Don Davis

Social Security: They Want To Cut, We Plan To Fight

Filed By Don Davis | November 10, 2010 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Action Alerts, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Congress, Democrats, economic policy, election 2012, Peretson Foundation, politics, Republicans, Social Security

So if you've been following my work lately, you know that there is a renewed effort underway to change Social Security, and that the fight officially began just this very morning.social_security_card.jpg Now what's supposed to happen is that a television ad buy sponsored by a Wall Street billionaire is supposed to get you enthused about cutting your own Social Security benefits in the future; this is the tip of a "disinformation iceberg" that is trying to get you to act, right now, because if you don't you will never, ever, ever, ever, see a single dime of Social Security when you get older. I was on a "let's talk strategy" conference call today that laid out some ideas for the "next steps"; we'll be talking about that call over the next couple of stories...but for today, we're going to talk about something you can do that will bring the message right to your favorite Member of Congress.
He is always plotting and carrying out great enterprises, which have always kept his subjects bewildered and astonished, waiting to see what their outcome would be. And his deeds have followed one another so closely that he has never left space between one and the next for people to plot uninterruptedly against him. -- Niccolò Machiavelli, describing King Ferdinand of Aragon, in "The Prince"
With the election a week behind us, the fight is on to get you to believe that you will never see a dime of Social Security, that the danger is so profound that we must act today, and that maybe a healthy cut in your future benefits isn't really so bad after all. To help convince you all this is true, a series of TV ads have been produced that imply that the only other solution, short of those benefit cuts, is more deficit spending and endless borrowing. (They have a catchy name for the effort as well: "OweNo".) As it turns out, that's patently untrue, but as I said, that's a topic for another day. The idea behind the ads, of course, is to create a space for Members of Congress to vote for these kinds of proposals - but we're going to strike first, before the ads can really gain a lot of traction. So here's the idea: we all have members of Congress who are constantly having to "come home and face the District"; what we want to do is ask those Congress members, right now, on camera, if they are willing to vote for cutting Social Security benefits or not. Myself, I like the question: "Are there any circumstances that would get you to vote for cutting Social Security benefits?" If they say yes, try this: "Why do you like cutting benefits for middle-class people and not taxing 90% of the income of someone who makes a million a year?" (If you make about $110,000 a year or less, 100% of your income is taxed for Social Security purposes. However, no income above that is taxed--so if you make a million a year, only 10% of your income is taxed, which seems a lot like "trickle up economics" to me...but what do I know? As it turns out, removing that "income cap", all by itself, would fix our financing problem for the next 75 years, without cutting benefits at all (again, a topic we'll flesh out more completely another day). Now once we start gathering all these videos, we need a place to put them. Based on the call today, it looks like we'll be going to the Owe No You Don't! website, which, by a happy coincidence, is full of helpful resources for those looking to win this fight. The site is not ready to receive the videos today, however, but I will either update here or do a new story to let you know when it is, or if some new plans have emerged. (Of course, if you get a good video, don't be afraid to post it to this story as a comment as well.) I also have available a big ol' list of who in Congress has publicly said and done what regarding changes to these programs - and if you're wondering exactly who in Congress supports privatizing Social Security, this is the list you've been looking for. The next step is to put all this video to work: so how about starting right in your own home town? Send a copy of the video to the local newspaper, or the local TV station's "tip line". In the other direction, I'm going to try to encourage the folks operating Owe No You Don't! (with whom I'm currently working) to use that video to get the attention of national media - which means video of Congress members "ducking and dodging" will be particularly valuable. You might even get lucky and get a "Sharron Angle" - you know, the one where the person being asked just runs off without even acknowledging that they're being asked questions, even though you're right there next to them the whole time, following them and still asking the question, as they hop in the car and run away in fear. So that's today's homework: charge up the camera batteries, go find your local member of Congress, either pay a friendly visit at the office or catch 'em at a local appearance, and make them either answer questions or run away. As we gather the videos, they become a media attraction, and we put even more pressure on these folks...and if we get really, really, really, lucky, we'll find someone who "autotunes" the Members who run away into a viral video we'll all be proud of. Good hunting to you all, and in a couple days we'll all meet back here and talk about the Social Security "tax cap" and financing stability. FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger's Network Project.

