For the nearly 10 years I've been writing this blog and paying close attention to the ways of Washington as they relate to elders, someone there has been trying to privatize, reduce, cut or kill Social Security.
Mainstream media generally goes along with what they like to call “entitlement reform” behaving as though they actually know the meaning of the word entitlement. Even the president sometimes uses that word which in no way applies to Social Security and it puts me in such a snit.
The majority of reporters and pundits still believe Social Security is the cause of the deficit and I keep wondering how it is that they can be so uninformed – or is stupid the word I'm looking for?
Through all these years of attacks on elders and the misinformation, however, old people have had on their side Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and it could be that his day – our day – has finally arrived.
First, listen to him last week on the floor of the Senate (I have edited it to the most pertinent part):
Sanders has been making similar speeches in Congress for many years but suddenly now, with the decisive win for Democrats in the recent election, other powerful people in Congress have been emboldened to stand with him. Listen:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:
"I've made it very clear. I've told anyone that will listen, including everyone in the White House, including the president, that I am not going to be part of having Social Security as part of these talks relating to this deficit.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Huffington Post):
"Our commitment as Democrats is that we believe Social Security and Medicare are pillars of economic and health security for America's seniors. They should not have cuts made to them in order to give tax cuts to the rich. Any adjustments we would make in them would be to make them stronger, as we did in the Affordable Care Act."
Democratic Representative of Illinois, Jan Schakowsky:
"Over my dead body will we cut benefits to Social Security and Medicare.”
Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa:
"If you wanna fix Social Security, there it is. Make those making millions of dollars a year pay the same thing and the same rate as those making 40 or 50 or 60 thousand dollars a year. This is not magic. It can be done."
At a Sanders-led “Don't Cut Social Security” rally last week, Harkin also explained why Republican efforts to change the method by which Social Security cost-of-living increases are calculated from the usual inflation index to chained CPI (which would affect current as well as future beneficiaries) must be fought back:
"Think about it this way. You're standing on the deck of a boat and you're in very deep water and they want you to swim, but they're going to put a log chain around your ankle. That's chained CPI."
Democratic Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota who is the outgoing chair of the Senate Budget Committee: (Washington Post)
“We’ve got to separate out Social Security — the savings derived from there should be purely for the purpose of extending solvency of Social Security itself. Social Security has not contributed to the deficit problem.”
Democratic Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota agrees with his compatriots, but believes that there are mighty forces in Congress intent on cutting Social Security in any debt-reduction package.
“[Avoiding that will]” take a big lift from all of us.”
We cannot be certain President Obama is not one of those forces. He repeatedly invokes the Simpson/Bowles commission as a basis for the agreement he seeks so the nation avoids the (so-called) fiscal cliff. But those commission recommendations include increasing the retirement age, increasing premiums for Social Security along with reducing benefits.
Last week, on Wednesday, the president again invoked “entitlements” in relation to the deficit saying that he wants to cut
"'...a big deal, a comprehensive deal' with Republicans to reduce the federal budget deficit that will tackle 'entitlements.'”
So Obama may need some strong persuading.
At his debate with Paul Ryan, Vice President Joe Biden stated unequivocably about Social Security, “We will not privatize it.” Obama has not made an equally strong statement and anyway, Biden did not preclude other kinds of cuts in his declaration.
So, as we did back in 2005, when President George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security, we elders are going to need to mobilize to help Sanders and his growing crew of Congressional Democrats to insist on what is the right thing to with Social Security in the debt reduction negotiations.
Right now, Congress is getting ready to leave for the Thanksgiving holiday but when they return, I'll have tools and links and suggestion on how get ourselves together to support the Democratic coalition against cutting Social Security.
Meanwhile, what you can do today is sign Senator Sanders' new petition demanding no cuts to Social Security, a petition that will be delivered to both houses of Congress and the president.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ralph Lymburner: Waste Management