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The State of the Union and Social Security

category_bug_politics.gif On Thursday 27 January Tuesday 25 January, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address when, it is widely believed among people who are supposed to know these things, he will discuss the future of Social Security.

This is distressing because announcements in this annual speech carry particular weight and in recent months the president has made statements indicating he is willing to consider some form of cuts to the program.

For the past week, I've been struggling to write a story about why this is a disaster for elders – current and future - but without much success. The problem is, mainly, that I have too much information I can't seem to distill well.

Enter Bernie Sanders. You remember the independent senator from Vermont, don't you? The guy who for nearly nine hours in December filibustered the bill that would (and unfortunately, did) extend the tax cuts for the rich?

Now Senator Sanders has delivered a two-page letter to the president strongly urging him to resist cuts to Social Security. The letter is so good and so thorough that I'm going to let the senator do the talking for me by reproducing that letter, dated 11 January 2011.


Dear Mr. President:

There have been worrisome reports that you are considering supporting tax cuts in Social Security. I hope that information is wrong, and that you will stand bby your campaign promises to strengthen Social Security, making sure that it remains strong and vibrant and able to pay out full benefits for our children and grandchildren.

As you well know, despite rhetoric from Republicans and those on Wall Street, Social Security is not in financial crisis. The Social Security Trust Fund today has a $2.6 trillion surplus that is projected to grow to over $4 trillion by the year 2023.

Social Security can pay out every nickel owed to every eligible American for at least the next 26 years. After that, if Congress does not act (which I strongly believe it must), Social Security will be able to pay out at last 75 percent of eligible benefits.

Further, Social Security has not contributed anything to our national debt. Social Security is 100 percent funded through payroll tax contributions coming from workers and employers and, up until last year, it has received no funding from the federal Treasury.

Mr. President, although the American people now take Social Security for granted, we should never underestimate the incredibly positive impact that Social Security has had on our country.

Since it's inception over 75 years ago, through good economic times and bad, Social Security has paid out every penny owed to every eligible beneficiary with minimal administrative costs. What an extraordinary accomplishment!

During that period Social Security has succeeded in keeping millions of senior citizens, widows, orphans, and persons with disabilities out of poverty. Before Social Security existed, about half of America's senior citizens lived in poverty. Today, less than 10 percent live in poverty.

More than 52 million Americans now receive Social Security benefits. I would contracts that record to the situation we recently saw on Wall Street when millions of Americans lost significant amounts of their retirement savings because of the collapse of the stock market.

But, I do not have to tell you all this, Mr. President, because that is very much the same message you conveyed to the American people during your presidential campaign of 2008. Here are some of the excellent statements you made during the campaign:

• “Social Security is not in crisis; it is a fundamentally sound system, but it does have a problem long term...The best idea is to lift the cap on the payroll tax, potentially exempting middle-class folks, but making sure that the wealthy are paying more of their fair share.” - Senator Barack Obama, October 30, 2007

• “The alternatives, like raising the retirement age, or cutting benefits, or raising the payroll tax on everybody, including people making less than $97,000 a year [now $106,800 a year] – those are not good policy options.” - Senator Barack Obama, April 16, 2008

• “I believe that cutting [Social Security] benefits is not the right answer; and that raising the retirement age is not the best option.” - Senator Barack Obama, November 11, 2007

And even more recently, as president, you made a very strong statement on this issue, according to an October 14, 2010 Reuters article: “President Barack Obama said...he favored raising more revenue for Social Security to prolong the solvency of the U.S. retirement fund, rather than just cutting benefits or making people work longer...

“'I do think that the best way to do it would be to look at the fact that right now, you only pay Social Security taxes to about $106,800, and after that you don't pay any Social Security tax,' President Obama said. 'That could be modified or changed in a way that would help extend the solvency of Social Security.'”

Mr. President, as I'm sure you are aware, our Republican colleagues have long opposed Social Security not because it hasn't worked, but because of ideological reasons.

Despite its extraordinary success, they simply believe that government should not be involved in providing retirement benefits to seniors, or supporting the disabled, or widows and orphans. They would prefer Wall Street and the private sector do that.

But that has not been your position and that is not the promise you made to the American people. That is not why you were elected president. Further, that is not what the vast majority of the American people want to see happen.

