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State of the Union 2016 – Will Washington Really Strengthen Social Security?

You don’t have to agree with his politics to acknowledge that President Obama’s final State of the Union address was, as promised, an aspirational and ambitious look forward.  The New York Times summed it up this way:  

“In a prime-time televised speech that avoided the usual litany of policy prescriptions, Mr. Obama used his final State of the Union address to paint a hopeful portrait of the nation after seven years of his leadership, with a resurgent economy and better standing in the world despite inequality at home and terrorism abroad.

He acknowledged that many Americans feel frightened and shut out of a political and economic system they view as rigged against their interests, even as he offered an implicit rebuke of Republicans who are playing on those insecurities in the race to succeed him.

‘As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘We can’t afford to go down that path.’ "

In a sweeping speech that touched on issues as diverse as curing cancer to fighting ISIS, retirement security played a small role.  However, it did provide the President an opportunity to deliver one of his best one-liners of the night:

“After all, it’s not much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package, for 30 years, are sitting in this chamber. For everyone else, especially folks in their forties and fifties, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.

That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.”

American families know first-hand what this looming retirement crisis feels like. About half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings and a third of current workers aged 55 to 64 are likely to be poor or near-poor in retirement. Unfortunately, the median retirement account balance is a puny $3,000 for all working-age households and $12,000 for near-retirement households. 


However, just as with the climate change debate, many conservatives continue to deny the retirement crisis even exists.  This too often used head-in-the-sand political approach led the President to challenge his Congressional audience: 

“How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?  

Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.”
 
Undoubtedly, acknowledging the economic challenges facing average Americans has to be the first step to find solutions; however, equally important is for citizens to hold their elected officials accountable for saying what they mean and meaning what they say.  Too often, candidates promise to “strengthen” Social Security while on the campaign trail when, in truth, they actually support plans to slash benefits.  They promise to protect Social Security and Medicare while actually planning to privatize them.  

What does the candidate asking for your vote really mean when he/she promises to “strengthen” Social Security and Medicare?  For the majority of Americans of all political parties, strengthen means no cuts to benefits.  A growing movement also supports boosting benefits; however, voters can't assume the same of candidates on the campaign trail in 2016.  

So, our challenge to all voters is to ask each and every candidate who hopes to come to Washington,“What are your true plans to strengthen Social Security?”


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State of the Union 2016 – Will Washington Really Strengthen Social Security?

You don’t have to agree with his politics to acknowledge that President Obama’s final State of the Union address was, as promised, an aspirational and ambitious look forward.  The New York Times summed it up this way:  

“In a prime-time televised speech that avoided the usual litany of policy prescriptions, Mr. Obama used his final State of the Union address to paint a hopeful portrait of the nation after seven years of his leadership, with a resurgent economy and better standing in the world despite inequality at home and terrorism abroad.

He acknowledged that many Americans feel frightened and shut out of a political and economic system they view as rigged against their interests, even as he offered an implicit rebuke of Republicans who are playing on those insecurities in the race to succeed him.

‘As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘We can’t afford to go down that path.’ "

In a sweeping speech that touched on issues as diverse as curing cancer to fighting ISIS, retirement security played a small role.  However, it did provide the President an opportunity to deliver one of his best one-liners of the night:

“After all, it’s not much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package, for 30 years, are sitting in this chamber. For everyone else, especially folks in their forties and fifties, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.

That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.”

American families know first-hand what this looming retirement crisis feels like. About half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings and a third of current workers aged 55 to 64 are likely to be poor or near-poor in retirement. Unfortunately, the median retirement account balance is a puny $3,000 for all working-age households and $12,000 for near-retirement households. 


However, just as with the climate change debate, many conservatives continue to deny the retirement crisis even exists.  This too often used head-in-the-sand political approach led the President to challenge his Congressional audience: 

“How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?  

Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.”
 
