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From the monthly archives: April 2010

We are pleased to present below all posts archived in 'April 2010'. If you still can't find what you are looking for, try using the search box.

If We Truly Care About America’s Future We’ll Cut Social Security...Right?

This is one of the deficit hawk’s favorite frames as they continue to rachet up their campaign to balance our federal books with cuts in Social Security.  Their logic, expressed repeatedly at yesterday’s Presidential Fiscal Commission and again today at Pete Peterson’s fiscal extravaganza in Washington, goes something like this: 
  • We (meaning you—definitely not Wall Street) must sacrifice
  • Only courageous politicians will tell you the truth (their truth being we must cut Social Security). Conversely,
  • If you don’t support this truth (cutting Social Security) you’re either not being honest, courageous, or willing to sacrifice for the good of our country. 
Dan Froomkin has this summary of today’s Peterson event:
Simpson and Bowles, along with a slew of the other members of their commission, spoke at today's "Deficit Fest", a swanky, nearly day-long symposium on "fiscal responsibility" sponsored by billionaire investment banker and deficit hawk Peter G. Peterson's eponymous foundation. The symposium's core conviction is that "everybody" (as moderator Leslie Stahl put it) recognizes what needs to be done to cut the long-term deficit. But the only concrete areas of agreement seem to be that cuts in Social Security and Medicare must be a part of deficit reduction, while cuts in military spending are (as moderator Gwen Ifil put it) "never an option." It's a fundamentally banker-friendly agenda that glosses over the current unemployment crisis and puts the burden of balancing the budget most obviously on the poor, the sick and the elderly.
CEPR Co-Director, Dean Baker, busts several other deficit myths we’ve heard over and over again today:  Deficits mean our children and grandchildren will face at a lower standard of living, Social Security is to blame for our deficits, and our debt to China is a threat:
 1)      Under any plausible set of projections, our children and grandchildren will enjoy far higher standards of living than we do today. On average, real hourly compensation is projected to rise by at least 1.2 percent a year. This means that workers in the year 2040 will enjoy compensation levels that on average are more than 40 percent higher than what workers receive today.  2)      The reason that the country is projected to face enormous deficits in the future is our broken health care system. We pay more than twice as much per person for our health care as people in Canada, Germany and other wealthy countries.  3)      The debt to China has nothing to do with the budget deficit and does not present the disastrous risks claimed by the deficit hawks. The United States borrows money from China because of the trade deficit. The budget deficit is beside the point. 
Watching the proceedings today, it’s clear the Peterson/Presidential Commission connection can’t be overstated.  Both Commission co-chairs and Commission members participated in today’s well-financed event and as, James Ridgeway reports , Peterson will also fund the Presidential Commission’s Town hall meetings: 
In June, according to the Washington Post,  Obama’s deficit commission will be participating in a 20-city electronic town hall meeting, put together by an organization called America Speaks. It is financed by Peterson, along with the MacArthur Foundation and Kellogg Foundation. This is a truly unusual event because it marks the first time a presidential commission’s activities are financed by a private group that has long been lobbying the government on the very subjects the commission is supposed to “study.” 
In additon, Fiscal Commission’s Director, Bruce Reed, reported yesterday that one of the three staffers at the Commission is “on loan” from the Committee for a Responsible Budget, which is-- you guessed it-- yet another organization funded by Peter Peterson.  On a brighter note today, one of the Commission’s strongest voices of reason, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) had the courage to rebut the Social Security fear-mongering in her appearance on CSPAN this morning:

Fiscal Commission Begins its Work

The President’s Fiscal Commission held its first meeting in Washington today.  No real surprises here, with the standard promises of non-partisanship, while at the same time both sides expressed very different views of how to meet the President’s call to reduce the deficit. One thing is clear; the future of Social Security is at the heart of those differences.  We’ve written here before about the seemingly singularly goal of many on this commission to cut Social Security  as the way to balance our federal books.  The media too has jumped on this bandwagon with little coverage of how Social Security is actually funded and the seldom-mentioned truth that the program’s funds have been provided by American workers, not the federal government.  Social Security hasn’t contributed a penny to our fiscal woes. That is our message to reporters writing on the Fiscal Commission meeting today.  Did they get that message?  Maybe.  Here is just some of their coverage this morning. 
  • Obama panel weighs politically toxic deficit fixes-ASSOCIATED PRESS 
  • Panel to seek solutions to budget woes-REUTERS  
  • Liberals battle for benefits-THE HILL 
  • Commission On Debt Will Focus On Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security-         KAISER DAILY HEALTH 
  • Kennelly Warns Against Social Security Cuts-CONGRESS DAILY
  • Advocates for Seniors Want Social Security Off Deficit Commission’s Agenda-CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY
Tomorrow, billionaire Pete Peterson’s foundation shows us just what that kind of money buys when they host their own fiscal summit which you can be sure will continue their campaign to cut Social Security to pay for fiscal failures of the past.  But we recommend you spend your time here instead--the Campaign for America’s virtual summit.   The Fiscal Commission will meet again May 26th.

