From the monthly archives: March, 2011
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Every once in awhile…and honestly, it doesn’t happen that often here in Washington…a politician says exactly what he thinks. He/she steps away from the party talking points and poll-tested language which purposefully confuses more than clarifies. We had one of those moments this week, when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made it clear that the America he dreams of would abolish Social Security and Medicare. Here’s what he told the right wing Hoover Institution, as reported by NPR
“So we've got to protect today's seniors. But for the rest of us? For - you know, listen. We're going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be.” Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)
It’s not really news that GOP leaders are really less interested in “reforming” Social Security and Medicare than eliminating them; however, politically, it’s certainly unusual for it to be verbalized out loud. The preferred terms of art for those who share Majority Leader Cantor’s views are “reform”, “modernize” and “protect for future generations”. Their cynical political strategy
created and articulated as far back as the last major Social Security reforms in the early 80’s, was to ensure current day beneficiaries that they would be protected (the theory being seniors only care about themselves) and deliver the death blows to these programs to future generations who won’t really know what they’re missing –until it’s too late.
But the battle against President Bush’s privatization plan should have shown them that eliminating Social Security might create the kind of America Rep. Cantor dreams of but it’s certainly not the kind of nation working Americans want to bequeath to their children and grandchildren. Every industrial nation in the world provides some form of retirement security for their citizens. Suggesting that America can’t succeed if Social Security exists, ignores
76 years of history which proves just the opposite. America succeeds because Social Security exists. We do not want to turn back the clock to an America requiring poorhouses for our elderly with 50% of the nation’s seniors living in poverty. To an America where children who lose a parent breadwinner have no source of economic support and our nation’s disabled are forced to live institutionalized rather than independently.
Our Congressional leaders shouldn’t want that kind of America either.
Thankfully some in Congress don’t…Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) released this reaction
tonight to Leader Cantor’s plans for Social Security. It's clear that these are the members who are now on the front lines of the battle to define just what kind of America working Americans truly want. It's up to us to ensure they don't forget it.
Is it possible Amer
ica’s sleeping giant has finally been awakened? By the looks of today’s Social Security rally on Capitol Hill…the answer is absolutely! Hundreds of seniors, the disabled, survivors and their families crammed into a Senate hearing room to warn Congress – hands off Social Security. It’s a message that, until now, has been largely ignored
here in Washington. The lively crowd was bolstered by members of the Senate Social Security Defenders Caucus
, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senators Harkin, Sanders, Franken and Blumenthal. It’s clear these Senators will be on the front lines against the well-financed
and media complicit campaign to cut Social Security under the guise of “fiscal responsibility”. Here’s a sample of their comments to today’s rally crowd:
“We have a serious deficit problem – we do. But anyone who says Social Security has contributed to the debt is not telling you the truth. Social Security isn’t funded by the US Treasury, it’s funded by the payroll taxes you contributed. If you want to talk about the debt let’s talk about wars and tax cuts for the rich. “ Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
“Wall Street grabbed up our money – they won, we lost. American families lost $17 trillion – that’s with a “t”-- in income during this recession but they didn’t lose a penny of their Social Security because we defeated that ridiculous plan to privatize it.” Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)
“Social Security provides a safety net for Minnesota families torn apart by unspeakable tragedy and allows America’s retirees to age with dignity. Social Security has nothing to do with reducing the deficit. Social Security benefits should not be cut at all, for anyone, as part of efforts to reduce the deficit.” Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)
“The issue isn’t about numbers or even dollars and cents. It’s about promises – keeping promises. Social Security is a great program. It is an American promise and America is a great nation because we keep our promises. It’s simple--Don’t mess with success because if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. “ Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
For more than a year, Americans have been bombarded with a Washington-based, Wall Street-funded campaign to link our economic mess to Social Security, even though they’re not connected in any way. And while polls
consistently show the American people know
Social Security did not cause our deficit crisis, inside Washington it’s another story. Today, some outside-the-Beltway reality was delivered by Americans who’ll have to live with the so-called “shared sacrifice”
Washington’s fiscal hawks want to dish out.
