

No. I called her out for raising the question using bogus numbers, such as life-expectancy rates from birth, which have risen sharply since the '30s but aren't relevant to Social Security's fiscal health. Instead, the key figure is life expectancy from age 65, which hasn't risen very sharply. (Huntsman appears to accept this point.)

Huntsman offered several possible remedies for rising costs in these programs -- means-testing benefits, increasing the retirement age, raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65 -- and complained that we're not even debating these options.

That's where she really goes off the rails. We have been debating those options, for years. They've all been studied, measured, calculated and scored. The reason they haven't been implemented is that none of them is simple. None of those she listed would have an appreciable positive effect on the fiscal health of the programs, and some, such as raising the Medicare eligibility age, might make the overall federal budget picture worse.

Economist Dean Baker also gave it a try:

“The far greater risk to the living standards to the people of Huntsman's generation is the risk that we will continue to see the upward redistribution of income over the next three decades that we have seen over the last three decades. As a result of this upward redistribution of income, people like Ms. Huntsman's father have benefited enormously, while most workers have seen little or none of the gains from economic growth. If this pattern continues then most people in Ms. Huntsman's cohort will not fare well financially even if we eliminated their Social Security taxes altogether.”

So Huntsman continues to take her cues directly from the billion dollar Wall Street campaign to paint Social Security & Medicare as the biggest threat to future generations while ignoring the income inequality which will curse millennials for a lifetime.  


Celebrating Our Social Security & Medicare Successes

We've seen a constant threat to Social Security and Medicare benefits coming from Washington over the past many years.   While the war to preserve and strengthen these vital programs certainly isn't over (for example the President's budget, the debt ceiling fight, are still ahead in 2014), it's important to celebrate the battles we have already won. And they are many.  Thanks to our vigilant NCPSSM activists for their hard work in reminding Washington why the vast majority of Americans of all ages and political parties do not support cutting benefits. 

30 Years of Fighting and Winning to Protect Your Benefits

2013

A year of fiscal crises repeatedly threatened benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The National Committee successfully prevented a Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) cut and an increase in the Medicare eligibility age from being written into the fiscal cliff bill. We also defeated efforts to continue the two-year-old Social Security payroll tax holiday that was undermining the Social Security system. 

The National Committee launched a nationwide pilot to inform America’s same sex couples of their new rights to Social Security benefits after the Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act decision in 2012.

Joining with other advocates, we delivered more than 2 million petitions to the White House protesting President Obama’s plan to cut Social Security benefits through the Chained CPI.

2012

NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, met with President Obama and other national leaders at the White House to talk about fiscal challenges facing the nation. He urged the President to preserve Social Security and Medicare benefits in ongoing budget debates.

We stopped a proposal to increase Medicare premiums from becoming part of legislation to extend the Social Security payroll tax holiday.   

2011

The Congressional “Super Committee” hoped to solve the federal debt crisis by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but thanks to our lobbying efforts, a national ad campaign and the work of our grassroots activists, the Super Committee adjourned without reaching consensus on any plan to cut benefits.                                             

The National Committee helped win the battle to save traditional Medicare from the House Budget Committee Chairman’s dangerous proposal to privatize the program.  Privatization benefits insurance companies at your expense, making it harder for seniors to choose their own doctor while cutting prescription drug, preventive care and nursing home benefits.

For the third time in over a decade, we successfully protected Social Security and Medicare funds from being cut by a Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment. Your signed petitions and letters along with our grassroots opposition helped turn the tide against this harmful amendment. 

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare launched the largest grassroots mobilization and media campaign in its long history of defending  programs vital to millions of Americans.  Millions of Americans engaged Congress and we successfully fought back against benefits cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

2010

NCPSSM fought to ensure Medicare was improved and strengthened as part of the Affordable Care Act by lowering beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket costs and closing the Part D prescription drug “donut hole” and making preventive services available to people with Medicare for free.

2009

Seniors received stimulus checks as part of the federal stimulus plan thanks to our successful lobbying efforts.  The initial proposal for the Recovery and Reinvestment Act targeted all workers, but excluded non-employed seniors. Seniors were included in the final bill.  This time seniors were not required to complete any IRS filings and automatically received checks.