Undoubtedly, acknowledging the economic challenges facing average Americans has to be the first step to find solutions; however, equally important is for citizens to hold their elected officials accountable for saying what they mean and meaning what they say.  Too often, candidates promise to “strengthen” Social Security while on the campaign trail when, in truth, they actually support plans to slash benefits.  They promise to protect Social Security and Medicare while actually planning to privatize them.  

What does the candidate asking for your vote really mean when he/she promises to “strengthen” Social Security and Medicare?  For the majority of Americans of all political parties, strengthen means no cuts to benefits.  A growing movement also supports boosting benefits; however, voters can't assume the same of candidates on the campaign trail in 2016.  

So, our challenge to all voters is to ask each and every candidate who hopes to come to Washington,“What are your true plans to strengthen Social Security?”


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Will the President’s Commitment to Middle-Class Agenda Protect Social Security too?

There is always plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking after each year’s State of the Union.  However, reading the commentary on last night’s speech was especially interesting since President Obama has clearly decided to take the gloves off in pursuing a popular middle-class economic agenda the American people support but the GOP-controlled Congress has no intention of passing:

“Republicans said that they were caught off guard by a major component of the president’s 2015 agenda, which he announced over the weekend and detailed further in his speech, to raise taxes and fees on the wealthiest taxpayers and the largest financial firms to pay for, among other things, tax breaks for the middle class and free community college. While these programs may prove popular with many Americans, Republicans said that they hoped the American public would see them as a ploy from a president who knows Congress will never pass them.”  The New York Times

What the Republican leadership has supported is more tax cuts for huge corporations and the wealthy plus cuts to Social Security and Medicare. While the President didn’t emphasize Social Security and Medicare in last night’s State of the Union, he did highlight their importance to American families’ economic and health security.  Truth is, you simply can’t improve the financial outlook for average Americans without protecting these programs.  But of course, these days “protect” has very different meanings depending on whom you talk to in Washington.

Remember all those Congressional campaign promises about “protecting” Social Security?  For the newly sworn-in GOP House what that actually meant was voting just hours after taking their oaths of office to put Social Security benefits cuts at the top of the Congressional agenda.  You’ve got to give the House leadership credit for stealth.  No one, outside a small circle of Republican Rules Committee members and GOP leadership, even knew this Social Security attack was coming.  Slipped inside what’s usually a routine administrative start to each Congressional session was an unprecedented change to House rules that would allow a 20% benefit cut for millions of disabled Americans unless there are broader Social Security benefit cuts or tax increases. Of course, House Republicans have no intention of passing tax increases so guess what’s left?  Benefit cuts to millions of Americans who receive Social Security.

This House vote illustrates the increasingly Orwellian nature of our political discourse, where words have little meaning because "save” means "slash" and "protect" means "privatize.” What’s even more noxious about this particular assault on Social Security is the ongoing effort to pit beneficiaries – retirees, the disabled, survivors and their families – against each other.  Proponents of this stealth rule change in the House claim seniors will somehow suffer if the disabled are allowed access to the benefits they too have contributed to throughout their working years. That’s a particularly absurd notion since the majority of disability recipients are also older Americans.  However, the divide and conquer politics of fear all-too-often work.  This latest Social Security attack is built on a foundation of lies intended to demonize America’s disabled community.

No doubt, you’ve already heard the messaging, most recently espoused in an especially candid way by Senator and Presidential hopeful Rand Paul that: Social Security disability fraud is rampant because it’s so easy to receive benefits and people would rather collect a hefty check from the government than work.  It’s the 2015 incarnation of “our nation is full of ‘welfare queens’ and ‘greedy geezers.’” It also suffers from the same basic problem...it’s simply not true.

So let’s break down a few of these Disability Myths.

 

MYTH: “Disability has become a form of permanent welfare for a lot of folks. It's not that hard to prove a mental illness, or mental issues, or pain issues.” 

Not that hard?  So, why are the vast majority of claims denied?

