Ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s son, Rep. James Roosevelt, Sr., founded our organization to protect Social Security and Medicare in 1982, we have not endorsed presidential candidates, focusing instead on congressional races. Until now. For the first time in 38 years, we are throwing our weight behind Joe Biden for President of the United States. As an organization rooted in the social insurance policies of FDR’s New Deal — and after observing relentless attacks on lifeline programs like Social Security and Medicare — we could not in good conscience remain neutral this year.
For us, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the president’s reckless payroll tax cut, which he unilaterally imposed in an executive order last month. Without hesitation, he interfered with the funding stream for Social Security, going so far as to pledge to “terminate” payroll taxes altogether in his second term. Social Security’s chief actuary estimates that if payroll taxes were to be terminated (without replacing the lost revenue), the program’s trust fund would run dry by 2023. A president who promises to cut off the revenue for one of our most cherished and successful social insurance programs should not be re-elected.
“There’s a reason Social Security and Medicare have been around for 85 and 55 years. Americans value and depend on them,” says FDR’s grandson and vice-chair of our advisory board, James Roosevelt, Jr. “Joe Biden is the candidate who can be trusted to protect seniors’ earned benefits from any attempts to undermine or privatize them.”
Now more than ever, Social Security and Medicare provide seniors with crucial financial and health security. Amid the COVID crisis, Social Security is the financial stabilizer for older workers who become disabled or are forced to retire early. Social Security also serves to backstop the economy by providing more than $1.6 trillion in fiscal stimulus every year. Meanwhile, Medicare guarantees that COVID-stricken seniors have access to affordable, quality care and testing. When a vaccine is approved and made public, Medicare will cover that, too. Both programs face funding challenges that warrant solutions other than cutting older people’s much-needed benefits.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris understand that seniors’ earned benefits are “sacred obligations” with origins in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. At last month’s Democratic convention, Biden declared, “If I am your president, we will protect Social Security and Medicare.” As a Democrat committed to building on his party’s New Deal legacy, we trust that he will honor that vow – in contrast to Donald Trump’s hollow promise four years ago “not to touch” seniors’ earned benefits. What’s more, as vice president, Kamala Harris will be uniquely positioned to advocate for women — and particularly women of color — whose retirement security lags far behind men’s.
The Biden/Harris plan for Social Security would expand benefits, lifting an additional half a million seniors out of poverty by 2030. A Biden administration will ensure that Social Security remains financially healthy for the future, without cutting benefits. Joe Biden will push Congress to add dental, vision, and hearing coverage to traditional Medicare — and reduce what seniors pay for prescription drugs by finally allowing the government to negotiate prices with Big Pharma. He has proposed a bold, $775 billion plan to support caregivers for the elderly and children. The former vice president would strengthen the Affordable Care Act, which President Trump tried to repeal and is now asking the Supreme Court to strike down.
Despite his 2016 campaign promises, President Trump, his advisors, and his allies in Congress have tried to weaken these highly successful programs. Every Trump budget has included more than a trillion dollars in cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Medicare, and Medicaid (which covers impoverished seniors’ long-term care costs). The administration has steered enrollees toward private, for-profit Medicare Advantage plans and away from traditional Medicare. The President’s appointees changed the rules to make it harder for workers with disabilities to keep their Social Security benefits and tried to politicize the process for adjudicating disability claims.
Worse yet, President Trump misused the funding mechanism for Social Security by ordering a payroll tax deferral, which both parties in Congress largely opposed, for a good reason. Payroll tax cuts are an unfair and ineffective means of economic stimulus that interfere with the revenue stream for Social Security. That is a far cry from “not touching” a program that nearly 70 million Americans rely upon.
Joe Biden called Trump’s payroll tax policy a “reckless war” on Social Security. But it isn’t just Social Security and Medicare that hang in the balance. President Trump has signaled that he does not support the programs that help seniors survive and thrive. He even has proposed eliminating funding for federal grants that fund Meals on Wheels and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Undoubtedly one of the wealthiest countries in the world can afford to help feed the elderly and keep their homes heated in the winter. President Trump disagrees.
Recent polling indicates that seniors — who helped propel Donald Trump to victory in 2016 — are turning away from the president and toward Joe Biden. No doubt, much of this swing stems from the president’s negligent response to COVID, including his failure to protect nursing home residents and workers (68,000 have lost their lives). But there is a larger disappointment with the president around seniors’ general well-being, even among those who voted for him last time.
Bob Banion, a 68-year old voter, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “When you’re thinking about health care, when you’re thinking about other people’s rights and futures… and you see all (Trump’s) doing to break that down… I am really disgusted I voted for him.” Another former Trump voter, 75-year-old Elizabeth Vath, told ABC News, “Trump has been doing a rotten job with health care as well as with the epidemic. We can only pray and hope and vote,” Vath said. Both Vath and Banion are casting their ballots for Joe Biden this year.
We do agree with President Trump one on point, though. This is one of the most important elections in U.S. History. If the president is re-elected and his party maintains or expands its control of Congress, Social Security will be weakened, Medicaid will be slashed, Medicare will be pushed toward privatization, and older Americans’ lives and livelihoods will continue to be imperiled. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will protect older Americans’ “rights and futures,” including their right to retire with basic financial security, quality, affordable health care, and dignity — after a lifetime of contributing to our society. That is why we have broken with almost four decades of tradition to ensure that outcome this November.
Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. This membership organization promotes financial security, health and well being of current and future generations of maturing Americans. He also chairs the board of the National Committee’s Political Action Committee, a PAC that endorses candidates for federal office.