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Ed Fund Briefings: Securing Social Security

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Nov 07 2011 at 4:45 PM
FALL 2011 >>

By Jane O’Grady

The day before the ADA Education Fund’s Congressional briefing on Social Security, word leaked from the deficit “Super Committee” that the 76-year-old insurance program was once again on the budget-cut bargaining table.  Alarmed that even Democrats seemed to be unnecessarily threatening this bedrock social program, panelists at the October 27 Ed Fund event offered a definitive case for why Social Security should play no part in deficit negotiations, since it plays no part in the deficit.

Several panelists even expressed a preference for the debt panel to fail in its mission to come up with a plan before Thanksgiving to cut trillions from projected federal deficits.  That’s because the automatic budget cuts triggered by such a failure--unlike the plans the committee was said to be weighing--would spare Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare recipients.

Nancy J. Altman, co-director of Social Security Works, reminded the audience, “Social Security does not add to the deficit,” since it is a trust fund with it own funding source (payroll deductions) entirely separate from the federal budget.  Noting that the system is entirely solvent for the next 25 years, after which its relatively slight projected shortfall is easily fixed by common-sense adjustments that don’t harm beneficiaries, Altman concluded: “Ultimately, it is a political question what we do as a nation with this program.”

 Rich Fiesta, director of government and political affairs for the Alliance for Retired Americans, offered one of the simple promoters of long-term solvency: collect more revenue from high earners by raising the cap over which payroll taxes are no longer levied (currently around $106,000).  Historically, he explained, taxes were collected on 90% of all the nation’s wage income; but because of “the skewed nature of income over the past 10 to 15 years,” taxes are now only levied on 82-83% of earned income.

“Move it back to 90, we’re a third of the way to solving” Social Security’s long-term funding problems, he said.

Judy Lear, board chair and acting executive director of the Gray Panthers, shared her organization’s Social Security advocacy tools, including a “Fight Truth Decay” fact sheet and a certificate of shame bestowed on Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry for his inflammatory Social Security distortions. 

Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, began his presentation with an announcement: he’d learned on his mobile device during the briefing that the increase in Medicare premiums for next year would be less than feared, the decrease in deductibles greater than expected.  “Finally a little bit of good news,” he said wearily.

Richtman explained that his committee had immediately recognized the danger posed by the “Super Committee” and had brought in skilled organizers in response to train grassroots volunteers in how to obtain real answers from politicians. It also commissioned a national poll that revealed deep support across the political spectrum for America’s great safety net programs: a majority of Republicans, and even 46 percent of Tea Party activists, did not want to see Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cut in the name of deficit reduction. 

Jane O’Grady is Director of ADA’s Campaign for a Fair Minimum Wage, and a member of ADA’s National Board and Executive Committee.