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Our political leaders basically turned Social Security into a Ponzi scheme. I will be surprised to see it by the time I get old enough to collect.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | November 11, 2010 5:46 AM

Interestingly enough the exact same sort of things were said 35 years ago. I do hope you are wisely saving Joanna and investing 10% of your after tax income. (Look for "Developing Markets")

"...that a Prince, as has already in part been said, should consider how he may avoid such courses as would make him hated or despised; and that whenever he succeeds in keeping clear of these, he has performed his part and runs no risk though he incur other infamies."

From "The Prince" first paragraph Chapter XIX.

And yes Joanna, the money congress has borrowed from the Social Security trust fund is backed with "the full faith and credit" of the United States. So even if there is no money there to pay benefits it will be "quantitatively created" just as 600 billion is created right now.

There are too many "other infamies" generated by bridges in Alaska or subsidies to farmers to grow nothing. The tobacco subsidy alone reeks to heaven. The voters who care voted and you will get what you get, but I doubt they have the guts. If they could clean it all up simultaneously I could well be inclined to support it. Frankly, like Greece, Italy, Spain and France the "people in the street" will not tolerate change until it is critically needed. (Then, they will protest it and claim no one told them) Oh, the Chinese just lowered our credit rating. Anyone notice that?

if you really want to get historical, i saw a quote from alf landon that said almost the exact same thing, word for word--in 1936.

so far, his eerily similar predictions of disaster have proven to be a bit...off...and i would suggest that there's a lot more effort being made today to bewilder and astonish by social security opponents than there is to inform.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | November 12, 2010 4:58 AM

Do remember the deficit Don. We have already borrowed the money from ourselves. When SSI was not "borrowed from" pre 1965 this made sense, but it was a compromise to secure Medicare. Read the wicki page: "The Social Security Act of 1965"

i gotta tell ya, there has been a lot of effort to get you to believe that you'll never see any social security, but it's an urban legend--and here's the reality:

no matter what happens from now until 2037, we have enough money coming in to pay 100% of anticipated benefits for the old-age part of social security.

even if no changes to financing are made by 2037, the trust fund would still be able to pay 75% of anticipated benefits.

(and what does that mean? it means if someone tells you a lot of changes, including a 30% cut in your future benefits, is a good idea, you can tell them that doing nothing at all is only a 25% cut...)

now we do take in extra money, and there are those who will point out that we have been lending that money to ourselves to fund the operations of government today; robert's comment here addresses that concern.

but even if all the extra money we're saving is being borrowed (we took in about $134 billion more than social security paid out last year) and can't be repaid, the fact remains that if you simply remove the cap on social security taxable income, you can achieve financial stability, paying 100% of anticipated benefits, for the next 75 years.

(if you didn't know, income above about $110,000/year isn't taxed for social security purposes.

make $100,000, 100% of your income is taxed; make a million, 10% of your income is taxed.)

so somebody's going to have to make a sacrifice, apparently, and that's going to be our choice: cut your benefits, or tax all the income of the wealthiest among us--and let me ask you, haven't we done enough the last 10 years to subsidize the very, very, wealthy...with, as robert points out, money borrowed from china?

Kathy Padilla | November 11, 2010 8:27 AM

The "ponzi scam" nonsense is - well - nonsense. A program that has paid people equal benefits going back to some folks posting here great grandparents can hardly be equated with an illegal scam where the very few perps get huge gains and their compatriots loose their investments. The original beneficiaries are long dead & they & their children's children have all received equivalent benefits. And which is slated to provide those benefits decades in the future without a prospect of a diminished benefit 30 years out - if we do absolutely nothing.

Tiny amounts over 30 years have huge effects - it would be fairly trivial to maintain the benefit level if we contributed very modestly to insure it was there for folks who come after me - there's a good chance I won't be here when - gasp - 30 years from now a 15% reduction might take place if we shirk our responsibilities to future generations.

