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Despite Promises, Trump Is Scheming To Cut Social Security Benefits

In his State of the Union address, Donald Trump claimed that “we will always protect your Social Security.” But just two weeks ago, Trump said just the opposite. He was in Davos, hobnobbing with Wall Street billionaires. While there, he sat for an interview with CNBC’s Joe Kernen, who asked him if “entitlements” would “ever be on your plate.” “At some point they will be,” Trump replied.

The word “entitlement” is how Washington elites refer to Social Security, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. Having “entitlements” “on your plate” is Washington insider-code for these vital programs. Insider code is necessary because cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is not only terrible policy but also deeply unpopular even with Trump’s base.

Either Trump was lying two weeks ago, or he was lying to the American people during the State of the Union address. It is not hard to see what is going on here.

In 2000, well before Trump ran for president as a Republican, he released a book with a chapter on Social Security. In this chapter, he displayed utter contempt for Social Security and its beneficiaries. Trump referred to Social Security as “a Ponzi scheme”—an outrageous slander, since a Ponzi scheme is a criminal ploy to defraud.

As the true elitist that he is, Trump called for raising the retirement age to 70, because “how many times will you really want to take that trailer to the Grand Canyon?” Trump said that he “plan[s] to work forever,” implying that everyone else should as well—even if they have jobs like nursing or construction that involve hard physical labor. He added that destroying Social Security by privatizing it “would be good for all of us.” The “all of us” to whom he referred were presumably his fellow tax cheats with inherited wealth.

But Trump demonstrated, well before running for office, that he understood the politics of Social Security. In a 2011 interview with Sean Hannity, Trump said that Republicans should be very careful “not to fall into a Democratic trap” of advocating Social Security cuts without bipartisan cover, or they would pay the price politically.

As a presidential candidate, Trump exploited that knowledge. He realized that even voters who tend to support Republicans overwhelmingly oppose cutting Social Security. Yet Republican politicians, at the behest of their billionaire donors, go against the will of their voters by supporting cuts.

Seizing his advantage by lying, Trump claimed in the Republican primary debates and on the campaign trail that he would not cut Social Security. Reinforcing his lie, he tweeted that “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.”

But just because Trump realized that supporting benefit cuts is politically toxic doesn’t mean that his real views changed. Trump’s selection of Mike Pence as a running mate foreshadowed how he would govern. Pence supports raising the retirement age and led a group of House Republicans in criticizing George W. Bush’s Social Security privatization plan—for not going far enough! Once elected president, Trump chose another staunch opponent of Social Security, Mick Mulvaney, as his budget director.

Trump’s budget proposals reflect Trump’s, Pence’s, and Mulvaney’s anti-Social Security ideology. The 2020 budget Trump proposed last March would slash more than $84 billion from Social Security and its companion program, Supplemental Security Income, in just the next 10 years.

Fortunately, thanks to Democratic control of the House of Representatives, those budget cuts were dead on arrival. But Trump has found sneakier ways to attack Social Security. Through stealthy rule changes, which don’t need to go through Congress, the Trump administration is working to make it harder for Americans to receive the Social Security they have earned, and working to make it harder to continue to receive the benefits they now get.

As just one recent example, Trump’s administration is in the process of jamming through a rule change that’s designed to rip Social Security benefits away from Americans with disabilities. When Ronald Reagan made a similar rule change, hundreds of thousands wrongly lost their benefits and over 20,000 people died. The Reagan administration was forced to reverse the policy after massive public outcry. Now Trump wants to revive the disastrous effort.

Trump says one thing when seeking votes and something quite different when exercising his power. That explains his promise in the 2016 election and in his recent State of the Union address not to cut benefits. While people can be forgiven for believing Trump in 2016, despite his earlier comments, now his intentions are clear.

Trump has been working hard to undermine Social Security in his first term. But he has been constrained because he wants a second term. If elected to that second term, all constraints will be gone.

In Davos, surrounded by billionaires salivating over the prospect of gutting the American people’s earned benefits, Trump accidentally let the mask slip. He’s trying to put it back on, but it’s too late. We’ve all seen what’s underneath. If Trump is re-elected, supporters of Social Security will be in for the fight of our lives.

Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow for Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works!

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

GOP Senator Urges Social Security Cuts ‘Behind Closed Doors’

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) just said out loud what Republican politicians usually only talk about in secret meetings with their billionaire donors: The GOP wants to cut our earned Social Security benefits—and they want to do it behind closed doors so that they don’t have to pay the political price.

At a recent town hall, Ernst stated that Congress needs to “sit down behind closed doors” to “address Social Security.” She vaguely asserted, “A lot of changes need to be made in this system going forward.” But, she complained, if these changes were proposed in public, she would be accused of pushing “granny over a cliff.” It is not hard to figure out what “changes” she has in mind.

