45 Years of Alice's Restaurant
Being Old: When Strangers Notice

You, Me and Social Security 2012 – Part 1: The Problem

category_bug_politics.gif DO NOT YAWN at the title of this post and related ones to come. It is about your ability and the ability of your children, grandchildren and beyond to house and feed themselves in old age – an expectation of the past 77 years that (I do not exaggerate) is no longer certain.

That is due to a long-term, wildly well-funded effort by powerful people like billionaire Peter G. Peterson, by Alan Simpson, Erskine Bowles, a few Democratic and a majority of Republican lawmakers in Washington in response to pressure from their campaign contributors in the financial industry to “reform entitlements.”

Translation: to privatize, reduce, cut and/or kill Social Security and Medicare.

The current assault by these forces is being promoted as necessary to avoid the end-of-year fiscal cliff (curb, slope, slide – take your pick) that the legislators themselves set in force last year when they refused to raise taxes on rich people by doing what Congress does best – kick their can (that is, the work they are paid to do and don't) down the road.

And if all you are hearing is scare stuff about the fiscal cliff, please do take some time to read this piece from economist James K. Galbraith.

There are squeaks from some Republicans since the election that they are now rescinding their pledge to Grover Norquist not to ever, ever, ever raise taxes on rich people. But don't you believe it. Here is what South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said about that last Sunday on ABC-TV:

"'I will violate the pledge for the good of the country only if Democrats will do entitlement reform,' Graham said...discussing a possible bipartisan compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff.”

“For the good of the country,” he says. Lordy, Lordy, be still my beating heart. Has Lindsay had a come-to-Jesus moment?

Not any more likely than Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss who invoked the same kind of patriotism on the same topic with a TV reporter on Saturday (video here):

“I care too much about my country. I care a lot more about it than I do Grover Norquist.”
Except that as Zaid Jilani of BoldProgressive explained:

”Many progressives have been celebrating Chambliss’s rebuke of Norquist. While Norquist is indeed a powerful lobbyist who should not have so much influence over the Republican Party, progressives should not be fooled by Chambliss’s rhetoric.

“The senator is not breaking from Norquist because he wants to raise taxes on the wealthy or big corporations. Rather, he’s doing it because it will make it easier to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.”

Chambliss and Lindsay are just the beginning of the doubletalk and weasel words you will hear from Washington lawmakers during the fiscal cliff negotiations between now and Christmas because they think it's their chance to “reform entitlements.”

There will be Byzantine machinations both public and behind the scenes (which will be leaked) that are not what they appear to be and the purpose of which is to cut Social Security and Medicare in exchange for any kind of reduction – any at all, no matter how insignificant – in rich people's tax burden.

As Republicans have done in the past, they will call their proposed reform “shared sacrifice” as though elders and the oldest baby boomers have not already way overpaid their share in a triple whammy that has ruined millions of elders' final years:

  1. Drained life savings by 30, 40 and even 50 percent, money meant to supplement Social Security in old age

  2. Forced retirement after layoffs without ever resuming and finishing the careers they worked lifetimes to build

  3. Stuck in homes (underwater and not) they intended to sell for a downsized retirement and still cannot do so

Corporations were bailed out with billions of dollars – a lot of those were elders' dollars. No one bailed out old people who have no possibility of returning to the workforce in anything but minimum wage jobs – if there were any to be had and ageism were not a force. We have given more than enough, much more than our share, already.

Sadly, we can't do anything about that now. But we can fight back as hard as we did when President George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security in 2005. One of the lies that will be repeated ad nauseum by corrupt or stupid legislators (not to mention some reporters and pundits) – the same lie Bush unsuccessfully tried to sell the country - is that Social Security is broke.

It is not. For the best explanation I know against this lie, please read this 2010 post from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman, a former Time Goes By contributor who died two years ago – a brilliant man I am so lucky to have known.

In 2005, we defeated President Bush's well-funded, hard-fought war on Social Security. We – many elders, but a large majority of Americans of all ages too - now oppose reductions to the program. Some findings from a 2010 AARP survey about attitudes toward Social Security on its 75th anniversary:

• 84% agree with the statement that “Maybe I won’t need Social Security when I retire, but I definitely want to know it’s there just in case I do.”

• Half of non-retired adults would be willing to pay more now in payroll taxes to ensure Social Security will be there for today’s older people and a similar proportion willing to do so to ensure it will be there for them when they retire.

• Nine in ten adults under age 30 believe Social Security is an important government program, and over nine in ten want to know it is there when they retire just in case they need it.

We can beat back this new attack on Social Security but it will take work. Next in this series, Part 2: The Solution, in which I will explain what we each can do and how to do it will appear here later this week.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmermann: Protesters


Thank you so much, Ronni, this is invaluable. You are covering all the bases for us all to read and understand the very real threat to Social Security. I remember reading somewhere, quite a while back, somebody saying that "if Social Security was lost, we would never get it back." Can't let that happen and will look forward to your next post regarding this most vital issue affecting so many of us and generations to follow.

This is obviously a very, very complex issue. Made even more complex because these overpaid congressmen continue to "kick the can down the road". Just like GWB's comment regarding Iraq/Afganistan/Iran conflict, "let the next administration be the decider".

Seems as if the position of the party of 'no' regarding the deficit problem is (Cheney) "the deficit means nothing". It's only important when it's time to make it politically devisive!

Two things come to mind: 1> After losing another chance to put the GOP back in - they failed - again! The incumbents must be rethinking their respective positions and forming their own campaign strageties. 2> Where is all the bluster about cutting the ridiculous Pentagon spending? This is far more complicated and more severe than what some call entitlements.