2008

We led the battle to stop the harmful “Medicare Trigger” that would have imposed an arbitrary 45 percent cap on the government’s funding of Medicare.  And we achieved victory, although temporary, convincing Congress to postpone this harmful provision of the Medicare Modernization Act.

The National Committee helped persuade Congress to pass the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA), which reduced taxpayer handouts to private Medicare plans, improved benefits for mental health and averted a 10.6 percent cut in fees to physicians who treat Medicare patients, helping to preserve beneficiary access to doctors and other practitioners.

2007

NCPSSM lobbied Congress to strengthen Medicare.  The House ultimately passed legislation strengthening Medicare for future generations and correcting many of the flaws in the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003.

We fought against harmful budget cuts at the Social Security Administration (SSA) and ultimately convinced Congress to increase funding levels and thereby prevent massive furloughs at the SSA.  Those increased funds averted office closures all over the nation in 2007.  After continued intense lobbying, Congress approved funding for Fiscal Year 2008 at $451 million over the previous year’s level, helping speed up disability reviews.

2005 & 2006

The National Committee successfully mobilized to stop the most serious attempt ever to partially privatize Social Security, flooding Capitol Hill with petitions and letters to Congress and the White House reaffirming seniors’ rejection of private Social Security accounts.  Town hall meetings, Capitol Hill briefings, television appearances and our member-supported media campaign also helped erode and reverse lawmakers’ support for privatization legislation.  (Today, we continue to hold the line on privatization for the 23rd consecutive year!)

2005

NCPSSM launched an aggressive campaign to protect Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs) from soaring Medicare out-of-pocket costs.  Under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, annual increases in Medicare deductibles have joined premiums in being indexed to rising health care inflation, and out-of-pocket costs will eventually consume nearly half of the average Social Security benefit check.  Our campaign was successful in bringing Congress’ attention to this critical and growing issue, but we need to fight even harder to push Congress to take corrective action.

2004

Overwhelming grassroots support from National Committee activists helped save Social Security funds from being cut under a Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment.  With appeals from 1.4 million National Committee members and supporters, the Constitutional Amendment was pulled from consideration before a scheduled vote in the House Judiciary Committee!

2003

Millions of NCPSSM volunteers fought to prevent the full privatization of Medicare by helping defeat a dangerous House bill creating a Medicare voucher system. The misguided Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 was passed in its place and we continue the fight to fix that flawed legislation.  To date, millions of our members have signed letters and petitions to Congress urging immediate, “corrective” Medicare bills to make prescription drugs affordable and available to all seniors. 

2000

For seniors who have reached ‘normal retirement age,’ the National Committee was instrumental in earning the unlimited right to work without losing some of their Social Security benefits.  In large part because of our efforts, the Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act was passed and signed into law on April 7, 2000.

NCPSSM proudly coordinated a coalition of senior organizations’ efforts to reauthorize the Older Americans Act (OAA), ensuring continued funding for a variety of state and local programs, including meals programs, in-home support services, pension counseling programs and jobs programs for seniors.  We were successful in getting this program reauthorized again in 2006.


Five Ways Congress can Strengthen Social Security Now without Cutting Benefits

 

Social Security faces a funding shortfall in 2033 which, if not addressed, could result in  across the board benefit cuts of about 23%. While this shortfall does not pose an immediate crisis, there are reasonable changes that Congress should enact to keep Social Security solvent and strengthen it for current and future generations:

 1)           Eliminate the cap on Social Security payroll contributions. In 2014, only wages up to $117,000 will be subject to the Social Security payroll deduction. Lifting the cap will subject all wages to the payroll contribution which will help address the majority of Social Security’s projected funding shortfall.  

2)            Slowly increase the payroll contribution rate by 1/20th of one percent over 20 years. This gradual increase in the rate will significantly strengthen Social Security’s financial condition well into the future.

3)            Treat all salary reduction plans like 401ks. All workers pay Social Security and Medicare taxes  on their contributions to retirement accounts but no payroll taxes are collected from workers flexible spending accounts such as HSAs, transit and dependent care plans. This change will add money to the program.