All of us want to work in a bi-partisan manner when we can, but needlessly cutting Social Security benefits when that has nothing to do with our deficit situation, is not good public policy or what is good for our country.

I urge you to once again make it clear to the American people that under your watch we will not cut Social Security benefits, raise the retirement age or privatize this critical program.

Social Security is a promise that we cannot and must not break.

Sincerely,
Bernard Sanders
United States Senator


I would add only that it's not just that Republicans prefer Wall Street and the private sector to be involved in “providing retirement benefits to seniors, or supporting the disabled, or widows and orphans.”

They want to get their grubby hands on those billions of dollars workers pay every year, collect millions in fees annually and if they lose it all in another financial meltdown – as will happen again one day – so what. They will survive magnificently as they have this time.

There are five days until the State of the Union address. The speech is still being written and here is what I ask you to please do: Email the president. You can do that here.

Urge him to lay off cuts to Social Security (well, you could word it more politely than that) and point him to Senator Sanders' letter using this URL: http://sanders.senate.gov/graphics/soc_sec_ltr.pdf

Get your husband or wife to write the president too. And your friends and relatives. Your blog readers. You might mention, as I did, that without Social Security, you'd be living in a refrigerator box under a bridge – or whatever your version of that is.

Say whatever it takes to bring home the point that you don't want your children and grandchildren to be eating cat food when they get old.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmerman: Stranger Danger

Comments

This is so important, and thank you Ronnie for pointing all this out. For those that are on Facebook and have a lot of friends, share this link with them and encourage them to share the link as well. Katie

Thanks for this important reminder,Ronni,of just how strong Social Security is financially and how important it is in the lives of millions of us.

I'm on the case..All of my friends will be hearing from me today in regard to contacting the President about his decisions regarding
our Social Security benefits...

I will do it but I am not sure how much good it will do. Bernie Sanders has been making so much sense for so long and yet who listens on either side? And the Republicans, well if they will defend the need for gang warfare or revolutionary level weapons after what happened in Tucson, they are beyond reasoning. Still I'll write and try but I am afraid this is a done deal as far as Obama is thinking and that he feels he has to move right to get re-elected. He might be exactly wrong as they will never vote for him whatever he does. And we might just decide after what we saw with Congress that better a Congress that supports our values than a president who is in our party but doesn't. We'll see what he says but I am pretty disillusioned on this stuff.

Everything says this is going to be the fight of the year ... except that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been talking sense about Social Security (see this.)

On Social Secruity, he's way ahead of our callow (sorry, it seems to be true) President. And we need to remember, Reid managed to win in November when no pundit would have expected it six months out. We need to figure out how to have Reid's back -- that will stiffen the President.

To those who, like Rain, believe it is useless to bother to write a letter, I understand. The daily barrage of evidence that government exists only to support business and the wealthy makes it difficult to think small acts by individuals can affect policy.

But do remember that it was the people - us - in large numbers who defeated President Bush's intention to privatize Social Security.

And even if we fail, if the worst happens, I want to be able to say I took a stand.

"Hope and justice live when people, even in tiny numbers, stand up and fight for them."
- Chris Hedges

Dear Mr. President,

When history looks at your predecessor he will probably be judged for his unjustified war in Iraq and the privatization of government activities.

And you, Mr. President will probably be judged for the extension and expansion of the war in Afghanistan, the rejection of your core supporters and your need to be all things to all people without cionsideration of moral or ethical consequences.

It is rumored that you might consider calling for cuts in Social Security Benefits in your State of the Union message, do so at your own peril.

The people that got you elected will finally have had enough of your bending over backwards to appease and please your supporters on Wall Street and work as hard towards your defeat in the next elections as we did to insure your election in '07.

Please think very carefully Mr. President, less you make the most egregious mistake of what is already a "spotty" political career.

(Posted on the White House Website 01/20/2011)

Though I have no hopes that my email message to President Obama will ever do more than take up a fraction of cyberspace, I expressed my own disappointment and fear.

I am so disgusted.

Did it. Thank you, i will share this link.

Jan Adams emailed this link to a small amount of encouraging news about Social Security and what public pressure can accomplish.

