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ELDER MUSIC: Twilight Zone

Will the Republicans Cut Social Security?

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Earlier this week, I posted a story titled The Attempted Theft of Medicare. That done, today it is time for a Social Security update – especially since the Board of Trustees released its annual report (pdf) on the status of the trust funds earlier this month.

The full report is 269 pages. If that is as daunting to you as it was to me, here is a one-page highlight version.

First, some facts to keep in mind about Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) which is the official name of Social Security:

According to the Social Security Administration, 43 percent of single Social Security recipients who are 65 or older and 21 percent of those who are married, rely on their checks for 90 percent or more of their income

In 2016, the combined number of beneficiaries of OASDI was about 61 million

It cost $6.2 billion to administer the Social Security program in 2016, just 0.7 percent of total expenditures - (a bargain)

Republicans have been trying to kill Social Security since President Roosevelt signed the bill into law in 1935 and now that they own all three branches of government, the current assault on Medicaid and Obamacare are only their first targets.

Their attacks usually start with the lie that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are “entitlements.” Too many people believe that but every penny comes of worker contributions (and interest on that money). These social programs are “earned benefits” and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Keeping the focus on Social Security today, Republicans also repeatedly tell us that OASDI is unsustainable. Here are a few facts addressing that lie according to this newest Trustees Report:

The asset reserves of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $35 billion in 2016 to a total of $2.85 trillion.

The combined trust fund reserves are still growing and will continue to do so through 2021. Beginning in 2022, the total annual cost of the program is projected to exceed income – the shortfall covered by reserves.

Reserves are projected to be depleted in 2034 – the same as last year's projection. At that time there will be sufficient income to pay only 77 percent of scheduled benefits.

The Trustees project that come January, there will be a 2.2 percent increase in benefits for 2018. That certainly does not cover the real costs faced by elders who spend much more on medical bills and prescription drugs than young and midlife Americans but we'll deal with that another day.

Today, we need to educate ourselves on the best ways to ensure that Social Security will be viable way past 2034 and how to counter those in and out of Congress who are working hard to cut the program.

Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, who probably knows more about the program than anyone else in the U.S. wrote this following the release of the Trustrees' Report:

”Social Security is the most universal, secure, fair, and efficient source of retirement income that we have, providing a guaranteed, inflation-protected source of income that one will never outlive. Expanding Social Security is a common-sense solution to that looming crisis...

“Expanding Social Security is a solution to other challenges, as well. Americans are rightly concerned about growing income and wealth inequality. Expanding Social Security and requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share will begin to put brakes on this dangerous, and rapidly growing, upward redistribution of wealth.”

Regarding expansion, in February, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon introduced the Social Security Expansion Act in both the House and the Senate.

The bill would remove the loophole so that earned income above $250,000 would be subject to the Social Security payroll tax (it is not now) and replace the current calculation for cost-of-living (COLA) increases to one that better reflects how elders spend their money. It also would

Increase benefits for Social Security recipients by an estimated $65 a month

Improve the Special Minimum Benefit by making it easier for low-income workers to qualify for benefits and increasing the benefit level

Apply a 6.2 percent Social Security tax on investment income for high-income households, collecting more revenue for the program

If enacted, the Social Security Expansion Act will provide a critical expansion of benefits and extend the solvency of Social Security for more than 60 years, past 2078.

Of course, since the Republicans control both the House and Senate, this bill would seem to be dead on arrival. However, listen to Nancy Altman again from her article referenced above:

”As divided as the American people are over many issues, we are not divided about our deep support for Social Security.

“Support for Social Security expansion, and opposition to benefit reductions, cuts across ideological divides. These views are shared by Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. They are held by self-identified Tea Partiers and union households.

“A Pew poll conducted during last year’s presidential primaries discovered that supporters of every candidate running overwhelmingly oppose Social Security cuts. Our Social Security system is so popular that it unites Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz supporters!”

So now that Congress ran out of steam on repealing Obamacare and gutting Medicaid late last night, it won't be long before they try to convince Americans that Social Security isn't working which simply isn't true. Some well-researched tweaks can fix it.

With their unrelenting attacks on the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in Congress have already proved that they don't care what their constituents want and it won't be any different for Social Security.

So be ready to barrage Congress with the truth. For ourselves, our children, grandchildren and beyond, we can't afford to lose this one.

Comments

Maybe I'm just naive, but I could never understand why anybody would support (and by support I mean vote for) who want to cut a program that works and that so many people depend on. It just seems so cruel and unproductive. And besides, is this country really so strapped for cash that we can't afford to fund this and any other programs (Medicare, Medicaid etc.), that would benefit the health and welfare of its citizens?

Okay, we have to keep up the e-mails and phone calls, and whatever else we can manage. That's our money, most of us paid in for many years to receive a relatively small amount per month. Thanks for keeping us motivated, Ronni!

