There is always plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking after each year’s State of the Union. However, reading the commentary on last night’s speech was especially interesting since President Obama has clearly decided to take the gloves off in pursuing a popular middle-class economic agenda the American people support but the GOP-controlled Congress has no intention of passing:
“Republicans said that they were caught off guard by a major component of the president’s 2015 agenda, which he announced over the weekend and detailed further in his speech, to raise taxes and fees on the wealthiest taxpayers and the largest financial firms to pay for, among other things, tax breaks for the middle class and free community college. While these programs may prove popular with many Americans, Republicans said that they hoped the American public would see them as a ploy from a president who knows Congress will never pass them.” The New York Times
What the Republican leadership has supported is more tax cuts for huge corporations and the wealthy plus cuts to Social Security and Medicare. While the President didn’t emphasize Social Security and Medicare in last night’s State of the Union, he did highlight their importance to American families’ economic and health security. Truth is, you simply can’t improve the financial outlook for average Americans without protecting these programs. But of course, these days “protect” has very different meanings depending on whom you talk to in Washington.
Remember all those Congressional campaign promises about “protecting” Social Security? For the newly sworn-in GOP House what that actually meant was voting just hours after taking their oaths of office to put Social Security benefits cuts at the top of the Congressional agenda. You’ve got to give the House leadership credit for stealth. No one, outside a small circle of Republican Rules Committee members and GOP leadership, even knew this Social Security attack was coming. Slipped inside what’s usually a routine administrative start to each Congressional session was an unprecedented change to House rules that would allow a 20% benefit cut for millions of disabled Americans unless there are broader Social Security benefit cuts or tax increases. Of course, House Republicans have no intention of passing tax increases so guess what’s left? Benefit cuts to millions of Americans who receive Social Security.
This House vote illustrates the increasingly Orwellian nature of our political discourse, where words have little meaning because "save” means "slash" and "protect" means "privatize.” What’s even more noxious about this particular assault on Social Security is the ongoing effort to pit beneficiaries – retirees, the disabled, survivors and their families – against each other. Proponents of this stealth rule change in the House claim seniors will somehow suffer if the disabled are allowed access to the benefits they too have contributed to throughout their working years. That’s a particularly absurd notion since the majority of disability recipients are also older Americans. However, the divide and conquer politics of fear all-too-often work. This latest Social Security attack is built on a foundation of lies intended to demonize America’s disabled community.
No doubt, you’ve already heard the messaging, most recently espoused in an especially candid way by Senator and Presidential hopeful Rand Paul that: Social Security disability fraud is rampant because it’s so easy to receive benefits and people would rather collect a hefty check from the government than work. It’s the 2015 incarnation of “our nation is full of ‘welfare queens’ and ‘greedy geezers.’” It also suffers from the same basic problem...it’s simply not true.
So let’s break down a few of these Disability Myths.
MYTH: “Disability has become a form of permanent welfare for a lot of folks. It's not that hard to prove a mental illness, or mental issues, or pain issues.”
Not that hard? So, why are the vast majority of claims denied?
FACT: “Nearly 80 percent of applicants are denied at the initial level, and fewer than 4 in 10 are approved after all levels of appeal. Underscoring the strictness of the disability standard, thousands of applicants die each year while waiting for benefits. And one in five male and nearly one in six female beneficiaries die within five years of being approved for benefits. Disability Insurance beneficiaries have death rates three to six times higher than other people their age.” Center for American Progress
It’s seems pretty ridiculous to claim the system’s being widely-abused when so many die just years after receiving benefits or while they’re still waiting for an answer.
MYTH: Growth in Social Security disability claims is “astonishing”, an “epidemic” and “startling.”
Actually, it’s called demographics. Ever heard of the baby boomers? Former SSA Commissioners from both Republican and Democratic administrations have taken issue with this fact-free, hysteria-laden portrayal of the disability program’s growth.
FACT: “It is true that DI has grown significantly in the past 30 years. The growth that we’ve seen was predicted by actuaries as early as 1994 and is mostly the result of two factors: baby boomers entering their high-disability years, and women entering the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s and 1980s so that more are now "insured" for DI based on their own prior contributions.” Open Letter from former SSA Commissioners
“As Baby Boomers retire, the program’s growth has already leveled off and is projected to decline further in the coming years.” Center for American Progress
MYTH: The entire system is “broken,” rife with “fraud” and “rubber-stamping judges” bankrupting the entire Social Security program.
FACT: The Government Accountability Office found that improper payments of Social Security benefits that include Disability Insurance had an error rate of just 0.6 percent. Government Accountability Office
Social Security touches the lives of virtually every American family and has unparalleled support
across all ages, political parties and demographics. The GOP led House clearly hopes to drive a wedge through that coalition, pitting seniors against people with disabilities, young versus old and workers versus retirees. So much for a new Congress that “works together.”
President Obama’s economics agenda for the middle-class is not only popular but desperately needed for millions of Americans left behind in this recovery...including Social Security beneficiaries of all ages. Of course, the GOP Congress won’t pass it but there’s always 2016.