There are many “changes” that should be made to strengthen Social Security and make it even better than it already is. But none of those have to be done secretly.

Congress should address our nation’s looming retirement income crisis by increasing Social Security’s modest benefits. Congress should combat rising income and wealth inequality, by requiring the wealthiest Americans to contribute to Social Security at the same rate as the rest of us.

Congress should enact caregiver credits for those who perform essential but unpaid labor caring for their children, aged parents, and other family members. Those crucial caregivers should receive credit toward future Social Security benefits so they don’t retire into poverty.

In addition, Congress should update the way that Social Security’s benefits are adjusted so that they reflect the high health care and prescription drug costs that beneficiaries experience. The annual cost of living adjustment is intended to keep benefits from eroding, to allow beneficiaries to tread water. But without updating the measure of inflation, those benefits are losing value each year.

Those are just some of the improvements that Congress should make. But those are not the “changes” Ernst has in mind, because none of those changes need to be done behind closed doors. Numerous pieces of legislation proposing those changes have been introduced in Congress—though none by Senator Ernst or her Republican colleagues.

Indeed, 210 House Democrats have co-sponsored the Social Security 2100 Act, which expands Social Security’s modest benefits, while ensuring that all benefits can be paid in full and on time through the year 2100 and beyond. Every Democratic presidential candidate opposes cutting Social Security benefits, and nearly all support expanding them. Meanwhile, neither Donald Trump nor a single Republican member of Congress is sponsoring or cosponsoring any legislation that increases benefits or even ensures that they can be paid in full and on time beyond 2035.

No action is the same as supporting cuts. As Representative John Larson (D-CT), chairman of the House’s Social Security Subcommittee and the author of the Social Security 2100 Act, has explained, “The hard truth of the matter is that Republicans want to cut Social Security, and doing nothing achieves their goal.”

Larson and his Democratic colleagues are calling Republicans’ bluff. Under Democratic control, Congress has held numerous hearings on Social Security and the importance of protecting and expanding it. Larson and his Democratic colleagues are planning to have a recorded, public vote on the Social Security 2100 Act this fall.

The legislation has enough votes to pass the House of Representatives. But don’t expect Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring it to a vote in the Senate. And don’t expect Senator Ernst or her other Republican colleagues to urge him to do so.

With respect to Social Security, just as with the issue of legislating background checks and other overwhelmingly popular commonsense legislation to reduce the epidemic of gun violence, Republican politicians will not say what they are for. In the case of gun legislation, they block action. In the case of Social Security, they block action unless Democrats agree to go behind closed doors so the public doesn’t know who pushed the cuts.

We should not let Republican politicians get by with platitudes about “saving” and “fixing” Social Security. And we certainly shouldn’t let them hide behind closed doors and undermine our Social Security.

As polarized as the American people are over many issues, we are not polarized about Social Security. Republicans, Democrats and Independents, of all ages, races and genders, overwhelmingly agree. We understand that Social Security is more important than ever. We overwhelmingly reject any cuts to its modest benefits.

The only group that disagrees is Republican Party donors. As an ideological matter, they hate Social Security because it puts the lie to their assertions that government can’t work. They do not want to pay their fair share. Indeed, they would love to get their hands on the money now flowing to Social Security.

When President George W. Bush proposed destroying Social Security by privatizing it, the American people overwhelmingly rejected his plan. But Republican politicians learned the wrong lesson. As unpopular as Bush’s proposal was, he was at least willing to advocate for it publicly. Rather than recognize the proposal was the problem, Ernst and her fellow Republicans think the problem was being honest with the American people.

Like Bush, they want to enact a Social Security proposal that is deeply unpopular. But unlike Bush, they want to enact it in the dark of night. Fortunately, their Democratic colleagues won’t let them get away with that undemocratic act. Nor should the American people.

All of us who have a stake in Social Security—which is every one of us—should insist that those seeking our vote tell us if they support expanding or cutting Social Security. If they refuse to tell us, if they ramble on about their desire to “save” or “fix” or “strengthen” Social Security in secret, we should draw the obvious inference: They want to cut Social Security. We should use the election to ensure they do not have the power to do that—and certainly not behind closed doors.

Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow for Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works!

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

For Labor Day, Trump Attacks Workers And Social Security

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Labor Day is a holiday designed to honor America’s workers. Instead, Donald Trump continues to attack them. Indeed, his administration is in the midst of a stealth effort that not only attacks workers but also our earned Social Security benefits and our federal government. The long-term goals of Trump and his Congressional allies are to destroy the labor movement, wreck the federal government, and end Social Security.