There are many issues - none which are being resolved. The Americans ae being held hostage by this gang of do nothing 535 country club players.

There is nothing that you wrote, Ronni, that is not true. But as a big European newspaper says every so often: If we don't do something about climate change, we're not going to have to worry about any country's economy (which includes SS and Medicare in our country). Of all the findings in the 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook, the one that merits the greatest international attention is the one that received the least. Even if governments take vigorous steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the report concluded, the continuing increase in fossil fuel consumption will result in “a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees C” (by the year 2100). This should stop everyone in their tracks. Most scientists believe that an increase of 2 degrees Celsius is about all the planet can accommodate without unimaginably catastrophic consequences: sea-level increases that will wipe out many coastal cities, persistent droughts that will destroy farmland on which hundreds of millions of people depend for their survival, the collapse of vital ecosystems, and far more. An increase of 3.6 degrees C essentially suggests the end of human civilization as we know it.
/// I'm not worried about my children and grandchildren (and I am close to having a great-grandchild) having SS and Medicare. I am concerned about them simply being able to survive at all. /// And while I don't believe in 'death panels', health care dollars are not going to be there for us, as we age, let alone for our children and grandchildren. The father of a friend of mine is 78 years old and chronically ill, and he estimates that he has used $2 million in health care dollars in the past 13 years (since he turned 65 and got on Medicare). Why has he used $2 million in health care dollars? Because he doesn't want to die. Well, no one wants to die, but even if our country was economically healthy, we still couldn't spend $2 million in health care dollars on each of us Medicare recipients. /// I don't know what the answers are but I do this: unless we do something to ameliorate climate change, we're not going to have to worry about SS and Medicare for our children and grandchildren. They won't have enough clean drinking water and food. And as for us -- I'm grateful everyday to just have enough to eat. And as for Medicare -- I'm a year away from qualifying for it, but I'm pretty sure I don't want our doctors slowly killing me with Rx (by the way, we're experiencing a shortage of Rx drugs right now) and to the tune of $2 million. I'd rather just pass away and my health care dollars can be given to a parent with minor children still living at home.

I get so sick of the wealthy trying to take away the benefits of the safety net. What is the matter with them? Did they not receive the message that it is better to give than to receive? Or that is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven? Do they not feel any responsibility for their fellow man?

That we have to constantly fight off this hoard of greedy capitalists who want to grab the Social Security dollars to add to their wealth is abominable. But fight we must so gear up everybody.

Fran speaks an uncomfortable truth. What ever happened to discussions of population control? Are we 'entitled' to unlimited Medicare dollars? If insurance companies - in this country 'with the best health care system in the world' (according to those who don't have to pay their own premiums)- put a lifetime limit of 1 or 2 million on YOUNG people, how can we justify that kind of expenditure on someone who is quite old and terminally ill? Perhaps an additional insurance supplement for those who exhaust a 2 million limit?

Instead of simply saying 'Don't touch my money'! how about offering some ideas of how to most fairly fix this problem?

This morning I heard Obama's White House rep saying that by "entitlements", Obama means Medicare/Medicaid only since SS does not contribute to the deficit and cutting it would not help the situation.

Problem? According to the GOP, "entitlements" includes SS, Medicare, Medicaid, and a bunch of other "gifts" given out by our "socialist" President. Yeah, right.

But how can they even discuss this unless they use the same definition?

I'm far from yawning, Ronni. I'm looking forward to hearing your ideas about what we can do to make our wishes known.

Social security really is not part of the deficit problem. However, SS problem is not sustainable into the distant future without either more income, less benefits, or some combination of both.

All that's needed at the moment is to remove the cap (now at about $110,000)on wages subject to the payroll tax. That would move sustainability out about another 75 years. By then the Boomers will be dead and there probably will be no more need to adjust SS.

"Forced retirement after layoffs without ever resuming and finishing the careers they worked lifetimes to build"

Yep! That was me.

Excellent post Ronni. Posting it to my FB page

Kudos to Fran for her comments regarding climate change. This is indeed our number one issue that we should be focused on.

If Hurricane Katrina and now Superstorm Sandy weren't emough to convince doubters about climate change, I don't know what it will take. Of course, we have august members of Congress who don't believe in basic science, let alone climate change. I agree that there probably won't be much need for S/S or Medicare 75-100 years from now if the earth's temperature has increased by 3.6 degrees C.

However, in the meantime I agree that we need to remove the earnings cap and tax investment income (above a minimum set amount) to ensure that S/S is there--in case climate change has not yet obliterated the human species by the year 2100.

Thanks for this, Ronni~ I am getting it on over to my lists and Facebook. Also will RT. Hoping these points penetrate.

This surely isn't "yawn" info, including describing the game playing that's going on, the problem defining terms.

The solution Gabby Geezer suggests as we've known here is certainly a viable one. Too many have other agendas and don't want a simple solution.

Also, I phoned my lame duck Representative at both his local and D.C. office prodding him to use this opportunity to stand up and be counted now -- that he doesn't have to act the Repub. Party line -- he has a chance to be a leader.

I made it clear I don't want the "can kicked down the road" to next year. Take care of this budget now, extend the tax rates on all but the top 2%.

I wish we could get this out of the way, so can't enter into negotiations in D.C. and fight we have to make for Soc. Sec. and Medicare.

By "extending the tax rates" for all but the 2% I want to make clear should have read "extending the CURRENT tax rates" which means, of course the current tax rate will not be extended for the 2% -- they'll simply go back to paying a rate they did before Bush cut their rate -- it's all the other folks and middle class that need a financial break -- so we'll have money to spend to stimulate the economy -- so there will be a need to fill more jobs.

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