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You, Me and Social Security 2012 – Part 1: The Problem

Posted Nov 27 2012 8:30am

category_bug_politics.gif DO NOT YAWN at the title of this post and related ones to come. It is about your ability and the ability of your children, grandchildren and beyond to house and feed themselves in old age – an expectation of the past 77 years that (I do not exaggerate) is no longer certain.

That is due to a long-term, wildly well-funded effort by powerful people like billionaire Peter G. Peterson, by Alan Simpson, Erskine Bowles, a few Democratic and a majority of Republican lawmakers in Washington in response to pressure from their campaign contributors in the financial industry to “reform entitlements.”

Translation: to privatize, reduce, cut and/or kill Social Security and Medicare.

The current assault by these forces is being promoted as necessary to avoid the end-of-year fiscal cliff (curb, slope, slide – take your pick) that the legislators themselves set in force last year when they refused to raise taxes on rich people by doing what Congress does best – kick their can (that is, the work they are paid to do and don't) down the road.

And if all you are hearing is scare stuff about the fiscal cliff, please do take some time to read this piece from economist James K. Galbraith.

There are squeaks from some Republicans since the election that they are now rescinding their pledge to Grover Norquist not to ever, ever, ever raise taxes on rich people. But don't you believe it. Here is what South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said about that last Sunday on ABC-TV:

"'I will violate the pledge for the good of the country only if Democrats will do entitlement reform,' Graham said...discussing a possible bipartisan compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff.”

“For the good of the country,” he says. Lordy, Lordy, be still my beating heart. Has Lindsay had a come-to-Jesus moment?

Not any more likely than Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss who invoked the same kind of patriotism on the same topic with a TV reporter on Saturday ( video here ):

“I care too much about my country. I care a lot more about it than I do Grover Norquist.”
Except that as Zaid Jilani of BoldProgressive explained :

”Many progressives have been celebrating Chambliss’s rebuke of Norquist. While Norquist is indeed a powerful lobbyist who should not have so much influence over the Republican Party, progressives should not be fooled by Chambliss’s rhetoric.

“The senator is not breaking from Norquist because he wants to raise taxes on the wealthy or big corporations. Rather, he’s doing it because it will make it easier to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.”

Chambliss and Lindsay are just the beginning of the doubletalk and weasel words you will hear from Washington lawmakers during the fiscal cliff negotiations between now and Christmas because they think it's their chance to “reform entitlements.”

There will be Byzantine machinations both public and behind the scenes (which will be leaked) that are not what they appear to be and the purpose of which is to cut Social Security and Medicare in exchange for any kind of reduction – any at all, no matter how insignificant – in rich people's tax burden.

As Republicans have done in the past, they will call their proposed reform “shared sacrifice” as though elders and the oldest baby boomers have not already way overpaid their share in a triple whammy that has ruined millions of elders' final years:

  1. Drained life savings by 30, 40 and even 50 percent, money meant to supplement Social Security in old age

  2. Forced retirement after layoffs without ever resuming and finishing the careers they worked lifetimes to build

  3. Stuck in homes (underwater and not) they intended to sell for a downsized retirement and still cannot do so

Corporations were bailed out with billions of dollars – a lot of those were elders' dollars. No one bailed out old people who have no possibility of returning to the workforce in anything but minimum wage jobs – if there were any to be had and ageism were not a force. We have given more than enough, much more than our share, already.

Sadly, we can't do anything about that now. But we can fight back as hard as we did when President George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security in 2005. One of the lies that will be repeated ad nauseum by corrupt or stupid legislators (not to mention some reporters and pundits) – the same lie Bush unsuccessfully tried to sell the country - is that Social Security is broke.

It is not. For the best explanation I know against this lie, please read this 2010 post from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman, a former Time Goes By contributor who died two years ago – a brilliant man I am so lucky to have known.

In 2005, we defeated President Bush's well-funded, hard-fought war on Social Security. We – many elders, but a large majority of Americans of all ages too - now oppose reductions to the program. Some findings from a 2010 AARP survey about attitudes toward Social Security on its 75th anniversary:

• 84% agree with the statement that “Maybe I won’t need Social Security when I retire, but I definitely want to know it’s there just in case I do.”

• Half of non-retired adults would be willing to pay more now in payroll taxes to ensure Social Security will be there for today’s older people and a similar proportion willing to do so to ensure it will be there for them when they retire.

• Nine in ten adults under age 30 believe Social Security is an important government program, and over nine in ten want to know it is there when they retire just in case they need it.

We can beat back this new attack on Social Security but it will take work. Next in this series, Part 2: The Solution, in which I will explain what we each can do and how to do it will appear here later this week.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmermann: Protesters

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