That may sound hyperbolic, but it is not. Trump’s latest stealth attack is not only anti-union, it will eventually make it so difficult to access Social Security benefits that some beneficiaries (particularly those attempting to qualify for their earned Social Security disability benefits) never receive them at all. Others will eventually claim their benefits, but only after an unnecessarily burdensome process of visiting field offices that are rarely open and have hours-long lines when they are.

For Republicans, that’s all according to plan. Trump and his Congressional allies are intentionally breaking our government so they can turn around and say that it doesn’t work.

Trump’s war on workers is extremely well documented. It is perhaps best illustrated by his anti-worker nominees to be Secretary of Labor, a pack of wolves in the hen house. The first nominee was guilty of scores of labor law violations and forced to pay millions of dollars in settlements to workers he cheated. He was ultimately rejected because even many Republicans decided that they couldn’t vote for an ethically challenged nominee who was also an accused domestic abuser.

Trump’s second anti-worker nominee was Alex Acosta, best known for his sweetheart deal with the billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. His current acting Secretary of Labor is, if anything, more anti-worker than the first two. And his newest nominee for the job has spent his career defending businesses seeking to roll back labor protections.

Trump’s war on the federal government is also well-documented. His administration is upending the lives of career civil servants by telling those based in Washington to move to the Midwest and those based around the country to relocate to Washington. Just before the beginning of the school year, these workers have been given virtually no time to decide if they will relocate or resign. This is having the desired effect: Most are quitting.

The Trump Administration’s actions are intended to shrink government to the size where they can, in the words of Republican activist Grover Norquist, “drown it in the bathtub.”

Trump’s hostility to Social Security and Medicare is equally clear. He recently floated a proposal to reduce Social Security’s funding. Days later, he gloated over his intentions to cut Medicare as a “fun second-term project.”

The American people did not vote for these benefit cuts. In fact, Trump ran on a promise to protect Social Security and Medicare. This was a shrewd political strategy, given that voters of all political stripes strongly value our Social Security and strongly oppose cutting its modest but vital benefits. They strongly value our Medicare, as well. But as with his promise to raise taxes on the rich, to provide quality health care for everyone, even to act presidential, Trump has done the exact opposite now that he’s in the White House.

Despite their claims, the GOP elite’s hostility to Social Security and Medicare — indeed, to anything the government does to help us improve our lives — doesn’t have anything to do with the debt or deficit. It has everything to do with the donor class trying to avoid paying their fair share toward the common good.

Yet because Social Security and Medicare are so popular, Republicans know that direct benefit cuts will be impossible to pass into law, as long as all of us pay attention. That is why Trump and his Congressional allies are conducting a stealth war, using guerilla warfare tactics against our earned benefits.

One of their most nefarious tactics is undercutting the Social Security Administration (SSA), the agency charged with ensuring that workers receive their earned Social Security benefits in a timely and stress-free manner. SSA has suffered nearly a decade of budget cuts from Congressional Republicans. These cuts have resulted in office closures, staff reductions, and a years-long wait for disability hearings.

Attacks on SSA don’t just hurt the agency and its 60,000 workers. They hurt all Americans by making it increasingly difficult to collect the Social Security benefits we earn with every paycheck. That’s why all of us should fight to defend it.

At SSA and across the federal government, the Trump Administration is playing hardball. It has issued anti-worker executive orders. It has failed to negotiate in good faith with those representing federal workers. And recently, the Trump administration launched a new assault. It arbitrarily and unilaterally sought to impose a new contract on SSA workers. That imposed contract would effectively destroy the ability of the workers’ union to represent them.

The Trump Administration’s goal is to make conditions at SSA so intolerable that demoralized workers will quit in droves, taking essential institutional knowledge with them. This will directly affect the hundreds of millions of us who call SSA or visit a local field office regarding our earned Social Security benefits.

Federal workers are fighting back in the courts. Their Democratic allies in Congress are seeking to come to their aid, but they do not control the White House and Senate. The only way to protect the hard-working civil servants at the Social Security Administration, and thereby protect our Social Security and Medicare, is to make Donald Trump a one-term president.

 

Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow for Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works!

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Having Sworn To Protect Social Security, Trump Is Scheming To Cut It

Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal included billions of dollars in Social Security cuts. The proposed cuts were a huge betrayal of his campaign promise to protect our Social Security system. Fortunately for Social Security’s current and future beneficiaries, he has little chance of getting these cuts past the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats.

So Trump and his budget director/chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who has long been hostile to Social Security, are trying another tactic to cut our earned benefits. They are pursuing a long game to reach their goal. In a divide-and-conquer move, the focus is not Social Security. At least, not yet.