Sorting Fiscal Fact from Fiction

Here are Just a Few Things Americans Need to Know about Debt, Deficits, and Social Security The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform holds its inaugural session tomorrow and it’s clear that cutting Social Security is a top priority for many commission members.  Barbara Kennelly, President/COE of The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare was joined by economist and Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director, Dean Baker, and Social Security advocate, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, President/CEO of Global Policy Solutions, to brief the media today on why targeting Social Security is not the answer to our fiscal woes. 
“Simply put: Social Security has not contributed one thin dime to the current deficit.  It should not be used as a “piggy bank” to pay our way out of the fiscal hole we find ourselves in.  Social Security has its own dedicated source of revenue and it is fully financed for decades to come. In fact, Social Security is the only major government program that has been running sustained surpluses over the years, and this has helped mask the true size of the real deficit.”  Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO, NCPSSM
 No one disputes that Social Security is fundamentally sound for many years into the future nor that the bulk of our long-term deficit problem is attributable to a broken health care system. It is not acceptable to take benefits from people who have worked and paid for-- and need -- their Social Security benefits, because our representatives in Congress are afraid to confront the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry and other powerful interests who drive up the cost of health care."  Dean Baker, Co-Director, CEPR
 The economic recession has hit America’s seniors and baby-boomers especially hard as home prices have plummeted, savings evaporated and financial security is still a serious concern for many.  "The Commission's interest in reducing Social Security as a way to meet the nation's fiscal challenge is ill-advised given the job insecurity, food insecurity, housing insecurity and economic insecurity facing many American families. The destruction of wealth caused by the financial crisis means that many more Americans will rely heavily on Social Security's retirement, disability, and survivor benefits well into the future. The Commission needs to be discussing how to make Social Security's benefits stronger not weaker."  Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, President/CEO, Global Policy Solutions The National Committee has released the first in a series of videos focusing on Social Security and efforts to cut benefits in the name of fiscal responsibility.  Part One entitled, “Social Security: Yours, Mine and Ours” can be found on our YouTube channel.

Americans Need Social Security

When you think of the people in your life who receive Social Security, do these descriptions fit?  Are they..? 
“70- and 80-year-old people living in gated communities, driving their Lexus to the Perkins Restaurant to get the AARP discount. I mean, it's unbelievable. "  Fiscal Commission co-chair, former Senator Alan Simpson, NPR, April 2010  
Do they live in..?  
protracted golden years of idleness... Deranged by the entitlement mentality fostered by a metastasizing welfare state...(who) now have such low pain thresholds that suffering is defined as a slight delay in beginning a subsidized retirement often lasting one-third of the retiree's adult lifetime.” George Will, Washington Post, April 2008  
Do your parents and grandparents use Social Security to...?
 “... subsidize a cushy retirement, so seniors could jet set all across the globe on vacations...and too many people rely and count on Social Security funding their weekly shuffleboard tournaments.”  Glenn Beck, Fox News, April 2010  
We thought not.   But this is exactly how America’s retirees, who’ve invested throughout their entire working lives to fund Social Security’s modest retirement income, are being portrayed by opinion makers in Washington who hope the President’s Fiscal Commission will balance our books through cuts in Social Security.   Now is the time to Tune Out the Noise, generated by a well-financed anti-Social Security cabal.   If this fiscal commission has any hope of truly dealing with our nation’s fiscal woes, it’s important we start with some key factsNo one’s getting rich on Social Security.  Social Security benefits are modest. The average benefit for today’s retiree is only about $14,000 per year — or about $1,300 per month. Social Security is the cornerstone of retirement. From the program's beginning, it was intended to be a base of protection, supplemented by private pensions and savings, not an individual's sole source of retirement income. Today, nine out of ten people over age 65 receive Social Security benefits. Two out of every three Social Security beneficiaries receive over half of their income from Social Security, and it's the only source of income for nearly one-in-five seniors. Without Social Security, most older Americans would live in poverty. Social Security is more than just a retirement plan. Social Security means life insurance for workers and their families: One in seven Americans will die before reaching age 67. Many workers do not have life insurance to protect their families from the loss of the earnings of their primary breadwinner. What workers may not realize is that their payroll taxes entitle their families to survivor's benefits, providing life insurance protection worth over $433,000. Social Security means disability insurance for workers and their families: Three out of ten of today's 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67. Yet 75% of the private sector workforce has no long-term disability insurance. Individuals with a prior history of medical problems or who work in industries with a high rate of injury frequently find it prohibitively expensive or impossible to obtain coverage. Many workers don't realize their payroll taxes are also buying them this critical protection. Social Security’s foes have promised they’ll leave current retirees alone  in their quest for cuts; however, what they didn’t understand during President Bush’s campaign to privatize Social Security,  and still clearly don’t understand now, is that seniors want the same protections for their children and grandchildren when they retire. Seniors know that near-retirees  took an especially hard hit with the collapse of the housing bubble and the stock market plunge.  Cutting Social Security and Medicare at a time when these Americans are facing skyrocketing health care costs, no COLA, shrinking home values, decimated savings and a shaky economy will leave potentially millions of working Americans facing reduced incomes and even near-poverty level incomes in their retirement.  Is this really the future our nation envisions for future generations of Americans?  When someone tries to tell you we can’t afford Social Security, our response should be...we can’t afford a future without it.

