PITTSBURGH — “Dear congressperson: What part of ‘no privatization, no private accounts to replace Social Security’ don’t you understand?”
From Louisiana to Illinois, that message rang out in the voices of “the folks back home” in district offices of Republican members of the House who are feeling the pressure to halt Bush administration efforts to privatize Social Security.
In response, Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.) and Senators Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced legislation June 24 into both Houses of Congress. McCrery said that deepening public opposition to Bush’s plan of creating private accounts and then investing the money in the stock market to replace Social Security had forced GOP lawmakers to retreat. Their proposal is “far different” than Bush’s, the legislators claimed.
But some opponents have referred to it as “Social Security privatization-lite” and charge that they are trying to slip privatization in through the back door.
The new Republican legislation will be debated in committee later this month. It would establish private accounts for workers under 55 funded by the Social Security surplus, which is currently running at $65 billion per year. Workers could choose to “opt out.”
Privatization-lite would be even more damaging to Social Security than the president’s proposal, according to Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. If Congress does nothing, Social Security will continue to take in more money than it pays out through 2017, Greenstein said. But if the congressional GOP plan becomes law, $600 billion would be siphoned off from Social Security in the first 10 years, creating a crisis.
Establishing private accounts to replace Social Security is also in a bill introduced by the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Bill Thomas of California. In a flimflam, Thomas’ bill calls private accounts “GROW accounts,” but it is sleight-of-hand Social Security privatization nevertheless.
The goal of congressional GOP activity, said Cara Morris, spokeswoman for Americans United To Protect Social Security, is to get establishing private accounts in some form out of committee and onto the table of joint meetings between the House and the Senate for floor action in the fall.
Morris is based in Washington and is on Capitol Hill every day. “A GOP Senate aide called all this movement a ‘nose-of-the-camel-under-the tent’ proposal,” said an energetic Morris. The Republicans are stymied because “for the first time, no matter what carrots are placed in front of congressional Democrats, nobody is going for it. The Democrats are united with a principled, strong message, ‘No privatization.’ We are ramped up in every single congressional district to protect Social Security from whatever plan.”
The staff of Republican Rep. Charles Boustany looked out their Lafayette, La., office windows and saw a 30-foot balloon of the 800-pound gorilla, Social Security. Surrounding the offices were scores of constituents demanding “Hands Off Social Security!” The gorilla balloon wore a sash reading, “$131,458 benefit cut to Louisianans.”
ARA Truth Truck
While congressional Republicans scramble to salvage privatization, the Alliance of Retired Americans’ (ARA) Truth Truck has rambled through Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. ARA is a labor-based coalition affiliated with Americans United.
The ARA Truth Truck, which has crisscrossed the country, arrived in Peoria, Ill., on July 13. Bus riders and local ARA activists have collected 1.2 million signatures on petitions demanding that Congress maintain Social Security as it is, with no privatization. They held press conferences, speak in churches, schools, union halls and homes and deliver petitions bearing the signatures of thousands of voters in the home districts of Republican members of Congress.
The AARP, the largest organization of U.S. residents over 50, is standing its ground to preserve Social Security, rejecting all forms of privatization. In a letter sent out in June to its 35 million members, AARP President Marie F. Smith and CEO Bill Novelli wrote, “Private accounts that take money out of Social Security are not part of the solution. These accounts drain money out of Social Security, cut benefits and pass the bill to future generations.”