Last week, the Trump administration revealed that it is planning to employ the so-called chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) in a way that does not need congressional approval. “Chained CPI” might sound technical and boring, but anyone who has closely followed the Social Security debate knows better. It has long been proposed as a deceptive, hard-to-understand way to cut our earned Social Security benefits.

Trump plans to switch to the chained CPI to index the federal definition of poverty. If he succeeds, the impact will be that over time, fewer people will meet the government’s definition of poverty—even though in reality, they will not be any less poor. The definition is crucial to qualify for a variety of federal benefits, including Medicaid, as well as food and housing assistance. The announcement was written blandly about considering a variety of different measures, but anyone who knows the issue well can easily read the writing on the wall.

So, what does this have to do with Social Security? Like the poverty level, Social Security’s modest benefits are automatically adjusted to keep pace with inflation. If not adjusted, those benefits will erode, slowly but inexorably losing their purchasing power over time. These annual adjustments are already too low, but they are better than no adjustment at all. The chained CPI would make these adjustments even less adequate. The top line of the following chart shows what a more accurate adjustment would look like. The line below it shows what the current adjustment does to benefits, and the bottom line shows what the stingier chained CPI would do:

Proponents of the chained CPI say that it is better at measuring “substitution,” but don’t be fooled. The current inadequate measure already takes into account substitution of similar items. This is the idea that if the price of beef goes up, you can substitute chicken. In contrast, the chained CPI involves what are called substitutions across categories. If your planned vacation abroad goes up, you can stay home and buy a flat screen television and concert tickets instead.

Of course, neither form of substitution is much help to seniors and people with disabilities whose health care costs are skyrocketing. There’s no substitution for hospital stays and doctor visits. Those who propose the chained CPI are apparently fine with letting seniors who can’t afford even chicken substitute cat food.

The idea of substitution within or across categories makes no sense for people with no discretionary income. If all of your money goes for medicine, food and rent, how does substitution make sense? If you are so poor that your children go to bed hungry, how do you substitute?

Back in 2012, President Barack Obama proposed a so-called Grand Bargain to cut Social Security using the chained CPI, in return for Republicans agreeing to increase taxes on the wealthy. The goal of this Grand Bargain was ostensibly to reduce the deficit, despite the fact that Social Security does not add a single penny to the deficit.

Grassroots activists around the country fought back, and Obama ultimately realized his error. He removed the chained CPI from his budget proposals and endorsed expanding, rather than cutting, Social Security’s modest benefits. Social Security expansion is now the official position of the Democratic Party.

Yet Republicans have still continued to push Social Security cuts, including the chained CPI. Back in December 2017, they passed a massive tax cut for corporations and the super-wealthy. Afterwards, they used the predictable deficits their tax cuts caused as an excuse to call for cutting Social Security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans made well-publicized statements about the so-called “need” to cut Social Security. What was much more secret was a provision in the tax bill which replaced the measure used to index the tax brackets with the chained CPI.

Now, Trump wants to apply the chained CPI to the calculation of poverty rates. This will directly hurt many seniors and people with disabilities by making it more difficult to qualify for Medicaid and other programs many of them rely on, including food and housing assistance. It is also a long-term threat to Social Security itself.

The strategy is clear: Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress plan to apply chained CPI everywhere else, and then say that it is only common sense and indeed fair that we apply it to Social Security as well. We should be consistent, right?

Trump thinks that he can get away with executing this long-game attack on Social Security quietly, while the media and public are focused on his tweets, name calling, and scandals. But we must not be distracted. If we do not stop this attack in its tracks, our earned benefits will be next.

If you want to forestall another fight over cutting Social Security through the chained CPI, call your members of Congress, write to your local paper, and tell your friends: No chained CPI! No chained CPI for our earned benefits! No chained CPI for the most vulnerable among us!

This quiet effort to embed the chained CPI is a fight Trump does not want to have, certainly in an election year. But it is one we will bring to him. Grassroots activism defeated the chained CPI before. This time it will be harder because Trump can substitute the chained CPI without legislation. That means we have to simply fight harder. If we stick together, we surely will win. And we must. All of our economic security depends on it.

Celebrating Those Remarkable Mothers Of Social Security

This Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate the remarkable Mothers of Social Security. Without them, this essential program may never have been born. It certainly would be much less successful and effective.

The Mothers of Social Security pushed for an expansive, ambitious program. When necessary, they fiercely resisted men too cautious to embrace their bold vision. All of us benefit immensely from their work—particularly women, for whom Social Security’s modest benefits are especially important.

