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The First Salvo in the War on Social Security Has Been Fired

Is this attack on Social Security serious? Who knows, but we cannot afford to assume otherwise. This is a long and detailed post. Please try to read it anyway (if you're an American).

BackOffSocialSecurity

Last Thursday, Representative Sam Johnson, Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee's subcommittee on Social Security, released a plan to “preserve Social Security for generations to come, reward work, and improve retirement security” - as the first page of the bill states.

It does nothing of the kind. It is a nasty, vicious bill that would impoverish a majority of beneficiaries. Daniel Marans, reporting about the announcement of Johnson's bill at Huffington Post wrote that it

”...would drastically reduce benefits. The bill would make the program less of a universal earned benefit and more of a means-tested safety net that aims only to provide basic support to the poorest retirees and disabled workers.”

Here is the short version of the bill from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM):

”Johnson's bill

Cuts Social Security benefits by one third
Raises the retirement age from 67 to 69
Changes the benefit-computation formula in a way that cuts benefit amounts
Cuts Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs)

“The resulting benefit cuts will affect Americans of all ages, at all income levels, including the middle class and those with very low incomes.”

Representative Johnson's goal with this legislation, to make the program more solvent, he says, does it entirely by benefit cuts - Draconian cuts. Democrats and progressives, including Senator Bernie Sanders, have for years proposed fixes to Social Security that not only avoid cuts but actually increase benefits.

Nancy Altman is a leading expert on Social Security, the founding co-director of Social Security Works and the co-author of Social Security Works!, the definitive, fact-based explanation of this crucially important program. Over this weekend, she wrote a clear explanation of what this legislation does. Pay close attention to this excerpt:

"Remember the ubiquitous mantra of those who propose to dismantle Social Security: no benefit cuts for those aged 55 and older?" asks Altman. "That is out the window. Every single one of the more than 57 million current beneficiaries will experience a cut, under the just-released Republican plan.

"And for some of them, the cut will be extreme. Take a worker who contributed to Social Security for 43 years and earned $118,500 just prior to retiring this year at age 65. At age 95, he will, under the Republican plan, receive a benefit that is less than half ― 48.7 percent, to be exact ― of the value of the benefit he is receiving today.

"And for tomorrow’s workers, it’s even worse. Today’s 45-year old worker with the same work history will receive, at age 65, a benefit that is 74.8 percent what today’s 65-year old receives. And, if he or she lives to age 95, the benefit will be about a third ― 34.6 percent ― of what it would have been under current law!

The Republican proposal raises benefits for long-term low-income workers who qualify for a minimum benefit, but don’t be fooled. It is window dressing, hiding what is really going on.

"Under the Republican plan, a 45-year old worker earning $12,000 a year, who has contributed to Social Security for twenty years and is able to hold off claiming his earned benefit until age 65, will receive a benefit that is twenty percent lower than current law. And that is if he or she can hang on until age 65!"

As Ms. Altman writes, this (along with the coming attacks on Medicare) amount to a war on elders. Please read her entire article here.

Nothing will happen on this bill before Congress shuts down for the year-end holidays on Friday and does not return until Tuesday 3 January 2017 – but Johnson will undoubtedly reintroduce it in the new 115th Congress early next year.

According to Talking Points Memo, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement “slamming Johnson's bill”:

“Slashing Social Security and ending Medicare are absolutely not what the American people voted for in November," Pelosi said. "Democrats will not stand by while Republicans dismantle the promise of a healthy and dignified retirement for working people in America.”

Good for her but she cannot do it alone. This holiday hiatus is a good time for a first call to your two senators and congressional representative, as we discussed in this post a couple of weeks ago.

Tell them what you think of Representative Sam Johnson's Social Security bill. You will find phone numbers of local offices in your states here (Senate) and here (House).

Of course, if any of your representatives are retiring or were not re-elected, you'll need to wait until January to get phone numbers of the newly elected.

Here is a sample script you can edit to suit yourself. It's short, strong and to the point:

I'm [full name], a constituent calling to ask [Senator (name) or Representative (name)] to publicly oppose the Social Security Reform Act of 2016 from Representative Sam Johnson of Texas.

This bill would slash the program's benefit not just for future beneficiaries but for current ones too, and destroy Social Security. There are many other, well-known ways to preserve Social Security and I am asking the (senator or repressentative) to block this legislation with all (his/her) might.

