John Nichols at The Nation has this week’s must-read story on Rep. Paul Ryan’s never-ending quest to cut Social Security benefits. Nichols has read Ryan’s new book (so we don’t have to) and provides this analysis:
The well-regarded second-term congressman met with Vice President Dick Cheney, who was at the peak of his co-presidency powers. Like Cheney in his younger years, Ryan was a former congressional aide who had worked the conservative think-tank circuit before getting himself elected to the House. The Washington insiders should have gotten on famously.
But the vice president was not buying what the man, who is now described as “the intellectual leader of the Republican Party,” was selling.
Ryan recalls the meeting this way:
“The surplus has given us a huge opportunity,” I explained. “If we dedicate the Social Security surplus to reform, we can shore up the program and end the raid on the trust fund.” I talked about the opportunity to create a real ownership society, how workers could actually own a piece of the free enterprise system through these reforms. As soon as I finished my pitch, Vice President Cheney said, “Yeah, we’re not going to do that.” Then he looked at the person sitting next to me, signaling that he was ready to hear the next idea. His terse reply was the verbal equivalent of someone swatting an annoying mosquito from his face.
Of course later the Bush administration did in fact try to privatize Social Security with a famously failed national town-hall blitz in which the more they talked, the more the American people rebelled against Bush’s plans to send workers' Social Security to Wall Street. Cheney also supported the privatization of the Pentagon; however, Nichols points out that the politically astute Vice President at least understood one truism that Paul Ryan still seems oblivious to:
Cheney recognized then, as he appeared to again in his 2001 “annoying mosquito” conversation with Ryan, that domestic political calculations require at least some deference to the wisdom of the American people.
Today that wisdom says that the United States need not, and must not, slash the social safety net in order to advance reforms that will be very good for Wall Street but very bad for Main Street. Until Paul Ryan accepts this reality, he will remain stuck on the same questions. Indeed, if the Republicans nominate the ambitious young congressman for president in 2016, and if he runs on the agenda Dick Cheney swatted away fifteen years earlier, Ryan will again find himself asking, “Why did we lose? How did it happen? Why does the Republican Party seem to keep losing ground.”
We recommend you read the whole story here.
Hawaii’s Democratic Senate primary win
for Sen. Brian Schatz sends an important signal to candidates nationwide about the huge role Social Security can and will play in their Congressional re-election bids. From the chained CPI to the Bowles-Simpson amendment, many centrist “new Democrats”
like Hawaii’s Rep. Colleen Hanabusa
, have quietly cast votes for proposals designed to cut benefits to millions of retirees, people with disabilities and their families, while at the same time promising to protect benefits back home.
In Rep. Hanabusa’s case, there were clear differences between her and opponent Sen. Brian Schatz on Social Security. While Schatz supports boosting benefits and co-sponsors legislation to do that, Rep. Hanabusa voted in support of the Bowles-Simpson amendment to HR 444 which advocated for Social Security benefits cuts, raising the retirement age and deficit reduction through 75% in cuts an only 25% in revenue. The Bowles-Simpson plan would be disastrous for America’s families, which is why NCPSSM provided a rare primary endorsement to Senator Schatz:
“You understand, too, that Social Security benefits are earned and that this most successful social insurance program ever should not—must not!—be undermined as some have proposed by cutting benefits. You appreciate that Social Security has not contributed one dime to the nation’s debt and proposals to raise the retirement age and reduce the annual cost-of-living adjustment in the name of bipartisanship would be disastrous to Americans of all ages. You have underscored your commitment to Social Security by joining with Senate colleagues supporting the “Strengthening Social Security Act” and opposing the oft-cited “chained Consumer Price Index.” NCPSSM Endorsement Letter to Sen. Bryan Schatz, May 27, 2014
Senator Schatz isn’t the only candidate who understands just how disconnected Washington has become from the majority of Americans who -- across all ages and political parties -- oppose cutting Social Security.
Two Democrats in tough Senate races — Mark Begich and Jeff Merkley – have already staked out aggressive postures on expanding Social Security. It’s also supported by Elizabeth Warren and Tom Harkin, and 70 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Expanding Social Security would have to be paid for by lifting or changing the cap or some other means, which could leave Dems vulnerable to charges they are raising taxes. But Brown brushed off that worry. “Democrats win the argument by saying Republicans again are cutting taxes on the rich to deny Social Security beneficiaries the expanded Social Security they should get and have earned,” Brown said. “Most of us should be willing to make that argument.” Washington Post, May 2014
Until now, too many in Congress have not been willing to make that argument and refocus its attention on the retirement deficit facing millions of working Americans. Hopefully, the Hawaii experience will change all that.
Each year we mark Social Security’s anniversary in a different way. But ultimately the goal is always the same...to remind us all how vital America’s most successful program is to millions of families.
“As we celebrate Social Security’s 79th anniversary today, it’s important to acknowledge the program’s vital role in protecting both current and future generations of Americans. Social Security has made a profound improvement in the economic security of millions of families, especially during these tough economic times. For too many Americans, personal savings have been difficult to accumulate because middle class wages have remained stagnant for three decades. More than half of all workers have no retirement plans at work and millions more have no retirement savings.