Best known of Social Security’s many mothers is Frances Perkins, the first female member of a presidential Cabinet in the history of the country. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt first asked Perkins to become Secretary of Labor, she told him that she would only accept his history-making offer if he agreed to fully support her fight for Social Security, as well as other significant measures to increase all of our economic security. He did. True to her principles and values, she was a driving force behind the healthy start of Social Security, from the system’s conception to its birth and its early growth.

A less-known pathbreaker was Dr. Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong, the first tenured female law professor in the country. A Ph.D. economist, she taught both law and economics at Berkeley and authored a landmark treatise, Insuring the Essentials, an exhaustive study of social insurance and minimum wage programs around the world.

Armstrong chaired the Roosevelt administration working group that invented Social Security. Other policymakers, concerned about the constitutionality of Social Security, argued that it should be a state-based program. Armstrong successfully convinced them that only a federal program was workable. When those who oversaw her work contemplated dropping Social Security because they feared it was too big a lift, she leaked their plan to friendly journalists whose exposés got Social Security back on track.

Without Armstrong’s bold leadership and keen intellect, Social Security might not even exist at all today. If that sounds hyperbolic, those same policymakers whom Armstrong outwitted later decided to not propose national, guaranteed health insurance. Cautiously, they decided it was better left for the future. Today, we are still fighting for improved and expanded Medicare for All.

Other remarkable Mothers included two members of the Social Security Board, which administered Social Security prior to a 1946 reorganization that replaced the Board with a single commissioner. Four other women were members of the 1938 Social Security Advisory Council, whose recommendations to add benefits for wives, widows, and dependent children were enacted into law in 1939.

Perhaps it is in part because these and other women were so important to the birth and early development of Social Security that it is so important to women today. Social Security is essential for virtually everyone, but it is particularly critical for women, as well as people of color, the LGBTQ community, and others who have been discriminated against in the workplace.

Even in 2019, women experience a substantial wage gap. It is commonly reported that, on average, a woman earns just 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Yet even that understates the facts. A recent report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reveals that women today actually earn, on average, just 49 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Moreover, the same report exposes the drastic penalty for taking time out of the paid labor force. Women who take just one year off from work suffer 39 percent lower earnings than women who do not. This is especially detrimental since 60 percent of caregivers are female.

Social Security cannot offset all of the ills of society. However, it does seek to offset, to the extent it can, this kind of discrimination in the workplace. From the beginning, Social Security has employed a progressive benefit formula that provides larger benefits, as a percentage of pay, for those who have lower lifetime earnings.

Social Security is also especially important to women, because on average, women live longer than men. Unlike savings, you can’t outlive Social Security, even if you live to be 110. It’s no surprise that women are approximately two out of every three beneficiaries aged 85 and older.

Moreover, Social Security benefits are indexed to inflation, no matter how high inflation is. That is imperative to prevent benefits from eroding as you age. This automatic inflation adjustment, which needs updating, nevertheless is an extremely important feature for everyone, but particularly women. That is because, without adjustment, inflation causes the erosion of benefits to compound with each passing year.

As good as Social Security is, it can and should be better. Past generations of women and men have fought to improve it. Now it is our turn. Our elected Democratic policymakers in Congress are fighting to expand Social Security.

They are fighting to increase Social Security’s modest benefits for all current and future beneficiaries. They are also fighting for targeted improvements. They want to restore the minimum benefit, which no longer provides a meaningful floor because it has eroded so substantially. They are also fighting to update the method of indexing benefits, because the current method under-measures the cost of living of seniors and people with disabilities, who have, on average, higher medical and other costs.

Updating both the minimum benefit and the automatic inflation index disproportionately benefits women. So do other improvements Democrats in Congress are fighting for. These include providing caregivers credit toward Social Security for their invaluable but unpaid caregiving work, and improving benefits for those who are divorced and widowed.

Historically, forward-looking women and men have improved Social Security for those who would follow. It is so appropriate that today’s Democratic leaders, who are growing more diverse, have taken their place in the fight. Perhaps the best way to celebrate this Mother’s Day is for all of us to commit to fighting to expand Social Security, in memory of those brilliant, hard-driving, creative, and compassionate Mothers of Social Security.

Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow for Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works!.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

IMAGE: Former Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins and Eleanor Roosevelt at the 50th anniversary commemoration at the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City, March 25, 1961.

Honor Frances Perkins By Fighting To Expand Social Security And Medicare

Wednesday, April 10, is the birthday of Frances Perkins, the first woman ever to serve in a presidential cabinet. Remarkably, she took this historic step just over a decade after women won the right to vote.

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, she was instrumental in the creation of Social Security. She also played a key role in the enactment of other labor protections, including the minimum wage. A fighter for universal national health insurance, she died just 10 weeks before the important first step of Medicare was signed into law.

