Recently Richard Kirsch posted an article on The Next New Deal website. The article ‘Block a Grand Bargain with Bold Progressive Solutions to and Medicare’ warns of what seniors and progressives have feared for a while cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
During the campaign season almost every politician said they would vote to protect Social Security and Medicare. As a political observer it is political suicide to come right out and say you want to cut benefits to millions of seniors.
“Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
In spite of opposing cuts to Social Security on the campaign trail, President Obama is in favor of making changes to it.
“To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”
–PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA IN THE STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS, JANUARY 25, 2011
Republican leadership understands how Social Security works.
“The money that goes into Social Security is not the government’s money. It’s your money. You paid for it.” —Mitch McConnell
The major issue that seems to be pushing changes to Social Security comes from this widely held myth that ‘Social Security is bankrupting America’. However the truth is quite the opposite and Senator Bernie Sanders knows it.
“Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.” —Bernie Sanders
Now that the government is back open with a temporary band-aid (Continuing Resolution) this idea of a ‘grand bargain’ is once again alive. As part of the Continuing Resolution passed by Congress it mandated that both houses of Congress would meet in a ‘committee of conference’ and hammer out a real long-term budget. This round of budget negotiations opens up so many different cans of worms. There is the forced budget cuts known as the Sequester, reforms to ‘entitlements’ (Social Security, Medicare), the Keystone Pipeline, immigration, and many more.
The idea of a grand bargain needs very careful treatment. As Kirsch said in his post, progressives should to go on the offense when it comes to Social Security.
“By putting forward simple, broadly popular, progressive proposals that actually enhance benefits and add money to Social Security and Medicare, we enable Democratic allies in Congress to set the agenda and counter claims that they are not taking action to address the real solvency problems. And we also help set the agenda for the inevitable future deal to address both programs’ financing.
Here are two simple, popular, powerful proposals. On Social Security, make the richest 5% people pay into Social Security on all their earnings, just like 95% of workers now do. Use the new revenue to both boost Social Security benefits – which are too low – and extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust fund. On Medicare, slash the cost of prescription drug prices just like the Veterans Administration and all our global competitors do, saving hundreds of billions of dollars in the next decade.” (Emphasis added)
Finally someone has a solution that ends this debate about Social Security that fixes it for decades. By eliminating the cap on income for Social Security, millions of dollars would be added to the trust fund. This would allow Congress to strengthen Social Security so much that the trust fund would have “enough money to pay all benefits from 2033 to 2049”.
Changes that would strengthen Social Security and provide better benefits to seniors have already been submitted to both houses of Congress (H.R.3118, S.567). Kirsch says this “would boost benefits in two ways: changing the way benefits are calculated (designed to particularly help low-and-moderate income seniors) and changing the inflation adjuster Social Security uses to the CPI-E, which more accurately captures what seniors pay. This is exactly the opposite of the chained CPI proposed by President Obama, which undercounts what seniors typically purchase.”
Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) has been a strong advocate for strengthening Social Security. In a recent email newsletter she stated why protecting Social Security is so important.
“More than one-third of Granite Staters over 65 would be living in poverty if they did not receive Social Security. And it’s not just seniors who benefit from this program. Over one-third of beneficiaries in New Hampshire are spouses and families of workers who become disabled or die prematurely, including over 20,000 children.”
The other earned benefit that people on the hill like to talk about is Medicare. Kirsch also suggests that we enlarge the Medicare program to help everyone.
“Using its (Medicare’s) enormous purchasing power to get the same kind of low drug prices paid by the Veterans Administration or every other country on the globe. While estimates of the savings vary, they clearly would be substantial, tens of billions each year, much more than the cuts to Medicare included in the President’s budget.”
Again this type of solution has already been proposed in Congress. Kirsch goes on to say that this solution “would work to make the point that we can strengthen Medicare by stopping the drug companies from ripping off the country”.
While we stand with the President on most legislative issues, we need to be cautious as we move forward with changes to Social Security and Medicare. We cannot accept any type of cuts to earned benefits or quick fixes that add only a few years to the programs. We need strong straightforward solutions that push to increase benefits, not erode them. We need to stay united in our efforts to protect Social Security and Medicare for our seniors now to ensure that the program is there when the next generation retires.