So much for the “greedy geezer” myth. And the “intergenerational warfare” myth. And the “Americans want their benefits but won’t pay for it” myth. Not surprisingly, when someone actually asked average Americans about their priorities for this nation and their willingness to pay for them, we find that the billion dollar corporate and Wall Street campaign to cut Social Security and Medicare actually doesn’t know a thing about what middle-class Americans are willing to pay for and what they’re not.
The National Academy of Social Insurance talked to 2,000 Americans of all ages and political parties about their views on Social Security. The fact that huge majorities oppose benefit cuts mirrors other polls, like ours, taken throughout the past several years of deficit hysteria. However, what’s especially important in NASI’s findings is the fact that respondents were also asked to consider a number of reforms.
Mark Miller with Reuters provides a breakdown of those findings:
The NASI survey presented a menu of options. Here is the package of reforms supported by 71 percent of survey respondents:
- Gradually eliminate the cap on earnings that are taxed for Social Security over a 10-year period. That change would affect the 5 percent of all workers who earn more than this year's cap ($113,700).
- Gradually raise the payroll tax rate on both employers and workers over a 20-year period to 7.2 percent from 6.2 percent.
- Bolster a special minimum benefit intended to keep very low-income workers above the federally defined poverty line.
- Set Social Security's annual inflation increase, using a measure of consumer prices that accurately reflects the higher prices older people pay for healthcare - effectively, the opposite of a chained CPI.
- Keep Social Security's full retirement age at 67 (already the age for beneficiaries born in 1960 or later), and do not means test the program.
For so long, the conventional wisdom has been that we can't pay for the government we want," says Virginia Reno, vice president for income security policy at NASI. "We can keep running deficits forever, but we can't tax ourselves for any reason, no matter what.” This survey shows that there's no discontinuity between what people want and what they are willing to pay for."
These results also show support across all age groups and political parties. 88 percent of "Silent Generation" respondents, 86 percent of Baby Boomers (those greedy geezers Alan Simpson loves to chastise), 87 percent of Gen X-ers, and 85 percent of Gen Y-ers are willing to pay more in taxes to protect Social Security. Three out of four Republicans said they'd be willing to pay more to protect the program with 62 percent of the GOP willing to increase the program’s benefits. 86 percent of independents - and 91 percent of Democrats are willing to pay more to strengthen Social Security with 71 percent of independents and 84 percent of Democrats also interested in increasing benefits. While true bi-partisanship may be dead in Washington, step outside the Beltway and the bi-partisan support for preserving Social Security couldn’t be stronger.
Unfortunately, this deficit debate has been dominated by the most well-financed anti-entitlement campaign this nation has ever seen. The anti-Social Security sales pitch, repeated widely and without question by the compliant media, comes from a wide web of groups all funded by multi-billionaire Wall Streeter, Pete Peterson. They’ve claimed average Americans must make “shared sacrifices” by accepting benefit cuts in their already modest retirement benefits. The Wall Street mantra claims our nation simply can’t afford the average $14,000 Social Security benefit – contributed by Americans throughout their working lifetimes. Yet they also claim their $1 trillion in wasteful corporate tax breaks and loopholes must be preserved. Richard Eskow describes what their version of “shared sacrifice” really means”:
Guess who isn't willing to step up and pitch in? The millionaires, billionaires, and corporations behind the deficit hysteria. Their pampered pitchpeople are hiding, too. After all, the NASI survey's been out for a week and we haven't heard a peep from any of them. Not one of them has congratulated the American people for making those "hard choices." Not one of them has signed on to promote the NASI survey's common-sense, fiscally responsible agenda for Social Security. Not even straight-shootin' Alan Simpson.
You can run but you can't hide
"If you have some better suggestions about how to stabilize Social Security instead of just babbling into the vapors," Simpson wrote in his "310 million tits" email, "let me know." Now the public has let him know. Where's Alan? "If there's no pain," says the Concord Coalition, "there's no gain." Now we know that they're talking about your pain and their gain. Where's Alan?
And the public's still being lectured. One lecture came from Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein who, thanks to the Wall Street bailout, benefited rom the largest free lunch in history. Pack it in, guys. In fact, you should be celebrating: The public's made those hard choices you've been talking about. If you're not hypocrites you'll fight for their Social Security agenda, not yours.
As we’ve said before, getting our fiscal house back in order is All About Priorities. Clearly Main Street and Wall Street have very different goals for our nation. The question is -- who is Washington listening to?
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