4)            Increase the basic benefit for all current and future retirees by 5% of the basic benefit (about $55 per month). This modest but meaningful benefit improvement is a long-overdue boost, especially  for low-to-middle income beneficiaries  who rely upon their Social Security benefit  for the majority of their income.  

5)            Provide Social Security credits for caregivers. When computing the Social Security benefit, grant up to five family service years to workers who leave paid employment to provide care to children under the age of 6 or to elderly or disabled family members. This will provide greater parity for women’s benefits which are typically less than men’s due to interruptions to paid employment caused by family caregiving needs.

Social Security, Medicare and Budget Conferees

Tomorrow, the newly appointed budget conferees meet for the first time to hammer out a budget deal conservatives hope will include benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare.  In spite of the fact that budget cuts have already paid for nearly 75% of deficit reduction, with only 25% coming from revenue increases, even that’s not enough as some in Congress continue their attack on America’s safety net programs.

The National Committee urges Congress to reject plans to cut Social Security benefits through adoption of a new COLA formula called the Chained CPI.  We explain why in a letter sent to all 28 Budget Resolution Conferees today:

The chained CPI would reduce Social Security benefits for the oldest and most vulnerable Americans who would be least able to afford it.  Three years after enactment, the chained CPI would cut the Social Security benefits of a typical 65 year-old by about $130.  By age 95, the same senior would face a reduction of almost $1,400 per year.  Moreover, the chained CPI would have a harmful economic impact on every state and congressional district in the country.  In a National Committee report released earlier this month, we found that the COLA cut could result in a $31 billion loss in economic output and the loss of more than 200,000 jobs nationwide in 2023.  For an estimate of how your state’s economy would be affected by the chained CPI, please see our Foundation Report.

Social Security does not face an immediate crisis and is not driving either the short-term deficit or long-term debt. Rather than cutting the already meager benefits, Social Security should be strengthened for the long-term by increasing the current payroll tax cap on earnings.

We’ve also urged the conferees to reject proposals to cut Medicare:

Regarding Medicare, beneficiaries already have high out-of-pocket costs, and because over half of beneficiaries are living on incomes of $22,500 or less, they cannot afford to pay more.  However, if the budget resolution includes Medicare cost shifting proposals, seniors and people with disabilities could be required to pay a $25 increase in their Part B deductible, a $100 copayment per home health episode, and higher Part B premiums for purchasing comprehensive Medigap plans.  And, further means-testing of Medicare would mean middle class seniors would pay higher Part B and D premiums.  These proposals would shift costs to beneficiaries without solving the underlying problem of overall health care inflation, and would make Medicare more complicated and difficult to administer.

Conservatives have said they hope to use these benefit cutting proposals, also included in the President’s budget, as bargaining chips in the budget conference which begins tomorrow.  The National Committee will continue our efforts to stop these harmful cuts including a demonstration next month at the White House reminding the President and Congress that the American people, of all ages and political parties, do not support cutting benefits to balance the budget.

 

 

 

 

House GOP Says --Killing Obamacare Didn’t Work So Let’s Cut Medicare Instead

Congressman Paul “Never Pass Up a Chance to Cut Benefits” Ryan’s latest deficit scheme adds a new set of hostages to the ongoing debt ceiling/government shutdown crises created by House Republicans.  Since the GOP wasn’t successful in withholding health insurance to millions of Americans already benefiting from Obamacare their new fallback position is to cut benefits for middle-class seniors in Medicare. 

Seems their promise that the GOP “has to get something” but they “don’t even know what it is” is still their game plan.  In the meantime our government remains shut down and the threat of default looms. 

While Ryan continues to pretend that his plan to further means-test Medicare only impacts the wealthy the truth (as usual) is quite different.  Further means-testing Medicare would hit 25% of beneficiaries...not just the wealthy.   In fact, a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that this would affect individuals with incomes equivalent to $47,000 – meaning it would reach many middle-income Americans. 

According to Ryan’s logic: when it comes to seniors who depend on Social Security and Medicare: $47,000 means you’re wealthy.  But, remember the tax debate?  Ryan and his conservative pals argued then that earning $250,000 didn’t even qualify as being wealthy.  However, now middle-class seniors in Medicare are being threatened by GOP hostage takers with benefit cuts. 

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