This is a no brainer: Collect S.S. Taxes on whatever top payroll Limit will solve the problem forever. Throw the rich (Folks with liquid assets--cash, stocks or bonds of $500,000 or more at age 62)off the program--making sure each gets every penny personally paid in. They damn sure don't need it. And--and this is a big AND--remove the widows, orphans, and the handicapped under 62 from Social Security which, as I have been told, when started by the New Deal was just for the aged. Place these folks, who in most cases definitely need financial assistance, in their own program. Then, we would have a more honest picture of what this Country actually does for Seniors during the last years of one's life.
If President Obama allows any increase in the retirement age or cuts dollar benefits, he will not be reelected: Of that, I have no doubt. Let this Administration be forewarned.

I read Bernie Sander's letter, signed the letter and posted the link on Facebook. If everyone did so it would make an impact. The trick is in the numbers.

The media needs to alert everyone to this danger and since they are not doing it, we, the people, must.

Write everyone you know (young, old and in between) and ask them to write, call and fax their views. The only thing that Congress hears beside the clink of the money pot is the voice of a loud angry electorate.

Just sent in my comments--said I would be screwed if Social Security gets cut. Also mentioned that, although I am saving as much as possible, the return on my "safe" savings is pitiful, while the banks are doing very well. And I'm nervous about investments which might provide a higher return because I think the wealthy Wall Street brokers are gaming the system--don't want to give them any more of my money. The Obama campaign and administration is the only political group I have ever given money. I will absolutely write in and ask for it back if my predicted social security gets cut. Hah!

way to go ronnie. you always come through for social security. thanks for filling us in and letting us know where we could write. if he doesn't listen this time, he should be a one term president.

Thanks again, Ronni, for inspiring me to contact a government official about an important issue.

Thanks so much, Ronni. I will definitely write to President Obama and encourage my husband to do so also. We don't have a huge social circle, and the people we know receive the same deluge of email that we do from progressive causes, so I probably won't add to their in-boxes. Although I definitely agree that there's strength in numbers, I think that after a certain point, too much email becomes counterproductive and just turns people off.

Hi Ronnie: I just sent off my letter to the President which was a real trip for me. I never do things like that, but felt compelled after reading your blog. It was empowering and I feel good about it.

I sent Obama my opinion and said that this Republican voted for him but will not next time if he messes with social security. I bet this will do the trick. We can all relax now.

See Ronnie, this is why you can never stop TGB. This is very important information. You can be assured I will be emailing the president, and sending out an email to my list server and ask them to do the same. Senator Sanders said it all very eloquently and thanks for the link.

My letter to the president will also include information about my mother's social security. She was a stay at home mom until the last child left home. She did not work outside the home for very long and the jobs she had were mostly minimum wage. She receives very little social security but has my dad military disability to supplement. However, if he dies first, she will receive only a small portion of his disability and her social security, which would not even come close to keeping her in the house she's lived in for thirty plus years. She would end up being homeless. What a shame. So you bet I'll be sending my letter letting him know my thoughts.
Thanks again Ronnie.

It's difficult to fathom that a lot of people who support "Tea Party" values are also most likely to be social security recipients or nearing retirement age. To believe that social security can be improved by privatizing it has to be the height of lunacy for some of these folks.

Anyone who routinely watches the stock market, where most of the retirement benefits of our seniors are, can attest to the volatility of this economic measure that impacts those benefits. How many lost most of their retirement savings when the market crashed in 2002 and again in 2008?

Just within the last 24 hrs. I watched my IRA drop over $1200. And for what? Fear and speculation of those within the system, some of it generated deliberately by those at the top of the corporate ladders in this country and around the globe to game the system to their benefit.

Thank God for people like Bernie Sanders.

Like Rain, my experience in emailing Obama is not good but I can't resist a call to arms from you. This could spell a thorough disaster for me and a lot of other women who stayed at home at to raise their children.

I want to be able to say I used my voice too! I'm sending a note. I still think we are the activists who can make the noise. Thanks, Ronni, for the links.

I absolutely agree with Mr. Nelson's assessment of SS. What do the wealthy need it for...when there are seniors who are struggling to live on what they receive and saved. Thank you for keeping me informed and I will forward this onward an upward.

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