Tribes of Eden by Dr. Bill Thomas
INTERESTING STUFF – 28 January 2012

Mr. President: Don't Sell Out American Elders

[UPDATE: I tried Midori's suggestion of using the email return on White House messages, but it goes to the same page at the White House website that limits messages to 2500 characters.

The shortened version that I sent the president really suffers for being cut in half but I had a mini-brainstorm: I've cut the original in half and resent it to the White House in two parts. Maybe someone will notice. Or not. Still, I've done my best.

[RONNI HERE: It wears me out that every few months President Barack Obama scares the bejesus out old people by saying something about "strengthening" Social Security which everyone knows is code for cutting it. He did it again in the State of the Union address so I sent him a severely edited version of this note - edited because the White House contact form allows only 2500 characters.

It is unlikely, among the thousands of letters sent to the White House, that anyone will read it, let alone respond or act on it. Still, I feel a little better.

Dear President Obama:

I am a 70-year-old Social Security and Medicare beneficiary. I publish a popular blog, Time Goes By, about what it's really like to get old.

You might enjoy stopping by sometime – - where you will find a large community of well-informed, thoughtful elders who pay a lot of attention to you, to politics in general and to the moves Washington makes on our two lifelines, Social Security and Medicare.

But to get to my point, in your State of the Union address Tuesday evening, you said this about Social Security:

"As I told the Speaker this summer, I'm prepared to make more reforms that rein in the long term costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and strengthen Social Security, so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for seniors.

“But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes...”

I worry every time I hear those words and you've been talking about “reform” of and “strengthening” Social Security since you took office. What concerns me the most is that a smart guy like you does not appear to understand the genius of the program's basic functioning as President Roosevelt set it up and how easily it can, with the wrong reforms (which we voters know is code for “cut”), be destroyed.

(I'm ignoring Medicare in this letter. It is a different kind of problem needing different solutions. But don't worry. I'll get back to you on that.)

Let's start with Social Security funding: You should know this and I'm pretty sure you do but just in case: Social Security has no relationship – none, zero, nada, zilch – with the nation's budget. Because it is self-funded through the dedicated payroll tax, by definition it cannot contribute to the nation's deficit.

It does not matter how many times Congressional Republicans (and a few ignorant Democrats) say differently: Social Security does not contribute to the deficit. It would be a very good thing if each time you make public statements about Social Security, you make sure to say that. Repetition works, you know.)

Because Social Security is not funded through the general revenue, it has been sacrosanct from budgetary battles in Congress for all its 75-plus years. That is, it was until last year when you signed the payroll tax holiday and when you extended it this year through February. That shortfall in uncollected Social Security payroll taxes is, as you well know, replaced in the trust fund from the general revenue.

And that is the first ever inroad to potentially cutting Social Security because it is not inconceivable that Congress, which holds the budget purse strings, can decide not to replace those funds. That you supported this move, Mr. President, is a big disappointment to me.

Even so, I'm pretty sure popular uproar would preclude such a theft, but the potentiality is there now. The seal on the door to the trust fund has been breached. That's scary if you're as old as I am – not just for me but all future generations who will need Social Security.

So, as politically useful as it is for you to call the payroll tax holiday a tax cut for the middle class, in reality it shortchanges Social Security and endangers the long term solvency of the program.

What you should be doing is raising the payroll tax by a percentage point or so (yes, even in these hard times) to ensure the program will be there past the next 20 years.

Because what rich people who do not need Social Security (but who are more than happy to take it for pocket change) do not understand is that without it, most Social Security beneficiaries would be living in cardboard boxes.

And by the way, it's not that we didn't try to save our own money for our old age. You perfectly well know – or should – that real wages have been flat for 30 years. For every raise people received during that time, inflation or health care or an emergency took more from their bank accounts.

Don't forget, too, that millions of old people lost trillions of dollars in life savings in the crash of 2008 and have no way to recoup. Personally, I lost a third of my modest savings and I'm among the luckiest for not having lost more.

Oh, and did I mention how many elders who planned to downsize from the large homes in which they raised their families cannot sell them now? Or are underwater? Or have been foreclosed upon – apparently illegally in many cases?

How many whammies is that against old people, Mr. President? I've lost count.

Elders cannot afford any cut to Social Security – and that includes the proposed reduction in the calculation of the cost-of-living adjustment which would affect current beneficiaries.

My appeal to you, Mr. President, is to get over this idea you apparently have to trade the program that modestly supports elders when their working lives are done for a bipartisan agreement to raise taxes on the wealthy.

I know you can't get those tax increases in this Congress and you should know it too. But go ahead, give it a try. Just don't sell out America's elders in your attempt.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: The Trouble with Four-Door Cars


Well what can I say except "thank you, Ronni" for writing this letter. It is so well done. Now if only some smart person on his staff will get it to him. :) Dee

That's a terrific piece; very well done.

I only hope those fools understand that they need us.

How can anyone imagine that today's young people won't be as dependent on Social Security in retirement as we are today? Why does anyone think it is OK to just throw future generations to the dogs?

Not me.

Amen to the above comments and thank you for putting so succinctly what seniors are thinking and fearing.

What a terrific letter, Ronni. So concise and full of facts that cannot be disputed.

Let's hope that whoever has the job of reading and deciding which mail the President should see chooses your wonderful post to put on his desk.