Back in 1952 when I was on my own and started my first official job with a real paycheck of $33 per week, there was this 'contribution' for "Social Security". Well, at 18, "Social Security" was the last thing on my mind, and 'contribution' meant I could have a choice to contribute or not.

However, when I went to Personnel it was gently explained that this was not a voluntary affair and I would be glad for it later on. The 18 year-old in me was skeptical, but there was, indeed, no choice.

The wording has been changed since those days, obviously.

All of us are still fighting for the right to receive what we paid for all these years.

My Senators are fighting to preserve this right. about all I can do is support them.

Who votes for people who want to hurt old people? Many of the over 65 have worked hard all their lives and use the SS for food and housing. Thank you for keeping these issues so visible.

Your thoughts on the new press people in the WH?

Hope you are feeling stronger

I remember my Father explaining my first paycheck for a summer job; what taxes etc. meant.He also said never depend on social security in my later years because too many factors could affect it. He was right. So, I got a good education, good job and saved $ at an early age and on,invested in long holdings. I've paid my fair share but it has been his advice...basically telling me to look after myself, make good sound decisions about money, do not depend on anyone including the government to be there for you. Gratefully I'm in a good position today at 74. Great info and post Ronnie

Hi Ronni! I'm so happy to see you back in your political horse and in fighting form. Personally I've come to depend on your updates to be the basis for my own 'talking points' when I'm phone banking - something my recent injuries have forced me to do instead of pushing my walker thru Portlands streets.
The word "entitlement " has raised my ire since I began collecting Social Security.
It's usually said with a vocal sneer as though we who have worked out entire life are trying to get something we don't deserve.
Frankly it pisses me of si much that I see red and then to go on and on about my own personal story about paying FICA at the age if 15 when I got my first job. I really wish I had kept my first pay stub. At this point I'd frame it and wave it in ignorant people's faces.
We all worked, hard and frequently long hours while going to school in our youth. And we all paid our few pennies into FICA even tho many of us were making pennies ourselves...my first job as a file clerk paid .65 cents an hour!
I'm so glad you are back to your old advocacy ways. Thank you, Ronni, for making my life more fulfilling -I feel like I'm part of our own PAC-the Ronni Bennet political action group!
You remain an inspiration for me and I'm sure I'm not alone.
Whatever you've done previously in your working life, Ronni, the activism your blogs brings my own activism out.
Thank you again for being the woman you are and for sharing your passions with the world.
Ronnie PAC. I like it!
Elle

Ronni, thank you for wading through that document and posting the above. You must have brain cells to spare to be so lucid so soon after surgery.

Thanks, also and as always, for being the voice of wisdom you are. I am so grateful to have you in my life!

My father gave me the same advice as Kate's did, and I'm glad it worked out so well for her. However, many elders followed similar counsel but life happened. I went to college but floundered somewhat in the years after graduation. I had 3 back surgeries. Two marriages did not work out. I moved around a lot. I partied too much and wasn't always responsible. (Yes, that part was my fault.)

I met my 3rd and present spouse in my late 30s. Together, we settled down and went back to school for master's degrees. After paying our pay through grad school, we got a relatively late start in building our careers. On top of that we chose the "wrong" profession. We worked in the nonprofit human services sector, which is not known for its munificent salaries.

We saved and invested as best we could, worked into our late 70s and managed to accumulate a modest nest egg. However, we are also VERY appreciative of Social Security. Because there are many reasons why the (sound) advice of our fathers may not work out for everyone, it MUST continue to be there for all of us.

Oops, I hit send too soon. I intended to thank Ronni for this informative post and also discovered a typo in the 2nd paragraph. Should be "After paying our WAY. . ."

Because Social Security is my only income I would be destitute without it.

I was always thrifty, but life happened and every time I saved and invested an emergency forced me to use my savings. This was the pattern of my life. Not everybody is fortunate enough to be able to continue to save and invest like Kate was and her implication that we are to blame for not taking care of ourselves is misguided and condescending.

I am old enough to remember the poor farms where elders without family to fall back on were warehoused until they died. Before Social Security if you were poor that is what happened.

My grandmother was a successful business woman owning a very large cottage court and trailer park (now called a motel and RV park) that included a restaurant, four houses and a very large adjoining acreage. Then she was widowed and a short time later she broke her hip. She had to turn the business over to my step-father who, through foolish business decisions, destroyed the profitable business my grandmother had built up. My mother and step-father moved in with my grandmother when she was disabled and she lost control of her business.

My grandmother ended up without an independent income having to spend the last years of her life living with her sister and her brother-in-law . Don't presume to tell me that she was to blame for what life handed her. Social Security would have given her a modicum of independence. That was what life was like for many elders before S. S.

That the Republicans would love to take us back to those cruel days is unconscionable.