 FACT: “Nearly 80 percent of applicants are denied at the initial level, and fewer than 4 in 10 are approved after all levels of appeal. Underscoring the strictness of the disability standard, thousands of applicants die each year while waiting for benefits. And one in five male and nearly one in six female beneficiaries die within five years of being approved for benefits. Disability Insurance beneficiaries have death rates three to six times higher than other people their age.” Center for American Progress

 

It’s seems pretty ridiculous to claim the system’s being widely-abused when so many die just years after receiving benefits or while they’re still waiting for an answer.

MYTH:  Growth in Social Security disability claims is “astonishing”, an “epidemic” and “startling.” 

Actually, it’s called demographics.  Ever heard of the baby boomers? Former SSA Commissioners from both Republican and Democratic administrations have taken issue with this fact-free, hysteria-laden portrayal of the disability program’s growth.

 FACT:  “It is true that DI has grown significantly in the past 30 years. The growth that we’ve seen was predicted by actuaries as early as 1994 and is mostly the result of two factors: baby boomers entering their high-disability years, and women entering the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s and 1980s so that more are now "insured" for DI based on their own prior contributions.” Open Letter from former SSA Commissioners

 

 “As Baby Boomers retire, the program’s growth has already leveled off and is projected to decline further in the coming years.”  Center for American Progress

 

MYTH:  The entire system is “broken,” rife with “fraud” and “rubber-stamping judges” bankrupting the entire Social Security program.

 

 FACT:  The Government Accountability Office found that improper payments of Social Security benefits that include Disability Insurance had an error rate of just 0.6 percent. Government Accountability Office

 

Social Security touches the lives of virtually every American family and has unparalleled support across all ages, political parties and demographics.  The GOP led House clearly hopes to drive a wedge through that coalition, pitting seniors against people with disabilities, young versus old and workers versus retirees.  So much for a new Congress that “works together.”

President Obama’s economics agenda for the middle-class is not only popular but desperately needed for millions of Americans left behind in this recovery...including Social Security beneficiaries of all ages. Of course, the GOP Congress won’t pass it but there’s always 2016. 

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Will the President Fight for Social Security & Medicare?

President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress next Tuesday should provide some desperately-needed insight into just how far this administration will go to defend and strengthen America’s two most successful income and health security programs. The new GOP Congress has made their intentions clear by attacking Social Security on Day One of the new session.  The White House; however, remains silent on the GOP’s latest move:

“TPM asked multiple times last week for the White House's position on the House action, but never received a formal response, a stark contrast to the loud public pronouncements of Brown, Warren, and others. It also invokes the uneasy relationship between the White House and Social Security advocates, who were dismayed by Obama's willingness to accept cuts to the program during the 2011 grand bargain talks with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).” 

{Update:  The White House did respond after our initial post . A spokesperson told TPM "Generally speaking, the Administration strongly opposes any efforts to undermine Congress’ ability to reallocate funds between the Social Security retirement and disability trust funds," a White House spokesperson told TPM, "as they have done with bipartisan support numerous times in the past in both directions."}

NCPSSM has urged the President to support reallocation, as has happened without controversy 11 previous times, to avoid a massive benefit cut Americans with disabilities simply cannot afford.

“We applaud you for making middle-class mobility and economic equality one of your top priorities.  Social Security helps to provide a lifetime of economic equality by insuring millions of Americans against the risks of retirement, disability and survivorship. 

For that reason, the National Committee urges you to support the reallocation from the OASI Trust Fund to the DI Trust Fund and oppose the House majority’s demand to cut benefits in exchange for addressing the Disability Insurance program’s financing.  Your State of the Union address would be an ideal opportunity to reaffirm your support for Social Security.”  Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

In truth, the White House could have invested an entire week just responding to all of the attacks launched by GOP Congress in its opening days (so much for working together) so it’s hard to read too much into this silence on Social Security.  However, Tuesday’s State of the Union address should change that.  President Obama must set the tone and make it clear to the House and Senate that cutting benefits to families who depend on Social Security and Medicare is simply not an option. 