Thanks for always going to bat for ALL of us...

That's a good one, and yes, let's hope someone actually passes this on to Obama.

I think one thing that people should not forget is that Social Security does not just help elders. It helps everyone who has parents. I am 60 and would be hard pressed to support my 80 year old mother if she did not have Social Security and Medicare.

You speak for all of us in that great letter, Ronni. It's too bad that you had to edit it down, but I am sure that your message remained strong.

Thank you for carrying the banner for elders. I do hope the President sees it.

Excellent! I hope someone reads it and passes it along!

Excellent! Thanks for taking the time to do this for yourself and all of us. You are a national treasure.

Hallelujah and AMEN!!!! I think we should all forward this to President Obama because you said it so very, very well and tell him that we support and agree with what you have said here!!!!

Just a simple Thank You!!!

How could anyone say it better! I am sure you will let us know if you get a response. About 3 weeks ago I wrote something to the President about the obscene structure (and amounts of money used to build it) called our Embassy in Iraq. I also asked why the Iraqui oil fields aren't helping to pay for the war. To each of these questions I asked for a response - none to date! Hopefully because of your more influential voice the President will choose to respond to your talking points.

'...the White House contact form allows only 2500 characters.'


Have you tried this email address which appears on e-messages from the President?

Thank you for sending that magnificent letter. You took the words right out of my mouth.

It might help to get notice at WH if you indicated the number of people who subscribe to TBG and the hits you count daily. They love numbers!

Good for you for sending this letter to remind the Prez. how the retired have suffered through this recession and how necessary SS is to people.

One other insult to retired people that you didn't mention: The artificially low interest rates mean we get no income from our savings accounts or CDs. A few years ago I received about $750 a month in interest from my savings; now I get $25. A 96% pay cut!

I agree that the payroll tax holiday is shortsighted. What are they thinking?!? But I'm AGAINST raising the SS tax. As a self-employed, part-time worker trying to supplement my income I already pay a 15% payroll tax (on top of federal and state taxes of course). That's enough!

I have forwarded your letter
to President Obama via every WH contact address I could find.

I told him according to the Pew Research Center, for the next 19 years, about 10,000 people turn 65 every day!

I asked him to post to the
TGB comment section.

You are our hero/our champion!

Too bad you couldn't post that where we could all add our names to it and then send it along in an e-mail to the President. But maybe he will visit your site and see our comments here.

The letter by the way was spot on.

I'm pretty sure you will get a response, but it may be quite a while. I sent him a letter via snail mail in the fall of 2010 and received a snail mail letter back in April 2011, about 6-7 months later. It was a nice surprise, as I had heard that even though he (with assistance) goes through all his correspondence, I doubt all are answered.
While I am very concerned about us boomers, and those still surviving from our parents' generation, I am much more worried for the young people. I would like to see some solid projections of what their payroll tax rates will be over their working lifetime. So many can't even get decent paying jobs to support themselves now, much less retirement benefits.

Well written and my thoughts exactly. Now if I knew how to email the President I sure would.

Amen and thank you, Ronni. I, too, have added my agreement to a reproduction of your letter; sending it to the address Midori provided in her comment above. Maybe, if enough concerned elders speak out??? We can only hope, continue to raise our voices at every opportunity, and vote to make a difference next November!

That's a very good letter. I hope someone in the White House gives it the attention it deserves.


Canadian PM Harper is also sniffing around ideas like this one.

I read your blog every day and rarely comment, but I couldn't help myself with this one. Excellent letter, my sentiments exactly. Thank you from one more Senior who worries about my Social Security and Medicare.

May I suggest that you send the letter to your senators and representatives, too? I believe Obama made up his mind long ago to implement the cat food commission recommendations. In fact, erskine/bowles is probably his beginning negotiating position. I fear our only hope and the only hope for our children is to put the pressure on enough congresspeople to keep any bill from getting to him. For what that's worth.

Another really well-written communique!

My thought echos what Carol suggested about readers sending copies of your letter, or writing one of their own to their Representatives, Senators and other important leaders - pro and con.

Hope you don't mind, but I would like to use your letter above as a guideline to fashion my own letter to Mr. Obama on this subject.

Perhaps if all your readers did the same, someone somewhere might read at least one of them!!

Excellent efforts! I'm afraid many of my friends have just given up on politics & don't trust any of them, but if we do nothing, we'll surely be 'done unto'!

I wish I could print thousands of copies and mail them all to the White House. Listening to the president's speech, I felt nothing but fear for the future. Will Social Security even be there for me by the time I retire? And what about my parents, who have save diligently but also calculated Social Security into their retirement budget? If we "rein in" on this item, does that mean they have less funds to live on or will have to cut back on other areas? I'm very disappointed that session after session goes by without real solutions that will work without terrifying entire generations of people.

I'm weighing in late but I can't let this excellent post go by without a huge "thanks", Ronni. I agree with Faith Olson that if there's any way to let the WH know how MANY of us read TGB, it might help. And we vote!! I plan to forward your post to my senators and representative (although he's a Republican).

Excellent written letter. It covers all important subjects and makes its point. I thankyou so much for being concerned for all of us. Too bad we cannot make a petition for all of us to sign from your comments in order to support what you say and further the interest to show the President how we agree with you and support your cause.

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