Like the other founders of Social Security, Perkins understood Social Security to be, in the words of Roosevelt, “a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete.” In a radio address Perkins gave in 1935, when Social Security was before Congress, she too explained that the program was simply a first step to be expanded upon in future years:

“If put into effect…[the Social Security legislation] will provide a greater degree of security for the American citizen and his family than he has heretofore known. The bill is, I believe, a sound beginning on which we can build by degrees to our ultimate goal.

“We cannot hope to accomplish all in one bold stroke.”

In 1960, at the 25th anniversary celebration of the signing of the Social Security Act, Perkins analogized Social Security to a growing child:

“I think… that as we stand here, and as we sit here and think about this precious child we want to see it grow. It has grown enormously in these years, it has improved… but there is yet much that needs to be done…”

On April 10, the anniversary of Perkins’ birth, two different events taking place on Capitol Hill will mark important next steps toward that not yet completed vision. One is a hearing in the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, focused on expanding Social Security. [Author Nancy Altman is one of several witnesses who will be testifying.] The other is the introduction of the Medicare for All Act of 2019 in the U.S. Senate.

The hearing will focus on several proposals Democrats have introduced to expand Social Security, just as Perkins envisioned in 1935. These proposals include the Social Security 2100 Act, which is sponsored by Rep. John Larson (D-CT), chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee. This bill, which is co-sponsored by over 85 percent of House Democrats, would address our nation’s looming retirement income crisis by increasing benefits across the board. It also includes additional targeted benefit increases. Larson intends to bring the Social Security 2100 Act to the House floor for a vote this spring.

It is just as appropriate that the Medicare for All introduction is happening on Perkins’ birthday. Making high-quality health care a right for all was one of the chief causes that Perkins fought for throughout her life.

The Senate Medicare for All bill is sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and co-sponsored by over a dozen other senators including Sanders’ fellow 2020 presidential contenders Kamala Harris (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Like the House version introduced on February 27, this bill improves the current Medicare system by adding long-term care services, as well as hearing, vision, and dental treatments and devices. Both bills lower drug prices. They eliminate all premiums, co-pays and deductibles, and they extend the successful, efficient and popular Medicare program to everyone. Medicare coverage now extends to the grave. These bills will have coverage start at the cradle.

Expanded Social Security and Medicare are important building blocks on the foundation laid down in 1935. It is important to recognize that Perkins and her contemporaries in FDR’s administration had a much broader definition of Social Security than the one we use today. They used the term as a synonym for economic security.

Perkins knew that the base of economic security is a good-paying job. She understood that to achieve security, workers need a strong minimum wage, maximum hours, and the right to collectively bargain. All of us need housing and education. We need insurance against the loss of wages. And we need the assurance that if faced with an illness, we or our loved ones will receive high-quality treatment without being faced with destitution to pay for it. To be economically secure, we must have universal, guaranteed health care.

As we fight to expand Social Security and to improve Medicare and expand it to all, we also fight for a $15 minimum wage nationwide, for sick pay, vacation pay, paid parental leave, short-term disability benefits, and so much more to make the vision of the Social Security founders a reality.

All of this was essential to Perkins’ view of economic security. In a 1962 speech at Social Security headquarters, she described her response to FDR when he asked her to become his secretary of labor:

“Before I was appointed, I had a little conversation with Roosevelt in which I said perhaps he didn’t want me to be the secretary of labor because if I were, I should want to do this, and this, and this. Among the things I wanted to do was find a way of getting unemployment insurance, old-age insurance, and health insurance.”

As we continue to fight for Perkins’ vision, her life should both inspire us and drive us forward to success. We are confident that is the best birthday present we could give her.

Trump Officials Reveal Plans To Slash Social Security And Medicare

Reprinted with permission from Independent Media Institute.

 

Opponents of Social Security and Medicare are so eager to end these two overwhelmingly important and popular earned benefits that they can’t contain themselves. Mick Mulvaney, the Trump administration’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, is the latest to make crystal clear the longstanding plan to destroy both programs.

Speaking at a conference of state legislators hosted by the anti-government American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”), Mulvaney just revealed that he plans first to go after what he sees as more politically achievable cuts. He explained that the next step, presumably after Trump is in his second term, will be for the administration not just to cut these programs but to end them as we know them.

Mulvaney is apparently so eager to go after our earned benefits that he threw the point into a speech to state legislators, even though both Social Security and Medicare are federal programs.

Mulvaney’s apparent uncontained enthusiasm to take away people’s earned benefits is similar to that of Mitch McConnell, who just weeks before the midterm, called for Social Security and Medicare to be “adjusted” (code for destroying them). McConnell couldn’t resist broadcasting his intentions, even though these programs are extremely popular even with Republican voters.

