Last year, President Obama offered to compromise Social Security inviolability on the alter of the plutocrats and their advocates (the GOP and the ConservaDems) who want to cut-- if not abolish-- social insurance. It was a bad mistake but, lucky for America, the Republicans, who had demanded it, refused to compromise and Chained CPI wasn't adopted. This year, the president has decided to focus on his State of the Union message about opportunity as his budgetary vision. It's a reflection that the budget is falling rapidly already and would fall more if Congress passes immigration reform. AP reported Thursday that there will be no Chained CPI cuts in this year's budget-- at least not Obama's. Ryan, of course, will have that… and worse.
Part of this victory for progressives had to do with mobilizing against Chained CPI cuts, as has been reported lately in the press.
We haven't come across a single House Republican who doesn't back Chained CPI cuts to Social Security, from Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, all the way down the food chain to ineffectual backbenchers like Rodney Davis. We reached out to all the Blue America candidates and all of them oppose Chained CPI and other conservative schemes to cut Social Security. Since we mentioned Paul Ryan and Rodney Davis, let's begin with their opponents' statements. Rob Zerban (D-WI): "There is absolutely no way I could imagine a scenario where I could support a change in the calculations to the colas for for Social Security. Chained CPI is nothing more that an attempt to reduce benefits to senior citizens at a time when they can least afford it. At this point the best thing we could do for our economy is to lower the retirement age to encourage workers to retire. We would then open up more positions for those seeking jobs and reduce the unemployment. To make Social Security more solvent we need to remove the caps on higher income earners. I never understood why people making the most would pay less taxes for Social Security than those earning less. This is a simple fairness issue. If eliminating the caps on incomes is not enough to make the programs solvent indefinitely then we need to adjust the contribution we pay into the system to ensure that American's can retire with dignity and security."
Down in Illinois, George Gollin, the progressive alternative to Davis, sees it much the same way Zerban does:
Early in the last century, many of those who became too old to work suffered a rapid descent into poverty, infirmity, and mortal illness. The Social Security Act of 1935, which guaranteed a decent standard of living for “aged persons, blind persons, [and] dependent and crippled children,” changed this.
Eighty years ago a loaf of bread was a nickel. Without cost of living adjustments to earned benefits, the elderly would have long ago tumbled into the Dickensian nightmare of privation that is so fiercely defended by the Tea Party.
Cost-of-living calculations should include more than just inflation. We expect our spending patterns to change as we age--medical care will cost us more than it did when we were invincible twenty-somethings-- and COLA ought to take this into account. The original intent of the Social Security Act was, after all, to protect us from an irreversible slide into poverty after a lifetime of work.
But Washington is abuzz with a push to cut earned benefits, delay the retirement age, and implement a bogus inflation index called “chained CPI.” These indecent rollbacks are proposed so that someone with an annual income of $1 million will pay no more into the system than someone else with an income of $120,000.
Lifting the cap on income taxed for Social Security-- so that system is supported with a more progressive schedule of contributions-- would keep the system solvent indefinitely, and would increase taxes only on the top 5% of earners.
But that’s not how we do things anymore, with our politics awash in corporate cash that buys favors for the wealthy. Real people-- though not corporations-- are ground to dust in a down economy. Most members of Congress appear unconcerned with providing workers a decent standard of living.
It is not right for us to tolerate such a grotesque tilting of the rules.
This is a big deal across the Midwest and our other candidates from the region were as animated as Rob and George. Mike Obermueller is running for the seat occupied by right-wing fanatic John Kline in southeast Minnesota. "Social Security," he told me, "has been critical to making sure seniors can retire with dignity in this country. No program in history has been more successful at lifting seniors out of poverty than this one. That’s why it’s so frustrating that Republicans (and even some Democrats) are fixated on cutting these benefits for people who need them and who have earned them. Chained CPI would eliminate the financial stability and independence Social Security was created to provide. We have to set priorities and protecting the middle class against this gimmick should be one of them."
In the suburbs east of Cleveland, Michael Wager is running for the seat held by David Joyce, a Boehner lackey. "Chained CPI," Michael told me, "is, in fact, a cut in Social Security benefits, and undermines the already tenuous financial health of millions of Americans. Many in Washington continue to look to Social Security to address budget concerns, yet Social Security has not contributed to budget deficits. Still suffering from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, low and moderate income seniors, quite simply, should not be asked to endure reduced benefits in name of 'fiscal responsibility.'"
