Congress may be home for Easter break and President Trump is busy dropping bombs in Syria and Afghanistan, but the War on the Working Class continues unabated. In fact, it was quite a busy week for floating dangerous ideas about our nation’s healthcare and retirement security.
First, the Associated Press ran a story based on information from an unnamed “GOP lobbyist” saying that Republicans are considering repealing the Social Security payroll tax. Under this alleged plan, Social Security would be funded from general revenue and therefore subject to competition with other domestic programs — and the whims of Congressional budget cutters. Never mind that the payroll tax is what makes Social Security an earned benefit. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set it up that way on purpose to “give the contributors a legal, moral and political right to collect” their Social Security checks. Plus, the current payroll tax deduction has been working pretty well for the past 80 years.
Since enough members of Congress realize this is an awful proposal that would never pass the House and Senate, clearly someone is out there floating crazy ideas in the press. (In addition, the A.P. story itself lacked any real sense of balance or context.) While the source for the A.P. story was unnamed, a top Trump administration official very publicly floated notions that seem to undermine President Trump’s promise not to touch Social Security and Medicare. In an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood on Tuesday, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney just couldn’t say whether President Trump would veto legislation to privatize Medicare. “Let [Congress] pass that and let’s talk about it,” he demurred.
When Harwood asked if Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) was on the list of potential programs to be cut, Mulvaney offered this non-reassuring response:
“I continue to look forward to talking to the president about ways to fix that program. Because that is one of the fastest growing programs that we have. It’s become effectively a long-term unemployment, permanent unemployment program.” – Mick Mulvaney
Of course, that response is riddled with inaccuracies. SSDI is not growing, it’s leveling off at a lower rate that is likely to plateau for the next 20 years. It most definitely is not an unemployment program of any kind – permanent or otherwise. SSDI is one of the strictest federal disability programs in the world in terms of qualifying for benefits. Only those who are able to demonstrate that they are unable to work for medical reasons qualify. Among all the people who apply, only 40% are accepted. If accepted, the average beneficiary receives only $1,170 per month, less than one could earn in a full time job at the federal minimum wage.
That didn’t stop the Washington Post from echoing some of the same right-wing myths about SSDI in a recent feature story and an editorial entitled, “The Social Security Disability Program Needs Reform.” The story wrongly intimates that rural, working-class Americans are using SSDI as a unemployment program. On Monday, Media Matters for America attempted to correct the record:
“The Post’s mischaracterization of SSDI follows a long history of misinformation from mainstream outlets, which often publish error-riddled stories filled with anecdotal evidence portraying disability recipients as undeserving. These pieces sound as if they come from right-wing media, which have spent years attacking the program and its recipients.” – Media Matters, 4/10/17
While the press was replete with nutty notions about Social Security and Medicare, the President and Congressional Republicans were reviving the specter of the moribund GOP healthcare bill. Just when you thought it was dead, Freedom Caucus members say they are close to a deal with the White House and Speaker Ryan to repeal and replace Obamacare within three weeks. Meanwhile, Politico reports that President Trump is threatening to cut off cost-sharing subsidies that help pay for low income earners’ health coverage in order to force Democrats to the negotiating table on the GOP health plan.
Fortunately, protesters are out in full force this week at town halls pushing back against supporters of the Republican bill, including one of the National Committee’s own grassroots volunteers who organized a rally outside a Florida congressman’s office. This proves that Spring break is a good time for grassroots action. Just because it’s holiday time doesn’t mean those waging war against the working class won’t put some rotten eggs in our Easter baskets.