While Republicans certainly didn’t campaign on cutting benefits to middle-class families, now that they’re elected, GOP leaders in the House have made it clear that’s exactly their intention.  President Obama’s State of the Union provides an important opportunity to set the record straight and push back on all of the falsehoods currently being used to justify cutting benefits to the middle class.

Here are just some of the more outrageous claims:

The new Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), went so far as to create his own set of Social Security numbers to justify the GOP attack by claiming Social Security:

 “is a program that right now on its current course will not be able to provide 75 or 80 percent of the benefits that individuals have paid into in a relatively short period of time …”

There’s nothing about this statement that is true.  Even if Congress does absolutely nothing to improve Social Security’s long-term solvency (and no one believes that will happen) the program would be forced to reduce benefits by about 25% two decades from now. Any benefit cut is unacceptable; however, it’s not too much to expect Congressional Committee Chairmen to stick to the facts. Another House Committee Chairman, the head of the Social Security subcommittee Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), led recent House the effort to hold the Disability program hostage in order to extract cuts program-wide.  He claims:

the program is “plagued by fraud” and that “the public is fast losing faith in Social Security, and I don’t blame them, because I have too.” 

Neither are true. 

The Government Accountability Office found that improper payments of Social Security benefits that include Disability Insurance had an error rate of just 0.6 percent.  SSA’s Inspector General reports less than 1% fraud in the disability program.  Any fraud is too much but what reasonable person would consider  less than 1% of anything a “plague.”

Far from losing faith in Social Security, the American people of all ages and political parties continue to show unparalleled support for the program in spite of Congressional conservatives’ campaign to undermine it. Not only do they support Social Security in its current form, by large margins they’re willing to pay more to improve it and boost benefits. The latest National Academy of Social Insurance survey of Americans found:

Seven out of 10 participants prefer a package that would eliminate Social Security’s long-term financing gap without cutting benefits. The preferred package would:

  • Gradually, over 10 years, eliminate the cap on earnings taxed for Social Security. With this change, the 6% of workers who earn more than the cap would pay into Social Security all year, as other workers do. In return, they would get somewhat higher benefits.
  • Gradually, over 20 years, raise the Social Security tax rate that workers and employers each pay from 6.2% of earnings to 7.2%. A worker earning $50,000 a year would pay about 50 cents a week more each year, matched by the employer.
  • Increase Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment to reflect the inflation experienced by seniors.
  • Raise Social Security’s minimum benefit so that a worker who pays into Social Security for 30 years or more can retire at 62 or later and have benefits above the federal poverty line.

With this State of the Union, President Obama has an opportunity to provide some truth-telling on Social Security and Medicare while also sending a clear message that the White House will not aide and abet conservatives who intend to cut middle-class benefits to pay for tax cuts for huge corporations and the wealthy.  

We hope the President will join the American people and be bold in the defense and expansion of Social Security and Medicare rather than leave the door open to continued hostage-taking and deal-making designed to unravel the economic security so many Americans depend on.

 

Popular tags: , , ,

Will the President Fight for Social Security & Medicare?

President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress next Tuesday should provide some desperately-needed insight into just how far this administration will go to defend and strengthen America’s two most successful income and health security programs. The new GOP Congress has made their intentions clear by attacking Social Security on Day One of the new session.  The White House; however, remains silent on the GOP’s latest move:

“TPM asked multiple times last week for the White House's position on the House action, but never received a formal response, a stark contrast to the loud public pronouncements of Brown, Warren, and others. It also invokes the uneasy relationship between the White House and Social Security advocates, who were dismayed by Obama's willingness to accept cuts to the program during the 2011 grand bargain talks with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).” 

{Update:  The White House did respond after our initial post . A spokesperson told TPM "Generally speaking, the Administration strongly opposes any efforts to undermine Congress’ ability to reallocate funds between the Social Security retirement and disability trust funds," a White House spokesperson told TPM, "as they have done with bipartisan support numerous times in the past in both directions."}

NCPSSM has urged the President to support reallocation, as has happened without controversy 11 previous times, to avoid a massive benefit cut Americans with disabilities simply cannot afford.