“When I hear talk about cutting Social Security along with words like “fiscal responsibility” I get pretty upset. I’ve been fiscally responsible my whole life and part of that meant paying all those Social Security taxes out of my paychecks. My children who are all in their fifties are fiscally responsible too so why should they or any workers who pay into Social Security not get their full benefits? It’s not responsible to ask hard working Americans to sacrifice a benefit they’ve already paid for and depend on.” Pat Cotten, 70 year-old nurses aide & National Committee member
“This is not some abstract debate about can we shave a dollar here or a dollar there – there are literally lives at stake.” Annie Wadsworth Grove – Small business owner, Utica, NY
“Social Security is vital to Elise’ ability to contribute to society. We are so proud of Elise but we need the Congress to know there are real people out there who will suffer if Washington ignores the impact of what they ultimately do.” Joyce Lipman – Mother of disabled adult, 40 year old Elise
“Social security is our money. We paid into the system. The program doesn’t borrow money – it didn’t cause our deficit. I want the benefit I paid into and earned. This is our money and Social Security works so let’s keep it working.” Terry Moakley, Disabled Retired Veteran, New York
“Only in Washington DC do politicians sitting behind desks and attending meetings think raising the retirement age is a good idea – come do my job.” Rajini Raj – Silver Spring Registered Nurse
Senator Reid and Sanders have introduced the Social Security Protection
amendment that states,
“Social Security benefits for current and future beneficiaries should not be cut and that Social Security should not be privatized as part of any legislation to reduce the Federal deficit.”
The amendment may be offered this week during the debate on the Small Business Reauthorization Act, which is why we need you to act quickly! Tomorrow is a National Call-in Day sponsored by 300 of the nation’s leading organizations, all working together to preserve and strengthen Social Security. Please, even if you’ve never called your Senator before, take a moment tomorrow and let them know that Social Security is a promise to the American people that Congress must not break. Tell your senators to pass the Sanders/Reid Social Security Amendment.
You can use our Toll-Free Legislative Hotline to access your Senators with one simple call.
Barbara B. KennellyNCPSSM President/CEO
When the Affordable Care Act became law last March, critics predicted doom for the seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare. They said that coverage would disappear, benefits would be cut, and death panels were on their way – none of which was true. But these lies scared many seniors about the law before it was explained to them.
Now, one year later, as the implementation of the law moves forward, Medicare is still sound – it’s stronger than it was before the law was passed – and millions of people with Medicare are benefitting from the law.
Medicare has gotten serious about cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse. Last year, the Obama administration announced it had recovered $4 billion in Medicare fraud. And the Affordable Care Act provides tools to crack down even further.
The Affordable Care Act specifically says that Medicare’s guaranteed benefits – hospital care, doctors’ services, home health services, drug coverage, and more – are protected. Benefits are as good as ever – better, in fact. Prescription drugs are more affordable. This year the nearly 4 million beneficiaries who fall into the prescription drug “doughnut hole” will receive discounts on their drugs. These discounts will increase over the next few years until the doughnut hole is closed.
The Affordable Care Act encourages beneficiaries to get the care they need before they get sick. Now, the more than 44 million people with Medicare can get an annual wellness visit or needed screenings for diabetes or cancers without having to pay a co-pay. Early detection and treatment not only saves money but it saves lives.
The new law ends Medicare overpayments to insurance companies and rewards those that provide high quality care. But as these changes are phasing in starting this year, beneficiaries still have a wide range of plans to choose from.
States have new options to let seniors and people with disabilities stay in their homes rather than having to move to a nursing home when they need help. And in the coming years, thanks to the new law, Medicare will lead the way to better coordinated patient care that should improve the quality of care while reducing costs.
But there is a threat out there. The new leadership of the House of Representatives has dedicated itself to repealing the Affordable Care Act. This would undo all of these improvements. Fraud-fighting tools, coverage in the doughnut hole, free preventive care, better coordinated care, and the chance to stay in your own home would all be gone.