Why are these opponents so hostile to such important programs? Social Security, now more than eight decades old, and Medicare, now more than five decades old, have stood the test of time. Both of these efficient, virtually universal, overwhelmingly popular programs insure us against risks that all of us face. Rich or poor, anyone can suffer a disabling illness or accident, making work impossible. Rich or poor, any parent can die prematurely leaving dependent children. Rich or poor, all of us hope to live to old age and, if we are so fortunate, require income we cannot outlive and health insurance for the treatments and medication we inevitably will need.

The private sector is incapable of providing the wage and health insurance that Social Security and Medicare provide as efficiently, universally, securely or effectively as the federal government. Insurance works best when the greatest numbers of people are covered. The only entity that can require that everyone is covered and pays premiums as soon as they start working is the federal government. That is one of the reasons both Social Security and Medicare work so well.

And that is why Mulvaney, McConnell, and other opponents of these programs want to end them. These programs put the lie to their ideological zealotry, which insists that the private sector is always better than government.

Decades ago, opponents of these programs were forthright that their objections were ideological. They did not see the creation and administration of universal insurance programs as an appropriate role for the federal government. But the American people overwhelmingly disagreed, so this argument was utterly unsuccessful.

Now most opponents have changed their tactics, and proclaim their love for these programs. President George W. Bush, for example, proclaimed, “Social Security was a great moral success of the 20th century, and we must honor its great purposes in this new century.” His very next sentence argued for radically changing it.

Similarly, Mulvaney, McConnell, and other opponents hide their straightforward ideological opposition. Rather, these opponents subversively seek to undermine confidence in Social Security’s and Medicare’s future by asserting that both programs are unaffordable.

Worse, in their efforts to end Social Security and Medicare, they seek to turn Americans against each other. They tell us that seniors are taking from children, that people with disabilities are taking from seniors.

Moreover, in their efforts to lull us into thinking they are not seeking to hurt our legitimate interests, opponents claim that our vital and earned financial protection in the event of disability isn’t as “core” as our financial protection in the event of old age. In his recent ALEC speech, Mulvaney tried to make just such a claim, asserting, “You can reform and save a ton of money in Medicare and Social Security and not touch the primary pillars for the next several years.” Along those same lines, last April, Mulvaney rhetorically asked, “Do you really think that Social Security disability insurance is part of what people think of when they think of Social Security?”

I am confident that the over 10 million Americans receiving Social Security because of wages lost as the result of serious, work-ending disabilities understand that Social Security disability insurance is Social Security. When American workers pay into Social Security with every paycheck, disability insurance is one of the protections they earn, along with life insurance and retirement annuities.

Social Security disability benefits are inextricably intertwined with Social Security’s retirement and survivor benefits. Social Security benefits are generated from the same formula. When workers with disabilities reach retirement age, their benefit is unchanged in amount but is paid as a retirement benefit, no longer as a disability benefit. Despite those facts, though, Mulvaney’s claim that Social Security disability insurance is not really Social Security is a convenient rhetorical game to claim “core” benefits are not being touched.

For Medicare, Mulvaney revealed another trick before his ALEC audience. He floated the idea of Medicare no longer reimbursing teaching hospitals its fair share of those hospitals’ costs, arguing that the cut wouldn’t hurt beneficiaries. Like his claim that Social Security disability insurance is not “really’ Social Security, beneficiaries would be hurt, though not immediately, and the cause of the hurt would be difficult to trace.

While benefits wouldn’t be directly cut, it certainly would limit the ability of Medicare beneficiaries to get treatment at teaching hospitals if that were their choice and the best setting for their care. To the extent Medicare didn’t pay its fair share and teaching hospitals nevertheless continued to treat seniors and people with disabilities, those costs would be shifted to everyone else.

And, of course, this is just the start, Mulvaney made clear. “In the long term you’ll have to [make more major changes.] The president has asked me to fix the easy stuff first,” Mulvaney explained to his audience.

Fortunately, the Democrats—who support expanding, not cutting, Social Security and Medicare—have control of the House of Representatives, at least for now. But, all of us who want to keep the benefits we have earned must remain vigilant. We must not be fooled or confused into allowing opponents to make what they deem “easy” cuts to our earned benefits.

These opponents will not give up. And neither must we. Expanding, not cutting, our Social Security and Medicare is profoundly wise policy and is overwhelmingly popular. But it will only become a reality if we keep our voices loud, reminding our political leaders that it’s voters, not donors, to whom they must account next election day.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works!