It’s time Washington addresses our nation’s retirement deficit and its potentially devastating impact on the lives of working class families. This economic recession has clearly shown that Congress must search for ways to improve Social Security’s benefits, not cut them. The National Committee has endorsed nine different pieces of legislation that would enhance Social Security. These include S. 567 and H.R. 3118 which, when fully phased in, would boost benefits by approximately $70 per month for new beneficiaries and adopt the more accurate consumer price index for the elderly (CPI-E) for determining the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA). As a fiscally responsible way to increase and strengthen Social Security finances, we also support lifting the payroll tax cap. NCPSSM’s national Boost Social Security Now Campaign continues to raise awareness of the need to increase benefits.
Our nation needs more from Social Security, not less. These modest earned benefits have become the last remaining pillar of economic security for millions of Americans who will depend on the program for most, if not all, of their retirement income.”....Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
This year we used this 79th anniversary as an opportunity to hear directly from our large and vocal Facebook community. We asked our nearly 60,000 followers there to complete this thought:
Here’s a sample of what they said:
“All I can say is, thank goodness for Social Security. I'd be destitute without it.”
“I would be homeless and hungry”
“I would be destitute, starving, and without vital medical help. SS is my only source of dependable income that I can rely on.”
“I would be hard pressed to take care of Mom and the house without our Social Security!”
For all of these reasons, now is the time Washington should be looking for ways to Boost Social Security. Wouldn’t that be a terrific Anniversary present?
Medicare Means Healthier Lives for Millions of Americans
“In the hyper-partisan, budget-slashing environment that drives our Washington debate these days, the impact that Medicare has on the lives of average American families is often overlooked. The truth is Medicare saves lives and money. Without Medicare many more seniors would be impoverished, sicker and dependent on others, including federal, state and local governments. A healthy nation depends on a healthy populace, physically and fiscally. Medicare helps us to achieve the American dream of a stable and independent retirement after working a lifetime to help build the nation’s economy. As we celebrate Medicare’s anniversary, we should pledge to preserve that dream for the future.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
Medicare – Then and Now
- Before the enactment of Medicare, one-half of older Americans were uninsured and one-third were living in poverty. Today, with access to health care coverage, the poverty rate for seniors is nine percent.
- 52.4 million Americans receive guaranteed health care benefits through the Medicare program regardless of their medical condition or income. This includes: 43.6 million Americans age 65 and above and 8.8 million disabled Americans receiving Social Security benefits. By the time the last of the baby boomers reaches age 65, it is expected that close to 80 million people will be covered through Medicare.
- Over half of Medicare beneficiaries have annual incomes of less than $23,500 and savings of less than $61,400. Forty percent have three or more chronic conditions. Even a minor illness or injury could bankrupt older Americans and their families.
- While health care costs have increased three times faster than wages over the past decade, health care reform has slowed the cost growth in Medicare. The 2014 Trustees Report added an additional 4 years of solvency to the Trust Fund, extending to 2030.
As Medicare approaches a half-century of successfully keeping older Americans healthy, while also curbing costs for seniors and the program itself, Washington should be looking for ways to build on those successes not destroy them through further privatization and cost-shifting.
National Committee advocates and volunteers joined Members of Congress to celebrate Medicare's anniversary at a Capitol Hill event on the 30th.
Hold the Rhetoric, Pass the Truth on the 2014 Trustees Report
“This year’s projections come as no surprise to anyone who understands how Social Security and Medicare work. In fact, historically, the solvency date for the Social Security Trust Fund has fluctuated from a depletion date as distant as 2048 in the 1988 report to as soon as 2029 predicted in 1994 and 1997. On Medicare, each year since passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Trustees have reported the program’s improving solvency, this year adding an additional four years until 2030. We should build on that success and continue reducing the high cost of health care system-wide, not just in Medicare.
This year’s Trustees reports prove, once again, how successful and stable Social Security and Medicare continue to be for the American people and the federal government.”... Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
Here are some of the key points in the 2014 Trustees Report:
· Trustees project Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until the year 2033. After that, Social Security will still have sufficient revenue to pay 77% of benefits if no changes are made to the program.
· Social Security remains well-funded. In 2014, as the economy continues to improve, Social Security’s total income is projected to exceed its expenses. In fact, the Trustees estimate that total annual income will exceed program obligations until 2019.
· Trustees project a Cost of Living Adjustment increase of about 1.5% in 2015.
· The Trustees report there is now nearly $2.76 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which is $32 billion more than last year and that it will continue to grow by payroll contributions and interest on the Trust Fund's assets.
With so little bad news to report in this 2014 Trustees report, critics have now shifted their attention to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which faces a more immediate challenge and requires Congress’ action for a reallocation.
· Trustees project the Disability Trust fund will be depleted in 2016, the same year projected in last year’s report. This projected shortfall is not a surprise and Congress should reallocate income across the Social Security Trust Funds, as it has done 11 times before, to cover the anticipated shortfall. Disability expenditures have increased primarily due to demographic trends. When Congress took action in 1994 to address a shortfall in SSDI, it knew that it would have to take action again in 2015 or 2016. Unfortunately, some in Congress have politicized this anticipated shortfall and threatened to delay action in order to force cuts throughout the entire Social Security program.
On Medicare, the 2014 Trustees report shows slowing the growth of health care costs has improved Medicare’s Trust Fund.
· Medicare solvency remains greatly improved thanks to passage of healthcare reform, with the program paying full benefits until 2030, four years later than the 2013 report. Health care spending has also grown much more slowly.
· Medicare Part B premiums are not projected to increase in 2015.
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