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).
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):
• 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.
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