“We applaud you for making middle-class mobility and economic equality one of your top priorities.  Social Security helps to provide a lifetime of economic equality by insuring millions of Americans against the risks of retirement, disability and survivorship. 

For that reason, the National Committee urges you to support the reallocation from the OASI Trust Fund to the DI Trust Fund and oppose the House majority’s demand to cut benefits in exchange for addressing the Disability Insurance program’s financing.  Your State of the Union address would be an ideal opportunity to reaffirm your support for Social Security.”  Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

In truth, the White House could have invested an entire week just responding to all of the attacks launched by GOP Congress in its opening days (so much for working together) so it’s hard to read too much into this silence on Social Security.  However, Tuesday’s State of the Union address should change that.  President Obama must set the tone and make it clear to the House and Senate that cutting benefits to families who depend on Social Security and Medicare is simply not an option. 

While Republicans certainly didn’t campaign on cutting benefits to middle-class families, now that they’re elected, GOP leaders in the House have made it clear that’s exactly their intention.  President Obama’s State of the Union provides an important opportunity to set the record straight and push back on all of the falsehoods currently being used to justify cutting benefits to the middle class.

Here are just some of the more outrageous claims:

The new Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), went so far as to create his own set of Social Security numbers to justify the GOP attack by claiming Social Security:

 “is a program that right now on its current course will not be able to provide 75 or 80 percent of the benefits that individuals have paid into in a relatively short period of time …”

There’s nothing about this statement that is true.  Even if Congress does absolutely nothing to improve Social Security’s long-term solvency (and no one believes that will happen) the program would be forced to reduce benefits by about 25% two decades from now. Any benefit cut is unacceptable; however, it’s not too much to expect Congressional Committee Chairmen to stick to the facts. Another House Committee Chairman, the head of the Social Security subcommittee Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), led recent House the effort to hold the Disability program hostage in order to extract cuts program-wide.  He claims:

the program is “plagued by fraud” and that “the public is fast losing faith in Social Security, and I don’t blame them, because I have too.” 

Neither are true. 

The Government Accountability Office found that improper payments of Social Security benefits that include Disability Insurance had an error rate of just 0.6 percent.  SSA’s Inspector General reports less than 1% fraud in the disability program.  Any fraud is too much but what reasonable person would consider  less than 1% of anything a “plague.”

Far from losing faith in Social Security, the American people of all ages and political parties continue to show unparalleled support for the program in spite of Congressional conservatives’ campaign to undermine it. Not only do they support Social Security in its current form, by large margins they’re willing to pay more to improve it and boost benefits. The latest National Academy of Social Insurance survey of Americans found:

Seven out of 10 participants prefer a package that would eliminate Social Security’s long-term financing gap without cutting benefits. The preferred package would:

  • Gradually, over 10 years, eliminate the cap on earnings taxed for Social Security. With this change, the 6% of workers who earn more than the cap would pay into Social Security all year, as other workers do. In return, they would get somewhat higher benefits.
  • Gradually, over 20 years, raise the Social Security tax rate that workers and employers each pay from 6.2% of earnings to 7.2%. A worker earning $50,000 a year would pay about 50 cents a week more each year, matched by the employer.
  • Increase Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment to reflect the inflation experienced by seniors.
  • Raise Social Security’s minimum benefit so that a worker who pays into Social Security for 30 years or more can retire at 62 or later and have benefits above the federal poverty line.

With this State of the Union, President Obama has an opportunity to provide some truth-telling on Social Security and Medicare while also sending a clear message that the White House will not aide and abet conservatives who intend to cut middle-class benefits to pay for tax cuts for huge corporations and the wealthy.  

We hope the President will join the American people and be bold in the defense and expansion of Social Security and Medicare rather than leave the door open to continued hostage-taking and deal-making designed to unravel the economic security so many Americans depend on.

 

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