Even worse is their alternative. Some proposals call for increasing out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries – something the Affordable Care Act does not do. Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has a more detailed plan he calls a “roadmap.” He calls for jaw-dropping cuts to the program, including raising the eligibility age to 69, slashing Medicare over time by 76 percent, and replacing the program with a cash voucher that would shift most of the cost of health care to individuals. This plan would be devastating both to current beneficiaries and to today’s working families who are counting on the Medicare program they pay into to protect them from unaffordable health care costs when they retire.
Representative Ryan leads the House committee responsible for producing a budget. But his roadmap leads us backwards to a period when our most vulnerable were forced to choose between health care costs and other necessities like food and shelter. We reject this vision, and we hope Congress does too. A year ago, we passed the Affordable Care Act to strengthen and improve Medicare for current and future generations. Let’s keep moving forward on that path.
Every few months there’s a new mainstream media poll showing the American people believe Social Security is in “crisis”. The latest comes today from ABC/Washington Post
. However, what’s different about this poll is that, even though most commentary today follows the tried and true “Social Security is in crisis” meme, this poll actually asks about the future
– not the present. That is a small difference with a big impact. Here’s the poll’s actual question:
Now, thinking about the Social Security system that mainly provides retirement income for senior citizens: If changes are not made, do you think the Social Security system is heading for a crisis down the road, or not?
3/13/11* 81 15
3/13/05 71 23
So, while the use of the word crisis is ridiculous, given that what we’re actually talking about is a shortfall in the year 2037, the heart of this question shows that people understand we need to address Social Security “down the road.” In fact, only 1% of those polled believed Social Security is in crisis now. That’s not a great return on investment for those who’ve spent decades
trying to persuade Americans that Social Security won’t even exist in (you fill in the blank) number of years, and the$1billion dollar nationwide crisis campaign launched by Wall Streeter, Pete Peterson.
But of course, it’s 81%...Social Security…Crisis
which fill the headlines today while the real news is buried or completely ignored. This poll shows (once again) that Americans continue to support raising
or eliminating the payroll tax cap above any other
of the reforms touted by fiscal hawks who prefer benefit cuts above all else. However, rather than highlight this Washington disconnect, the Washington Post
celebrates the fact that the numbers of people willing to accept benefit cuts (which is still less than a majority and less than
those who oppose benefit cuts) has grown.
Why wouldn’t Americans, who’ve been served a steady diet of fear mongering
and chicken-little crisis calls
about Social Security for their entire lifetime, and who are now being told by fiscal hawks in Washington “cut it or lose it”
, choose to cut it rather than lose it? The American people understand the vital role Social Security plays in their families’ lives; they would do anything to preserve the program. So we say -- don’t be fooled by a false choice provided by people whose true goal isn’t to provide long-term solvency for Social Security but rather cutting benefits to avoid having to pay what’s owed to American workers.
As Mark Miller at Reuters
correctly points out:
Republicans repeat the big lies about Social Security so often that people start to believe them; then, politicians point to the predictable poll results to justify the policies they want to pursue.
What polls like this one actually prove is that propaganda works. Don't forget, there was also a time when most Americans believed there were WMD’s in Iraq and look how that turned out.
So while millions of dollars are now being spent to fuel this Social Security spin cycle in Washington – it’s really up to all of us to ensure America’s middle class doesn’t get hung out to dry.
Failure to pass either the GOP or Democratic Budget proposals in the Senate yesterday leaves agencies like the Social Security Administration in a bit of fiscal limbo. Oddly, that limbo is still better than the alternative supported by the majority of GOP Senators yesterday which would cut $1.7 billion from the already underfunded agency.
According to Social Security Administration head (and Bush appointee), Michael Astrue, the GOP budget would have a devastating long-term impact on the agency and beneficiaries would immediately feel the effects of a government shutdown, if we face one again on the 18th
House Ways and Means
Democratic staff provided this analysis of the House GOP Budget provision:
- As many as 400,000 people nationwide would not have their retirement, survivors, and Medicare applications processed this year, resulting in a large backlog of unprocessed retirement and survivor claims for the first time in SSA history;
- As many as 290,000 people nationwide would not have their initial disability benefit applications processed, which means disabled workers, who already wait months for their applications to be processed, will wait an average of 30 days longer.
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