Another top Boehner lieutenant and committee chair, Fred Upton (R-MI), is being challenged by Paul Clements. Upton is a big Austerity booster and backs Chained CPI and other deprecations against working families in the Ryan budget. Paul does not-- in a big way: "Introducing policy schemes like Chained CPI into budget discussions is a reckless move that imperils our seniors and the economic prosperity of our nation. For years, we've watched members of our own party team up with conservatives to slash programs aiding the jobless and our seniors. More people are living in poverty than ever before and Washington continues to hurt more than help. We must work to make critical investments and strengthen programs like Social Security, not engage in more schemes that hurt our seniors."
Same for Pat Murphy, the front-runner in the race to succeed Bruce Braley in Iowa's first congressional district. He is the former Speaker of the Iowa House and he has a keen understanding of the role of leadership. "Social Security is a cornerstone of my progressive beliefs. My parents raised me to keep my word and stand up for what’s right. We’ve made a pledge to seniors who have worked hard and paid into Social Security and Medicare for decades that their benefits will be there when they need them, and I intend to keep that pledge. It’s the right thing to do. Cutting benefits to those who have paid into the program to simply make budget through 'chained CPI' is wrong. By raising the cap for folks who make over $106,000 a year would increase solvency, have the ability to expand benefits and better serve our seniors."
The progressive candidate for the open seat in Oklahoma City (OK-05) is Tom Guild, who is of no mind to compromise away the rights of working families on this or anything.
Approximately one in five Social Security recipients has no other income. The current Social Security COLA doesn’t cover the increased costs of living for seniors. Expanding Social Security benefits would give many additional seniors peace of mind, and help them keep pace with cost of living increases. We owe it to the generation that did their part to build our country, to make good on the promise of Social Security, that they wouldn’t have to live their golden years in poverty. It makes sense and is the right thing to do to increase the Social Security stipend for our seniors. By lifting the cap on the $114,000 of income currently taxable to support the program, we can extend the life and promise of Social Security for generations past 2031. This is a concrete way that we can demonstrate our thanks to our seniors who have done so much for us.
If the national government funded just one programs adequately, it would be Social Security. This is a proposal to adequately fund Social Security. It would protect and enhance benefits, and increase the revenue stream supporting this vital program by abolishing the cap on income subject to the tax dedicated to Social Security, and increase the dedicated tax by 1/20th of 1% for six years. This would secure Social Security for additional decades. Since 2/3 of today’s retirees receive more than half of their income from Social Security, and about 1/5th are completely dependent on this source of income, this proposal would greatly enhance tens of millions of Americans’ retirement security. It would ensure that seniors’ cost-of-living would not continue to outpace benefits received by recipients, who paid into the Social Security fund for their entire working lives. Sometimes we should just do the right thing for those who spent their lives building our country. That time has arrived.
A chained CPI would take us in the wrong direction, and take desperately needed funds out of seniors budgets. It is time to move forward, and not allow those who have tried to destroy Social Security since 1935, to take the first step toward dismantling and undermining this vitally important program protecting American seniors from poverty and hardship in their golden years.
Like Tom, state Senator Daylin Leach, the Liberal Lion of Pennsylvania's legislator, wants to expand Social Security, not cut it: "For the life of me I can't understand why the administration is buying right-wing propaganda about the need for cuts to Social Security. To be blunt, its bullshit. There is no problem with Social Security that can't be solved (and then some) by uncapping the FICA tax. At a time when private pensions are shrinking and disappearing, and people rely more than ever on their Social Security check, it is morally abhorrent to unnecessarily cut these benefits because paying higher taxes makes a few rich people sad. It's time to expand, rather than cut, Social Security benefits." And I'll close with a statement from our newest candidate, Stanley Chang from Honolulu:
Social Security is the bedrock of the safety net our seniors have earned. The current Republican efforts to dismantle Social Security are a grave and immediate threat to the livelihoods of too many families in American. Make no mistake, Chained CPI is a euphemism for deep, harsh cuts to Social Security, which keeps 22 million seniors out of poverty.
At a time when the middle class continues to struggle and there are far more people living in poverty than ever before, we need to be protecting and expanding Social Security, not cutting it. Simple, common sense progressive plans such as raising the taxable income above the current $106,000 ceiling will extend Social Security’s solvency for decades to come.
Surely we can do better than to balance the budget on the backs of working families who have worked a lifetime to enjoy a secure retirement. Social Security must be strengthened and expanded, not gutted and scraped for parts.
We've got to get this conservatives out of power and out of office and off our backs. Electing these progressive candidates is going to help.
You can do that here and keep in mind, there is no such thing as a contribution being too small.
We are all in this together,
Howie, for Digby, John and the Blue America Team