The Campaign Against Social Security

So far this week, we’ve talked about the upcoming Presidential Fiscal Commission meeting, debt, deficits, and Social Security.  At this point, it’s fair to ask, why would Social Security become the primary target for this commission? While Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says, “That’s where the money is” we also looked to history for the answer. 
The promise of secure benefits is a “hoax”, the taxes paid into the trust fund are “wasted” by the government rather than prudently invested and “the so-called reserve fund…is no reserve at all”. 
Sound familiar?  That’s because it is.  You’ve heard the same core argument made most recently by  President George Bush, now multi-billionaire and fiscal hawk Peter Peterson, David Walker, and countless other conservatives on Fox News and Capitol Hill.  However, this particular statement was made by Republican presidential hopeful, Alf Landon, in 1936 before the first Social Security check had even been delivered. Regardless of the decade or the specific approach, the underlying message continues to be the same.  “Social Security won’t be there for you”…“Social Security is flawed” and the newest deficit-hawk incarnation…“we can’t afford Social Security”.  This, in spite of the overwhelming facts to the contrary.  Creation of a fiscal commission has been a top priority for those leading the anti-Social Security clarion call, namely David Walker and the Peterson Foundation.  Wealthy financier and former Nixon Commerce Secretary, Pete Peterson has invested $1 billion dollars of his personal fortune to convince the nation that Social Security and Medicare are to blame for our current fiscal woes. This time the same-tried and true “Social Security won’t be there for you” message is wrapped in a cloak of fiscal responsibility.  Peterson is no stranger to the battle against America’s retirement safety net.  He’s called the current cost of living increases in Social Security, which provide adjustments of roughly 3% a year, “one of the greatest fiscal tragedies of American history” because he considers them excessive.  At the same time, Peterson steadfastly defends a controversial private equity tax break that benefits America’s wealthiest investors. So much for fiscal responsibility.   So what do these “fiscal hawks” really want for Social Security?  Robert S. McIntyre, Director of the Citizens for Tax Justice offered this analysis:  
“Along with tax cuts for the rich, he explicitly endorses tax increases for the poor and the middle class as well as sharp reductions in what average families receive from the government. But because Peterson cloaks his goals in the rhetoric of progressivity, the press has fawned over him. The misleading notions that entitlements are running up the deficit, stealing from future generations, and maintaining the elderly in affluence while young people suffer, have become received wisdom for many.”
Peterson's also a long time advocate of turning Social Security over to Wall Street, and he said this before the last major Social Security reforms were enacted:
“...even if Social Security were able to survive indefinitely, the time would be ripe to re-examine its premises...If we were starting fresh today, a different system would deserve serious consideration—one in which each generation of workers, individually and through public taxes and funds, saved amounts that were adequate to support its own needs during retirement.” “Social Security, one of the principal legacies of the New Deal, must be rescued and transformed during the next few years. Otherwise it will visit upon our children the same conditions of economic chaos that attended the system's birth.” 
So when someone tells you “we can’t afford Social Security” remember the countless Washington think-tankers, Social Security foes and their allies in Congress who have spent their careers and millions (eventually billions) of dollars selling us that exact message. Ultimately, American workers and their families must sort the facts from the fiction and in the end we must not Buy the Lie we’re being sold on Social Security.
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