It doesn't matter what party your representatives belong to. Make the call either way.

And ask everyone you know to do so too. If you have a blog or Facebook page, you have my permission to copy and post any of this you want without a link back if that is inconvenient. In this case it is much more important to get as many people calling as possible and as regularly as possible than worry about citations.

Thanks for sticking with this entire post. Your wellbeing in your old age is at risk as is that of your grown children and their children and beyond. We must not let this legislation happen.

Read the press release about the bill here

Read a short overview from Representative Johnson here [pdf]

Read the full bill here [pdf]

And here is another link to Nancy Altman's story

Comments

Depressing that this fool thinks he can do this. He has a long way to go, however. I would like it if you explain what OASDI is and how it works. I find many people do not understand that it's an insurance plan with many components.

Tell me, please. If Donald didn't pay income taxes for 18 yrs, is there also a loophole that enables nonpayment of SS taxes as well?? Just wondering.

There is a lot to take in here and any attempt by me to comment on it would only add to the rhetoric. So I am just going to concentrate on the human aspect of this bill and those that are proposing it.
Where, my friends, has all the compassion gone?
America use to be nation of, not only great wealth, but great empathy and kindness as well.
Can these legislators really be so heartless and out of touch as to believe that their proposals would be beneficial to any American, especially those who need it the most?
Can this really be about money and making the rich in this country richer?
At what point in our history did we switch from a benevolent nation to one of meanness and animosity?
I suppose what I am asking is "Why don't they get it?"

It's not like we have a lot of time to "recover" (after we go back to work, of course, in those now-vanished middle-class jobs where--if they existed--would be dying for 60-plus-year-old candidates to fill them. NOT).

I have been puzzled for decades why the government just doesn't apply SS taxes to higher wage brackets. OK, I know why--because the superrich make sure the laws benefit them. Too bad, because *they've* benefited so greatly from how American society is organized. No matter what they think, they really DIDN'T make their money all alone.

Another way to look at SS, though, is that we spend what we get. We can't hoard it, that's for sure. (Medical, utility, prescription, and grocery bills don't seem to be shrinking). The money is then circulating in the economy, contributing to other people's ability to earn a living. Win, win, it seems to me.

If we're destitute, we can't spend. DUH!

Perhaps the Repubs hope this will contribute to their dearest wish (our earlier deaths, plus more money for weapons) but we have some shared interest in postponing that.

I do make phone calls on this issue - one a day - it's how I start out my day. Can you imagine if we all did that? Our legislators would be overwhelmed.

Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy, however, don't have their office staff listen to messages so their voice mailbox is always too full to leave a comment. I make sure I call some other member of Congress and complain about that too.

This is such an important post, Ronnie, and should be shared through all Social Media. Thank you for keeping us so well informed. I followed all of the links and was impressed with the reports you quoted. Thanks!

Interesting to note that those who propose cutting SS are always those wealthy enough to do without it. I wouldn't mind a little means testing if it would eliminate SS to the wealthy who don't need it anyway and would never miss it.

Why any elder would vote Republican is beyond my comprehension. They have been waiting for this opportunity when they own the government to dismantle a successful and well loved program proposed and enacted by Democrats. I am saddened that so many voters never understood this.

Follow the money and the ideology. The Republicans only want your tax money to go to their pet program, the military. That's the ideology. The money that workers have paid into all their lives is desired to offset the cuts in other Democratic programs like Head Start, Medicare, Planned Parenthood, etc. Look at the history of how Republican representatives have always voted.

Once you understand that the only thing that will make them back off is fear of losing their jobs and all the perks that go with it you will know how to stop this terrible bill. The obvious solution is for all citizens, whether retired or to be retired, to rise up en mass and say, NO loudly and emphatically. Remind them, when you call, that you will remember their vote comes election time. It has kept them at bay for 50 years (the third rail in politics) and never were they closer to success than now.

Call, write, and make demands often and watch C-span to see how they voted. If they vote for this horrible bill call them again and say they lost your vote by doing so. If any Republican has the courage to vote "Nay" call them and thank them.

It will take all of us to stop the privatizing of Medicare and the dismantling of Social Security and that's the Republican end game.