Yes - they were saying this 35 years ago - and we fixed it so that benefits were their with no reduction for not just the intervening 35 years - but looking out 30 more years. Maybe just throwing up our hands and crying that it's just too hard to be adults and address the problem is the problem. And yes it will mean an slightly increased payroll deduction from those of us still paying FICA - but their never was a free lunch.

Which isn't to say that folks shouldn't plan other retirement supports - it's just a safety net - my mom gets $1100 a month - no one wants that to be their sole resource. But even with planning - it will be for some. When the stock market crashes or you end up holding an empty Enron retirement plan - at least the net is still there to provide for some needs. And - as it's a social insurance program - it's not just for retirees

Kathy Padilla | November 11, 2010 8:28 AM

The "ponzi scam" nonsense is - well - nonsense. A program that has paid people equal benefits going back to some folks posting here great grandparents can hardly be equated with an illegal scam where the very few perps get huge gains and their compatriots loose their investments. The original beneficiaries are long dead & they & their children's children have all received equivalent benefits. And which is slated to provide those benefits decades in the future without a prospect of a diminished benefit 30 years out - if we do absolutely nothing.

Tiny amounts over 30 years have huge effects - it would be fairly trivial to maintain the benefit level if we contributed very modestly to insure it was there for folks who come after me - there's a good chance I won't be here when - gasp - 30 years from now a 15% reduction might take place if we shirk our responsibilities to future generations.

Yes - they were saying this 35 years ago - and we fixed it so that benefits were their with no reduction for not just the intervening 35 years - but looking out 30 more years. Maybe just throwing up our hands and crying that it's just too hard to be adults and address the problem is the problem. And yes it will mean an slightly increased payroll deduction from those of us still paying FICA - but their never was a free lunch.

Which isn't to say that folks shouldn't plan other retirement supports - it's just a safety net - my mom gets $1100 a month - no one wants that to be their sole resource. But even with planning - it will be for some. When the stock market crashes or you end up holding an empty Enron retirement plan - at least the net is still there to provide for some needs. And - as it's a social insurance program - it's not just for retirees

Kathy Padilla | November 11, 2010 8:32 AM

Sorry - my handheld burned & that got posted twice before I finished.

Social insurance - developmentally delayed folks & other pre-retiree beneficiary's like kids whose parents have died can't plan ahead. That's why we should.

i could not agree with your comments here more completely--except to tell you that there actually is a financing option that doesn't require a payroll tax rate increase.

that's the next story, so i'll hold the big explanation back for then.

Angela Brightfeather | November 11, 2010 9:52 AM

Let's get down to it..........I have read the suggestions out in the media today regarding the Bowles-Simpson ideas and there is one very big thing missing in that list.

Where in that list are there any ideas to stop the runaway profiteering by drug and insurance companies and the rich and famous. If they want to take my money that I have been putting in SS and limit my retirement pay, doesn't it seems reasonable that they should at least cap the profits that are being made by insurance companies and cap any increases in drug and insurance costs being passed on to the elderly at an increasing rate? Why are insurance companies allowed to increase gap insurance on those receiving Medicare, when Medicare and SS rates are being cut on the elderly? Once again this whole thing stinks and Washington doesn't seem to understand that the drug companies and insurance companies are the real villians here who are manipulating this whole argument.

The ironic thing is that in 22 years, the sudden drop in population due to the legalization of birth control back in the late 60's, will thin out the population and make things like the drug and insurance companies compete for business and they will regulate themselves. All these new plans are bull shit because they are just trying to squeeze out the last of the profits that people have managed to save for their old age and put it in their pockets.

When will people learn? I just turned 65 last Monday and I saw this coming years ago. When people like me work hard all their lives and try to save, there is always someone or something, ready to take advantage of it and in this case the timing is right on the nose. The largest group of Americans is now becoming the largest group of martyers on the corporate alter of greed.

this is indeed an effort to suck the last of the money out of the system, and this is something we can stop dead in its tracks...as happened in '05, with a republican congress and president.

we gotta be loud and angry, and we gotts get to those members of congress in a really big way...but we can do this if we try, and there's no reason to assume we're disadvantaged in the fight.