It has come to my attention that the President in his State of the Union address on January 25th is going to announce his current thoughts on the Social Security program. A lot of people have become nervous about President Obama's weakened stand on his originally strong platform regarding Social Security. I'm one of them. What was once a security net for millions of elders in this country has become part of the foundation for their survival with the ravaging their retirement accounts took with the Banking Industry over extending itself. In other words, if Social Security gets handed over to private industry the money will be removed from a strong, secured and viable program and funneled once more to be handled by people who the country is not confident in, frankly. The consequences for the many seniors who are already living in poverty is seriously dire.
You might remember Senator Bernard Sanders, who gave the remarkable speech of a life time on the Senate floor against the Obama-GOP tax deal. I am copying here his incredible letter to President Obama regarding the President's promises he made regarding Social Security during his election. I hope you take the moment to read it as Mr. Sanders has an inspiring and lucid way of explaining the obvious. We all need to keep a vigilant eye on our lawmakers and do everything in our power to see to it that they deliver on what they promise. That is our responsibility to our democratic society. Obama cannot be any better than what we ask him to be. It is time to ask.
Dear Mr. President:
There have been worrisome reports that you are considering supporting tax cuts in Social Security. I hope that information is wrong, and that you will stand bby your campaign promises to strengthen Social Security, making sure that it remains strong and vibrant and able to pay out full benefits for our children and grandchildren.
As you well know, despite rhetoric from Republicans and those on Wall Street, Social Security is not in financial crisis. The Social Security Trust Fund today has a $2.6 trillion surplus that is projected to grow to over $4 trillion by the year 2023.
Social Security can pay out every nickel owed to every eligible American for at least the next 26 years. After that, if Congress does not act (which I strongly believe it must), Social Security will be able to pay out at last 75 percent of eligible benefits.
Further, Social Security has not contributed anything to our national debt. Social Security is 100 percent funded through payroll tax contributions coming from workers and employers and, up until last year, it has received no funding from the federal Treasury.
Mr. President, although the American people now take Social Security for granted, we should never underestimate the incredibly positive impact that Social Security has had on our country.
Since it's inception over 75 years ago, through good economic times and bad, Social Security has paid out every penny owed to every eligible beneficiary with minimal administrative costs. What an extraordinary accomplishment!
During that period Social Security has succeeded in keeping millions of senior citizens, widows, orphans, and persons with disabilities out of poverty. Before Social Security existed, about half of America's senior citizens lived in poverty. Today, less than 10 percent live in poverty.
More than 52 million Americans now receive Social Security benefits. I would contracts that record to the situation we recently saw on Wall Street when millions of Americans lost significant amounts of their retirement savings because of the collapse of the stock market.
But, I do not have to tell you all this, Mr. President, because that is very much the same message you conveyed to the American people during your presidential campaign of 2008. Here are some of the excellent statements you made during the campaign:
• “Social Security is not in crisis; it is a fundamentally sound system, but it does have a problem long term...The best idea is to lift the cap on the payroll tax, potentially exempting middle-class folks, but making sure that the wealthy are paying more of their fair share.” - Senator Barack Obama, October 30, 2007
• “The alternatives, like raising the retirement age, or cutting benefits, or raising the payroll tax on everybody, including people making less than $97,000 a year [now $106,800 a year] – those are not good policy options.” - Senator Barack Obama, April 16, 2008
• “I believe that cutting [Social Security] benefits is not the right answer; and that raising the retirement age is not the best option.” - Senator Barack Obama, November 11, 2007
And even more recently, as president, you made a very strong statement on this issue, according to an October 14, 2010 Reuters article: “President Barack Obama said...he favored raising more revenue for Social Security to prolong the solvency of the U.S. retirement fund, rather than just cutting benefits or making people work longer...
“'I do think that the best way to do it would be to look at the fact that right now, you only pay Social Security taxes to about $106,800, and after that you don't pay any Social Security tax,' President Obama said. 'That could be modified or changed in a way that would help extend the solvency of Social Security.'”
Mr. President, as I'm sure you are aware, our Republican colleagues have long opposed Social Security not because it hasn't worked, but because of ideological reasons. Despite its extraordinary success, they simply believe that government should not be involved in providing retirement benefits to seniors, or supporting the disabled, or widows and orphans. They would prefer Wall Street and the private sector do that.
But that has not been your position and that is not the promise you made to the American people. That is not why you were elected president. Further, that is not what the vast majority of the American people want to see happen.
All of us want to work in a bi-partisan manner when we can, but needlessly cutting Social Security benefits when that has nothing to do with our deficit situation, is not good public policy or what is good for our country.
I urge you to once again make it clear to the American people that under your watch we will not cut Social Security benefits, raise the retirement age or privatize this critical program.
Social Security is a promise that we cannot and must not break.
United States Senator
To put in your two cents on this matter before Tuesday's State of the Union Speech go here.
To see a PDF of Bernie Sander's letter go here.
Thank you to Ronni Bennett and her blog Time Goes By for helping me stay on top of these important issues.
Photograph by Benjamin Porter