On Social Security’s 83rd Anniversary, Program’s Future Depends on November Elections

Ida May Fuller (pictured here in 1950) received the country's first Social Security check in 1940

Ida May Fuller (pictured here in 1950) received the country’s first Social Security check in 1940

Eighty three years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law a bold new program to provide America’s seniors with basic financial security. Social Security is income insurance based on a compact between the generations, and between retirees and the federal government. Working Americans pay into the system, and receive benefits when they retire or become disabled. That’s why we call it an earned benefit rather than an entitlement, which is exactly what President Roosevelt envisoned with the stroke of a pen and these words on August 14, 1935:

“We can never insure 100 per cent of the population against 100 per cent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family… against poverty-ridden old-age.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 8/14/35

After eight decades of paying benefits to multiple generations of retired workers – and keeping them out of poverty – one would think Social Security’s legacy would be apparent and its promise secure. Yet, here we are in 2018, with Social Security under threat from conservatives who clearly don’t believe in that promise. Using the misleading label “entitlement reform,” they want to cut benefits, raise the retirement age, and privatize the program. They attempt to break the compact by dividing the generations with the specious argument that any “reforms” wouldn’t affect current retirees, only future ones – who, in reality, won’t need Social Security any less. Don’t worry, we’re only cutting your children and grandchildren’s benefits – not yours!

Meanwhile, there are several pieces of legislation, most notably Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act, which would keep the program financially sound for the rest of the century while increasing benefits. But such legislation has languished in the Republican-controlled Congress and won’t be taken up unless there is major change on Capitol Hill.

Social Security is at a pivotal point this election year that will determine whether the program will be strengthened and expanded for all generations – or cut and disfigured until it is no longer recognizable. Yes, the voters will decide Social Security’s likely fate, and as we saw in last week’s special election in Ohio’s 12th district, every vote truly does count.

Most politicians will say they “support Social Security,” but voters must press deeper. Does the candidate (or incumbent) talk of “reforming” or “saving” Social Security? That’s code for benefit cuts, and by no means a sign of support for the program. We encourage voters to support candidates who commit not only to preserving Social Security, but to strengthening and expanding it. These Social Security champions can be found across the country, in both red and blue states.

One of these candidates is Kathleen Williams, who is running for the lone, at-large House seat in Montana currently occupied by Republican Greg Gianforte. Congressman Gianforte voted for the Trump/GOP tax scam that is opening a $2 trillion hole in the deficit which his party wants to close with cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – and once said that “the concept of retirement is not biblical.” On the other hand, challenger Williams pledges to “make sure that our seniors can retire with dignity by protecting Medicare and Social Security no matter what.”

In Arizona, Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is running for retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake’s seat – a crucial race that could determine control of the Senate, but also the future of Social Security. Sinema says, “We can’t allow… Washington to threaten the Medicare and Social Security benefits Arizonans have earned through a lifetime of hard work.” Her likely opponent, Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally, voted for the insidious Trump/GOP tax cuts and was accused by a previous opponent of wanting to privatize social security and raise the retirement age.

The choice couldn’t be starker in Illinois’ 12th Congressional district, where challenger Brendan Kelly opposes incumbent Mike Bost. Congressman Bost voted for the GOP’s failed Balanced Budget Amendment – a backdoor strategy to slash Social Security. Challenger Kelly believes that “instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as those in Congress currently want to do… we have to fight against that and expand the access and coverage overall.”

Those are only three examples of races around the country that cumulatively will determine the future of Americans’ earned benefits. The majority party has already signaled what it wants to do to Social Security if it prevails in November. No one with a stake in Social Security – and that means all working, retired, and disabled Americans and their families – can afford to sit this one out. What better way to celebrate Social Security’s 83rd anniversary than to cast a vote this fall to fortify the program for another eight decades? – and beyond.