Darlene..I apologize if my post offended you or anyone else. That was not my intent; my post was just a snippet of my life experience. In no way was it intended to judge another's circumstances or life experiences and decisions.

I signed up for Social Security today. Guess this retirement thing is now real indeed. The SS worker was helpful and the process simple.

What strikes me about SS is that much of the reason that the trust fund begins to be depleted by 2034 is simply that there are an awful lot of us boomer generation retiring and less people in middle age in the work force paying in. We always were a sort of bulge in demographic story and we still distort the numbers involved simply by the size of our generation. But as Altman says, if it the politicians wanted to fix this, the fix is pretty easy -- start by raising the cap on income that gets taxed for SS. The earners who would be hit by this need it a lot less than most old people.

Darlene, you are so right! Unfortunately, I think the problem with many (not all) Republicans is that they do not understand the concept of "community" or the common good. For sure, the current occupant of the Oval Office doesn't. Their reasoning is that if THEY are well-off and don't need health insurance--or Social Security--it's all because of THEIR hard work, brains, thrift, godliness, etc. The idea that others may have worked equally hard/smart and lived within their means (I won't even comment on the godliness part) but experienced a different outcome through no fault of their own just doesn't register with these folks! It's all about more for them, and the "devil take the hindmost".

They don't "get" that public investment allows their multimillion/billion dollar businesses to operate. Even Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos couldn't afford to field a defensive military, build the national highway system or ensure the safety of air travel. Republicans apparently think businesses will police themselves to keep our food and water supply safe and our air breathable. It has been shown time and time again that they won't and don't, but Repubs aren't willing to consider that possibility so gripe constantly about the "misuse" of tax dollars for these purposes.

I don't have an answer, but I get very upset--even angry--when a successful program like Social Security faces repeated attack by people who Just. Don't. Care.!

Its fine to tax high earners more as long as you raise their benefits proportionately too. You did forget to mention that, right? So if you tax 7 figure earners on their entire income then they should expect mid six figure social security payments, right? Oh wait, you want them to pay disproportionately more and get no extra returns? Why not just confiscate their bank accounts?

Actually, Steveark, I do want to tax people who have access to more disproportionally for the good of the whole community. Note I don't say "earn more." Some fortunate people "earn" their high incomes, but most just start off from an easier jumping off point and get lucky. (Like the POTUS.) We live in community; we survive best when we make community work.

Thanks for your research, links I've forwarded to what few friends and family , young and old still living, who care but don't read blogs, including mine. Wouldn't it be nice if the day would come when we just knew we had ins. and social security and didn't have to keep fighting for it -- we could devote our time and energies toward some of the other important issues that need resolving in this nation. Leaves us wondering if this is possible in our shortening lifetimes, but we must keep striving for the generations following us. Hope all is going as well as possible for you as think of you often.

I don't think you have to worry about anything coming from the Republicans. For 7 years they promised and threathened to cut Obamacare and look how that turned out.
I wouldn't give our government a second thought. NOTHING is going to get done. Or cut. Too much hate going round and even stevens, tit for tats. McCain did what he did only to get even with Trump.
Nobody in the government cares about the American people.
Sad.

Seriously, Steveark, are you expecting us to feel sorry for those who already have seven figure incomes or earnings and match their incomes with SS benefits? Should we all only pay for what we use? I have had no children in a school system for 40 years, I don't use local, State or National parks, I never go to public beaches and never drive on freeways, I have no need for librairies or sports arenas or recreation centers, I have excellent health insurance and I am not even on Medicare, yet I don't begrudge a penny of my contributions or taxes to support these benefits for the good of all citizens. Elizabeth Rogers has very clearly articulated the rationale for taxing proportionally and paying out in accordance with need. And Janinsanfran is absolutely right that we need to work together for the good of the entire community.

About confiscating bank accounts---don't tempt me. To be honest, I agree with the great Franklin D. Roosevelt, who once proposed a maximum income. What we should be aiming for is that everyone has at least enough to live comfortably and safely. The rich, whether they got that way through inheritance, hard work or piracy, should be allowed to keep enough to live a fairly posh life, but not an obscenely luxurious one (e.g. maybe two or three houses but not five or six and absolutely no gold-plated toilets). A few uber-rich folks are beginning to understand that. Why do you think Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are planning to offload their excess wealth to various charities before they die?

Retired Senator Harry Reid stopped George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in their second terms from privatizing Social Security. Bush later said he couldn't understand why Reid refused his invitations to meet in the Oval Office. Harry Reid grew up poor in Nevada. I thought this was why.

My father, who served in WWII and the Korean War, worked as a welder. His union pension was $315/month. He had a good quality of life when he became disabled due to stroke because he received Social Security.

The whole point of Social Security was to prevent impoverishment. It works.

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