Tell Senators Wyden and Merkley to Stand Up for Social Security

By Matt Blevins of Portland, Oregon. Matt is the Oregon state coordinator for the Strengthen Social Security campaign.

Just when you thought all the carving was done, some in Washington are getting ready to take out the big knives.

As noted by Paul Krugman and others, the co-chairs of the National Fiscal Commission released a draft report earlier this month that, among other things, recommends carving up Social Security like a Thanksgiving turkey. Under the guise of debt reduction, they want to increase the retirement age to 69, deeply cut benefits for middle-class workers, and reduce annual Cost of Living Adjustments.

Krugman says:

Let’s turn next to Social Security. There were rumors beforehand that the commission would recommend a rise in the retirement age, and sure enough, that’s what Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson do. They want the age at which Social Security becomes available to rise along with average life expectancy. Is that reasonable?

The answer is no, for a number of reasons — including the point that working until you’re 69, which may sound doable for people with desk jobs, is a lot harder for the many Americans who still do physical labor.

But beyond that, the proposal seemingly ignores a crucial point: while average life expectancy is indeed rising, it’s doing so mainly for high earners, precisely the people who need Social Security least. Life expectancy in the bottom half of the income distribution has barely inched up over the past three decades. So the Bowles-Simpson proposal is basically saying that janitors should be forced to work longer because these days corporate lawyers live to a ripe old age.

Social Security didn’t cause the deficit and it should not be undermined to fix the deficit, especially when it proposes to fix the deficit on the backs of those who are most vulnerable.

That’s why the Strengthen Social Security campaign is organizing in Oregon and across the country. Over 200 organizations, including the Advocacy Coalition for Seniors & People with Disabilities; AFT-Oregon; Alliance for Democracy, Portland Oregon Chapter; Children First For Oregon; Disability Services Advisory Council of Clackamas County; Elders in Action; Human Services Coalition of Oregon; Jobs with Justice; National Association of Social Workers, Oregon Chapter; Oregon Action; Oregon AFL-CIO; Oregon AFSCME; Oregon Alliance for Retired Americans; Oregon Center for Public Policy; Oregon Consumer League; Oregon State Council for Retired Citizens; Oregon Working Families Party; Save Oregon Seniors; SEIU Local 49; SEIU Local 503; and United Seniors of Oregon have come together to fight to make sure that social security is protected for generations to come.

While some members of Congress, including Reps. Peter DeFazio and David Wu have put their names to resolutions opposing these reductions, others - significantly Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley - have not.

Given their commitment to basic safety net policies in the past, their silence is curious. In the hope that a bit of public outcry can stiffen their spines on this basic issue, the Strengthen Social Security campaign is holding a National Call Congress Day today.

Take 5 minutes and call 1-866-529-7630 to be patched through to Senators Wyden and Merkley.

Tell them not to cut Social Security. Help ensure that your Social Security will be there for your children and your grandchildren.

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    Great job! Very smart analysis of the issue.

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    "Social Security didn’t cause the deficit and it should not be undermined to fix the deficit, especially when it proposes to fix the deficit on the backs of those who are most vulnerable."

    A misleading statement. While you may oppose the increase in the retirement age, the facts of the proposal are that it contains a hardship exemption for those in occupations where they can no longer work after 62.

    Matt says nothing about the proposal to increase the amount of income subject to FICA, which is vital to the long run sustainability of the system and should be supported by every progressive.

    In addition, there is no reason that Social Security benefits that are received by those with middle to high incomes should not be taxed.

    The Rivlin-Domenici proposal makes different changes to the SS formula that avoids some of the worst changes in the Bowles-Simpson plan but still assures long run sustainability of the system.

    Sticking our heads in the sand won't "Help ensure that your Social Security will be there for your children and your grandchildren." It will ensure that it is there for about the next 20 years, at which point the payroll tax will be confiscatory and far more severe cuts will be instituted.

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    it is correct that social securitydid not cause the budget deficit. In fact it actually is used to hide the extent of the deficit. However, it is in trouble on its own and needs to be altered. The proposed changes are gradual and do nothing of the sort that the author rants about.

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      Remove the cap on income subject to FICA withholding and Social Security is solvent in perpetuity (and actually runs a surplus if benefits are kept at current levels with COLAs)

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    Need to correct something that I think is a common misunderstanding, or maybe misstatement.

    We shouldn't refer to FICA or caps on "income". You should refer to "wages" instead. There is no FICA on interest, dividend or capital gains income. There is only FICA on W-2 wage income.

    This is important, because as the SS fixes all tend to seek new revenues from higher wage earners, without corresponding increases in benefits to those workers, it becomes a wealth transfer program. And that's fine. But, if that is the case, why exactly does all the wealth transferred come only from wage earners? Why not from wealthy investors? Shouldn't they also contribute to the societal stablization of our common retirement program?

    Instead of raising the cap on wages subject to FICA. We should consider imposing a SS recovery tax on all capital gains, dividend and interest income, along with a similar tax on all wage income over the current threshold.

    If we included all income as subject to this tax, it would be lower and wider.

    I think its not inappropriate to impose a SS recovery tax on those who benefitted these past 30 years from SS trust fund borrowing which was done to reduce top marginal tax rates. That group includes high income wage earners, and also people who are collecting dividend, interest and capital gains income.

    In any event we should say wages, not income for now.

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