I well remember George Carlin saying (as I remember it), "and now they're after your Social Security money, and they'll get it," which as you say, and we all know, the Republicans have been trying to accomplish for many decades. The wild thought crossed my mind though, is it possible this outlandish bill (and probably others like it) will be presented and * will swoop in and declare himself the savior of the Social Security program.

I guess my mind is darting about looking for soothing answers to what is a very scary scenario.

This is the perfect opportunity for me to ask the question I've had lately: WHY is this not being covered on the big three television networks?? (or four, if you want to include Fox - answered my own question with THAT one)

I think there is a large contingency of non-reading voters for whom this is the ONLY source of any kind of reporting they're being exposed to, mostly because it is sandwiched between the local newscasts in the evening.

What makes me mad is that we've known for 10 or 20 years that SS was in trouble, but Congress did nothing. They can't think beyond their next election cycle.

Most of us probably read the works of Ayn Rand in high school or college. She is the philosophical role model for many of today's Repugs, including Paul Ryan and a significant number of the "entitled rich". As I recall she wasn't big on compassion or empathy! If the Pugs get their way and most of our nation's revenue goes to the military, I wonder how long it will be before the planet is vaporized by nuclear weapons. At least we old folks may not be around to see that. Frankly, I don't think those who voted for * have any idea of what's in store for them--and unfortunately for the rest of us as well.

The entire situation is depressing and utterly disgusting!! One thing for sure: our TV will be off on Inauguration Day. *'s inauguration will be the first that I haven't followed, at least in part, since 1960.

Thanks for this. I will pass it on.

Lots to read and digest in today's post. I am doing it in small doses, otherwise I'd blow my top and raise my BP. Like others I get mad that the rich control my life by messing with SS and Medicare. If only half the money spent to elect * would buy medicine for underserved elderly, many would benefit.

Fred, I believe that's not true. Social Security is quite solvent.

It is only 'in trouble' because it's a huge pot of money that many wealthy greedheads would like to steal. Now they think they've got rid of the guards, and it's their perfect chance!

Fred and Sylvia...
I don't have the numbers in front of me right now and I don't have time to look them up, but Social Security is solvent meaning it can pay full benefits until about 2034, if I'm not mistaken about the year. It may not be quite that long now because fewer young workers are paying into the program for a variety of reasons.

(Recall that current workers pay for current retirees. We paid for our parents' Social Security, they paid for our grandparents, and so on. It was designed to work that way.)

There is a trust fund of at least a $2.3 trillion to draw on to pay benefits if new revenue falls short. Every president has raided that trust fund which is why Republicans and others say that Social Security is bankrupt.

But when presidents "borrow" the money, it is replaced with U.S. Treasury notes - the same kind many countries buy because they are considered the safest investment in the world. The U.S. has never defaulted on them and it is unlikely they will do so when Social Security needs some of those additional funds.

Thanks for the info. I called my representative and senators this morning and live people actually answered the phones for a change. Yes, we need to be making lots of calls and letters--and this is only one issue--sometimes it feels overwhelming.

Exactly, Ronni! In other words, the Social Security Administration has invested its assets in Treasury Bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

And the system could be fully funded until 2070 just by raising the cap on the contribution limit. Both Clinton and * campaigned with a promise to do precisely that. The difference is that * probably only said it to neutralize Clinton's platform, and no-one has any leverage over him to make him stand by his promise.

A bill like this from Congress will give him a perfect excuse not to deliver.

In response to Bruce Cooper's question above, "Where, my friends, has all the compassion gone?", I have an idea. This is something I've considered before privately. I think the generation that lived and served during WWII is part of the source of compassion.

All the men and women who served were involved in a common struggle and were thrown together regardless of wealth, education, regional affiliation, religion--and they learned to get along with each other, respect, and appreciate each other. Later, after the war they had the common experience of having been through the war as a kind of shorthand for forming bonds in work and socially.

Now that their generation is passing (the generation of my father, uncles, and one aunt) our current leaders do not know or respect those who they perceive as different or less than themselves. This grieves me deeply--my father as conservative as he was would be ashamed.

"What makes me mad is that we've known for 10 or 20 years that SS was in trouble, but Congress did nothing." Fred, they didn't care and still don't. Our wonderful congressmen and senators are exempt from social security. They have a first class, cushy retirement program. Representative Johnson is out of touch with reality as I don't believe that most Americans (liberal or conservative) support such changes. Call, write, and don't vote for incumbents.

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