No Diet COLA for Seniors: Fight the Freeze and to Save Social Security

Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY)

Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY)

Let’s thank Congressman Anthony Weiner, our single-payer champ, for taking to the streets of New York again, this time to protest the Social Security Administration’s policy decision to freeze the cost of living adjustment (COLA) on Social Security benefits. Unlike last year, when seniors and the disabled received a 5.8% increase in their monthly benefit checks, Social Security checks in 2010 and 2011 will remain flat.

The Arctic freeze, the first one in the 35 years since the automatic COLA went into effect during the Nixon administration, comes at a politically bad time, when Wall Street executives, high off their no-strings-attached bank bail-out, are skipping around the conference room with $140-billion in salaries and bonuses, a three-year high in compensation.

Compare that to the average senior’s Social Security check — $1100 per month.

Ouch!

No wonder President Obama is now calling for a 50% cut in executive pay at the 25 highest-paid firms that scooped up bail-out money.

But back to the seniors.

Some, like the AARP, are supporting the House-approved one-time $250 bonus to Social Security recipients. Instead of getting last year’s COLA boost of roughly $600, they’re getting an additional $80 per year, or $7 per month, enough to buy scrambled eggs and toast at Denny’s.

Not much comfort in that.

From the words of one senior quoted in an Associated Press report, “We were good citizens all of our lives. We went to work, we lived by the book, we weren’t on welfare, we didn’t ask the city for anything …”

Defenders of the COLA freeze argue the formula is tied to the Consumer Price Index and prices are down – on oil. But utility costs are on the rise – almost 30 percent. Medicare costs for hospitalization and doctor visits will be capped for most, though not all recipients, but prescription drug costs under Medicare Part D will increase because Part D is not tied to the COLA freeze.

Forget the formulas.

Remember the bigger picture. Ever since former President Johnson proudly handed the first social security check to another former president, Harry Truman, the right wing in this country has been driven to destroy the greatest safety net to emerge from the New Deal.

You hear it over and over. Social Security is facing a financial crisis. The Social Security trust fund will soon be bankrupt.

Pinocchio.

Social Security, with its monthly benefits to some 57 million seniors, widows, and disabled, is hardly bankrupt – quite the contrary. In fact, the Social Security trust fund has an estimated $2 trillion in it – and, according to the Congressional Budget Office 2009 analysis of long term projections, this “rainy day” trust fund could last another 30 to 40 years before we have to dip into the other Social Security fund, the pay-as-you-go system, where this generation of workers pays for the benefits of current retirees, just as today’s retirees paid for the benefits of the previous generation.

Let’s look at the numbers. In 2008 Social Security collected $700 million, and paid out only $500 million. The extra $200 million went into the trust fund.

Impartial experts estimate that the trust fund will grow to more than $3 trillion in the next eight years. In 2018 Social Security will begin drawing down the trust fund to supplement its regular income, in order to pay the benefits of the baby boomers .

In 2083, over 70 years from now, we will be looking at reducing benefits by 20 percent, unless, of course, we wisely decide to raise the salary ceiling on Social Security taxes.

To fund Social Security, employers pay a 6.2% tax while employees pay the other 6.2% — up to $107,000 in salary. If a CEO of a health insurance giant makes $20 million in salary, bonuses, and stock options, that CEO still only gets taxed on the first $107,000.

Could anyone seriously be worrying about a small tax increase 30 to 70 years from now?

Probably not.

The real enemies of government, those masquerading as free-marketers, insist Social Security and Medicare are to blame for our deficit, now estimated at $1.4 trillion. Not true. In fact, it’s the other way around. The federal government borrows from Peter to pay Paul, gobbling up special Social Security trust fund bonds to cover the costs of the Bush tax cuts and the trillion dollar occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the bloated military budget and ever-expanding bases.

Social Security is in danger, but not because money is running out. No, Social Security is in jeopardy because Republicans, with the help of Blue Dog Democrats, the same big business shills thwarting the public option, are building their case against our treasured old-age safety net in order to undermine our belief that government is the commons, here for the common good, to protect and provide – with fire departments, libraries, police, national parks and public schools. Should the Right succeed in stigmatizing big government as creeping socialism, publicly-funded institutions will be up for grabs, for privatization, for profit, and for greed.

If we accept the 2010 COLA freeze, if seniors fail to loudly protest, both with their feet and their votes, then we may be looking at another freeze in 2012, 2013 and beyond, while the Right continues to hammer away at the big lie – that we cannot afford Social Security, that this entitlement program must be “re-adjusted” until we adjust ourselves right out of this safety net.

Safety nets are as old as time. The Greeks had olive oil, which they stockpiled for old age, when they could trade it for desired goods. The Old English set up poor houses to feed and clothe not just the poor, but the old. Reactionary forces, also as old as time, wanted to discourage the poor and the old from taking advantage of this safety net, so they required Poor House participants to wear a huge P on their chests.

In America, we must be ever vigilant about protecting Social Security, which means that the question of solvency must be addressed now, urgently, before the insolvency meme spirals out of control.

If it hadn’t been for the people raising alarm, jamming phone lines to their congressional reps, President Bush – roaming the countryside with his free market blather – might have succeeded in privatizing our retirement money in a collapsing stock market, replete with auction rated securities frozen at auction and real estate mutual funds buried by toxic mortgages in Las Vegas.

But the beat goes on – Senator George Voinovich, (R-Ohio), the guy who literally turned the lights off to shut down a committee hearing on constitutional rights violations, teamed up with Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn), the once-Democrat who introduced John McCain as the Republican Presidential nominee, to push legislation appointing a study commission reminiscent of the 1981 Greenspan Commission to overhaul Social Security. From Voinovich’s press release – “The proposal, dubbed the SAFE (Securing America’s Future Economy) Commission Act, seeks to establish a commission that will examine our tax and entitlement programs. The hope is that the commission will offer recommendations on how to reform a system the senators deemed unsustainable and irresponsible.”

The senators say they reserve the right to attach the “study commission” proposal as an amendment to a relevant bill.

Trouble in River City.

Under the proposal, an 18-member bipartisan committee, four lay people, and two members of the executive branch, will study the situation for one year before making recommendations that Congress will then accept or reject as a package deal – an up or down vote, take it or leave it. Lieberman said “a special commission with fast track procedures is needed in this case because of the political difficulty of making such sweeping changes.”

With enough fear-mongering, you might convince Congress members who went along with the Iraq invasion and overnight bank bail-outs to approve a study commission’s recommendation phasing in social security cuts over a ten year period — until suddenly the country wakes up, opens its eyes and finds the entitlement program is at best an anemic image of its former self.

Here’s how the hatchet job works. Politicians, like Lieberman and Voinovich, have to cut benefits without looking like they’re cutting benefits. It was done that way before. In 1984 the Social Security age eligibility was raised on a gradual scale, moving the regular retirement age from 65-67. Also in 1984 Social Security, which was never before subject to income tax, became taxable for anyone whose income is greater than $25,000 per year.

Finally in 1998, the cost of living adjustment formula was revised to pay less. This change didn’t even require a vote by Congress.

Only an administrative correction.

And there’s no telling what new tricks a supposedly impartial commission might come up with for hidden cuts. One of the most dangerous ways that Social Security may be cut is through a balanced budget amendment or balanced budget legislation that would provide for across-the-board cuts in all government spending, to make up for budget shortages.

So what can we do about the pressure to cut Social Security? Do we have to sit still and let Social Security be cut again to protect the budget against growing deficits resulting from Mastercard wars and occupations?

winograd1

Absolutely not.

As a candidate for Congress in California’s 36th district, I am committed to protecting Social Security from any commission bent on slashing benefits or privatizing our greatest safety net, one of the most remarkable accomplishments of the New Deal.

Fight the COLA freeze.

Long live Social Security!

Marcy Winograd for Congress

Marcy Winograd

Congressional candidate Marcy Winograd, of Progressive Democrats of America, is challenging Jane Harman (CA-36) in the June 8, 2010 Democratic Party primary. In 2006, Winograd mobilized almost 40% of the vote in only three months of campaigning. To learn more about her campaign, visit winogradforcongress.com or Marcy Winograd for Congress on Facebook.

Republished with permission from After Downing Street.

Published by the LA Progressive on October 24, 2009
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About Marcy Winograd

Marcy Winograd is a blogger, activist, and public school teacher in Los Angeles. You can follow her on twitter: marcywinograd

Comments

  1. A couple of points.

    First, Marcy, there’s a small historical error in your article: FDR did not hand Harry Truman the first Social Security check. Mr. Truman wasn’t eligible for Social Security when it came into being. Rather, Lyndon Johnson handed the first Medicare card to Harry Truman.

    The second item is from BenefitsLink.com, via Nobel Prize winning economist and columnist Paul Krugman.

    BenefitsLink examined the retirement income of the 2nd quartile of pensioners in the US — above median but not at the top — and found that Social Security accounts for more than half of their income. (It’s the great bulk of income among poorer retirees). Asset income is, by comparison, trivial.

    The study noted a couple of caveats. Pensions will presumably be a smaller share of income in future, because DB plans have given way to DC. Also, this only tracks income; the extent to which seniors live by drawing down assets isn’t shown.

    Clearly, Americans need to do more to save for retirement. But the fact is, Social Security is the key to financial security for the vast majority of retirees. And when Wall St. steals whatever money folks have managed to save on their own, as happened over the past 18 months, Social Security needs to step in and fill the gap. There aren’t enough slots open for the elderly to be Wal-Mart greeters to take up the slack.

    Charley

  2. SS was meant to supplement cost of living, not replace it. People that do not understand and do not see the seriousness and the priority of preparing for retirement will be adversely affected.

    These are the kind of hard lessons we learn all the time. As youths many of us were told always strive for more. Better grades better education so that we could make better money. What many forgot was to add “to save a lot for retirement”.

    This 5% increase denied is justified. It is set to hedge inflation. When you make it an issue of “they need more anyway” you undermined the sanctity of its simple fairness. If the dollar experiences inflation, pay out will increase in stride. If more, that would be an undeserved benefit(got more than they deserve); if less that would be government stealing.

    Sounds to me like people are saying that FDR and the congress of then did a poor job for recipients.

    SS should have a surplus but it does not. It has paper assets. Those assets went all over government. Like most taxes it doesn’t go to a specific alternate pot it going to the big pot to disperse as needed. All this borrowing and spending is our fault. We don’t convince others of our views and until people start taking responsibility for their portion of our errors . . . well, “good luck” in that blame game.

  3. Dems are not the “majority”. We have to understand that all though there is command of order does not mean command of all decisions.

    “The rich get richer”? What does that mean? Do you know where all the money Hawaii Edu is coming from and for what reasons? Do you know exactly were it is going? If you don’t like how things are going get involved. And by get involved I mean you and people that support you, need to get in the face of the right people and do it consistently as others do it.

  4. Why when the Democrats are in the majority are major decisions like health care reform and social security being decided in bi-partisan committees?

    I read this article two days after my state (Hawaii) has reduced to a four day school week. The rich get richer on the backs of school children and seniors.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dick and Sharon, Margie Morales. Margie Morales said: No Diet COLA for Seniors: Fight the Freeze & Save Social Security …: From the words of one senior quoted .. http://tinyurl.com/ykqvoku [...]

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