 

Why Attacking Immigrants Endangers Every American’s Economic Security

Donald Trump reportedly will announce on Tuesday that he will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the legal protection accorded to 800,000 young people, known as “Dreamers,” who have lived in the United States since they were children. Dreamers are contributing members of society who grew up here but happened to be born in another country to mothers who moved here without the proper papers.

So much for not being punished for the sins of our parents. And for not being arbitrary and capricious in our public policy. Two siblings, a year apart in age, could face very different circumstances simply because the younger one was born inside the United States and the older one outside. One would be, thanks to our Constitution, an American citizen, with all the rights and privileges citizenship grants. The other could be a demonized “other,” subject to the whims of Trump.

The United States is the home of both siblings, just as much as it is for everyone else who grew up here. President Obama appropriately coaxed Dreamers out of the shadows on the promise that their government wouldn’t come along and exile them from their homes. They trusted their government. By doing so, not only are the Dreamers now in jeopardy, but so are other members of their families.

Trump’s action is part of his larger war on immigrants. He recently suggested changing the immigration laws so that the number of people immigrating to the United States would be cut in half. He has defamed immigrants by asserting that they are criminals – even though immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans. He has unleashed the power of the federal government to hunt down and deport people on the flimsiest of excuses, often separating mothers from children in the process.

His attitude toward immigrants is ignorant, stupid, and immoral. Trump is showing himself to be cruel and callous. His cavalier announcement that he would wait until after the holiday weekend to announce what he plans for the Dreamers and their families perfectly exemplifies his cruel and callous indifference to causing fear and worry.

But his policies are more than cruel and callous. They are destructive of our country in general and of our Social Security system, in particular.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the brilliant composer, lyricist, and performer, explained it in a succinct and catchy fashion, in a line from his hit musical Hamilton: “Immigrants, we get the job done!” Immigrants, in general, and the Dreamers, specifically, are members of the armed forces, firefighters, doctors, nurses, teachers, and other contributing members of our society.

Take, for example, Tomas Pendola, a high school chemistry teacher who came to this country at age 10. Now aged 25, he is one of about 20,000 Dreamers teaching in our schools. If they are deported, hundreds of thousands of our nation’s children will lose their teachers.

Trump’s decision to end DACA puts our communities at risk. It also damages our economy. Trump’s action will cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars in lost GDP. It will also hit Social Security’s financing, making it harder to expand, and not cut, our earned benefits.

Immigration is a net plus for Social Security’s financing. Because immigrants are generally younger, they contribute currently and do not draw benefits until far into the future. Ironically, undocumented workers contribute even more. They are prohibited from receiving Social Security, even when they can prove that they have contributed and so earned those benefits, just like the rest of us. The Social Security Administration has estimated that undocumented workers pay billions of dollars to Social Security each year, but earn no benefits as a result of those contributions.

If Trump has his way and cuts immigration in half, Social Security will lose $2.4 trillion over the next 75 years. In contrast, if immigration were doubled, Social Security would gain around $5 trillion over the next 75 years. The increased revenue that would flow to Social Security as the result of increased immigration would be about two and half times the cost of switching to the more accurate Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, so that benefits don’t erode. That projected increased revenue is about seventeen times the cost of restoring benefits to students between the ages of 18 and 22, whose working parents have died or become disabled. It is more than four times the cost of recognizing the invaluable role of family caregivers by providing Social Security wage credits to stay-at-home parents and other family caregivers. Indeed, it is substantially more than the cost of giving all current and future beneficiaries a five percent increase starting today!

The right policy, reflecting both the values and the self-interest of the country, is to expand immigration while bringing undocumented immigrants out from the shadows. But Trump is pursuing just the opposite. And the reason is not hard to see.

In order to keep all of us from uniting against him and his billionaire cronies, who refuse to pay their fair share towards the common good, he seeks to get us to fight with one another. In magic, it is called misdirection: Don’t look at all the upward redistribution of wealth; focus, instead, on our different heritages, religions, beliefs, and other qualities that set us apart from one another. President Franklin Roosevelt understood this tactic well. In a speech defending Social Security, he eloquently reminded us, “It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them.”

Let us not let ourselves be so deluded. Let’s join together to fight against Trump’s divisive tactics and policies. Let’s join together and fight for policies that unite us, including the expansion of Social Security. A good place to start paying for that expansion is by increasing immigration and inviting Dreamers and others living in the shadows to come into the sunshine and join our great nation that reminds us, every time we look at our money, that out of many, we are one.

Nancy Altman is author of The Battle for Social Security: From FDR’s Vision to Bush’s Gamble (John Wiley & Sons, 2005) is president of Social Security Works and Chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition. She is co-author, with Eric R. Kingson, of Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All (The New Press, 2015), and has written the forward to a new release of Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice.