The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Holding Social Security hostage

In Legislation Today, Political world on March 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm

A report on Politico today tells of 22 GOP senators who have signed a letter to the president threatening to vote against raising the debt ceiling unless he “concedes to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the current budget negotiations.”

Social Security has nothing to do with the current deficit. It is self-financing and currently has a more than $2.4 trillion surplus. It is true that this year, due to the financial hardships of workers and a resulting increase in beneficiaries who are forced to take early retirement, the program will pay out more than it takes in in payroll taxes. However, the surplus will more than cover the difference, and has been set up for just that purpose. Actuaries estimate that the program has total financial stability through 2037, after which, with no adjustments, it would be able to pay out at a rate of approximately 78 percent of promised benefits. Experts suggest that, with small, relatively painless modifications such as raising the salary cap to its original level (covering 90 percent of paid wages), the program could be extended far into the future.

Yet there continues to be this obsession with cutting benefits, fueled by misinformation coming from huge Wall Street interests (who just can’t bear to see all that money and those potential fees not flowing their way) and policy wonks who are simply opposed to the idea of social insurance and government programs. These well-financed Social Security foes speak with weighty pseudo-authority, claiming all the while that they are “saving” Social Security. (As if, in order to “save” it, they must eviscerate it.) Luckily, the vast majority of Americans know that Social Security works for them and for the country’s economy, as is shown in poll after poll.

The list of Republican senators signing this letter includes Dan Coates (Indiana), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas), John Ensign (Nev.), Jim Risch (Idaho), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Mike Lee (Utah), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Ron Johnson (Wisc.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Roger Wicker (Miss.) and Mike Johanns (Neb.).

Let’s hope they feel some electoral pain for their attack on this hugely successful government program.

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