Saturday, October 13, 2012

Against the "Grand Bargain": The fight for Social Security

The Grand Bargain battle isn't an explicit issue in the Presidential race, because Republicans want to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid even more than President Obama does. But the positioning and lobbying and backroom dealing are underway, and a lot is on the line for the large majority of Americans.

As soon as the Presidential election is done, the efforts of Obama and the Republicans to strike that Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will move to center stage in what the pundits prefer to call the "fiscal cliff" battle.

Union leader Rose Ann DeMoro writes about the fight for Social Security in It's Up to All of Us to Save Social Security Huffington Post 12/10/2012:

Social Security may be the most enduring, successful, and popular reform in U.S. history. But, in the 77 years since its inception, it has never faced as grave a threat as it does today.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of Social Security. ...

Today, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare explains, still barely half of all workers have access to retirement plans on the job, and many of those are substandard. Without Social Security, they note, "over half of all older Americans would fall into poverty... Social Security does exactly what it was designed to do - it gives people a secure, basic income for as long as they live."
And, of course, the independence of seniors also reduces the financial pressures on their children and other relatives at a time when they are faced with college expenses and saving for their own retirement. It is part of the fabric of what Americans think of without much reflection as middle-class life in the United States.

She summarizes some major aspects of the Social Security fight in talking-point form:

Here's the real story of Social Security today:

1- It is not an "entitlement" for people ripping off taxpayers. Workers have earned their Social Security benefits through payroll deductions throughout their working years.
2- Social Security is especially critical for women who have historically earned less than men and spent more time out of the workforce thus building less of an income base that determines the amount of benefits. Women are also less likely to have employer-paid pensions or other savings, and typically live longer than men.
3- It is fully funded through the Social Security Trust Fund; payments do not add a dime to the deficit.
4- It is not going broke. The Trust Fund has a current surplus of $2.6 trillion, an amount expected to reach $3.7 trillion in 2022.
5- When the surplus erodes through the aging of Baby Boomers, by 2033, incoming payroll tax revenues will still enable recipients to be paid more than 75 percent of promised benefits.
6- The Trust Fund can be strengthened, but not by any of the punitive proposals floated by those who would undermine or gut Social Security. The simplest step - raise the income ceiling on payroll taxes, meaning applying the payroll tax to earnings above the current limit of $110,000, a position then-Senator Obama endorsed. It would be further strengthened by putting people back to work, adding to the system with more payroll taxes on people earning a living.
Cutting benefits on Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid is a really bad idea.

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