Editors Note: Due to vacation schedule this OP-ED piece wasn't published when received. NHInsider staff decided it was still relevant so we are publishing it today!
Social Security had its 75th Birthday last year. While Americans celebrated this vital program that has provided economic support and dignity to seniors, disabled people, and children of deceased workers, there were members of Congress and a political party who were laying plans to change and jeopardize the program. The Republican Party leaders, who previously tried to privatize Social Security in 2005, decided to "save" Social Security from the very people who have spent a lifetime paying into the program. Their Chairman of the Budget Committee introduced "The Path to Prosperity," which included raising the qualifying age and, yes, privatizing it. It is particularly grating to read the language from Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's plan—"Further, even if the current system could be sustained, it is no longer a good deal for American workers"—because he, more than most, knows better. His father died young, and Paul Ryan rightfully became eligible for help from the federal government. He collected Social Security benefits as a minor. He saved those federal government checks to pay for college. This shows why we need to protect Social Security from the now educated and financially secure Paul Ryan and his party—because Social Security provides economic support and, for the young, economic and educational opportunity.
Here are some facts about Social Security. First, more than 90% of Americans 65 and over receive Social Security. More than 6 million children receive benefits due to a parent's death or disability, and a deceased worker's spouse collects if there are children under the age of 18. Millions rely on it to survive. While almost half of all seniors would be poor without it, women would be hurt even more than men, because women earn lower wages and generally live longer than men. More than half of all elderly women would live in poverty.
This would have an enormous economic impact on middle class families with aging parents. Already struggling adult children would have to care for themselves, their kids, and their parents. Without Social Security, families would have to make devastating decisions about living arrangements, health care, education, transportation, etc, as they tried to divide resources between the young and the old. Also, reducing future benefits or privatizing Social Security would not be a "shared sacrifice.” As former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers recently wrote in Vanity Fair, "The top 1% of Americans now take home nearly a quarter of all income and control more than 40% of the country's wealth—roughly the same as the bottom 90%." Not exactly shared sacrifice. Therefore, we must stop Paul Ryan and New Hampshire's Republican Representatives from dismantling this program.
Both of our Republican Representatives have attacked Social Security. One supported the Bush plan. The other said, at a May 2009 rally with Glen Beck's 9/12 group, "…future generations should seek different private sector solutions and have personal responsibility start to lead the way."
Why are Republicans doing this? Is there really a problem with Social Security? Right now, there is actually a surplus. As Jacob Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in USA Today on 22/21/11, "...the problem is not with Social Security, but with the rest of the budget. In 2001 and 2003, Washington cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and later expanded Medicare without paying for it. Blaming Social Security for our fiscal woes is like blaming you for not saving enough in your checking account because the bank lost all depositors' money."
Social Security will have problems paying at today's rate in 26 years, but it can be fixed if the Congress would do what Reagan did in 1983—fix it. First, raise the cap. Right now, people who earn under $106,800 pay tax on every single dollar they earn. People who earn over that do not pay on every dollar, just the first $106,800. This amounts to a hidden tax cut as their income rises. This is not fair. We also need to stop the Social Security tax “holiday” that was enacted last year, which reduced workers' payments 2%. This denies the fund essential resources.
As President Roosevelt said about Social Security in 1941, “We put those pay roll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.” We need to tell our leaders again--don't scrap our social security program!