Is this déjà vu? Presidents get re-elected, they make proposals to cut or privatize Social Security and Medicare, the American people react with righteous anger and the president loses the battle.
Social Security is known as the “third rail” in American politics, because you touch it and ZAP … you die (politically speaking).
It happened with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; a similar battle is shaping up with President Barack Obama.
In a wrong-headed budget proposal, President Obama ties Social Security benefit cuts to deficit reduction. It reduces cost-of-living-adjustments (COLA) – a tiny bit per year – but over the course of 10-20 years the cuts add up to an average of $1,000 per year. The cuts come from a change in a price/human-buying-behavior formula called “chained CPI.”
According to the Social Security Administration, grandparents who retire today would get $650 less per year at age 75 and more than $1,100 less at age 85. That’s money stolen out of our grandparents’ pockets and pockets of all future retirees, veterans and people with disabilities, which could pay a month’s rent or a few weeks of groceries.
This benefit theft pays for continuing tax breaks for oil companies, hedge fund managers and other “swag” for corporate elite. Objectively, the president’s proposal fuels the one percenters’ class warfare on the rest of us. The president was reelected to do just the opposite.
Even though Social Security has nothing to do with budget deficits (Social Security benefits are paid for by employee and employer contributions), the White House claims the cuts are in exchange for a deficit reduction “grand bargain” with Republicans.
At best, this is a fool’s errand. The sequester-loving, intractable Republican leadership has no interest in any compromise with the White House. Even with these concessionary cuts the Republicans have already said the president’s budget is DOA.
Today, 2 million signatures protesting the cuts are being presented to the White House. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., promises to do everything he can to block the chained CPI proposal and cuts to Medicare.
When you think about it, these benefit cuts threaten the unity and fighting capacity of the coalition that backed the president last year. Maximum unity is needed to win comprehensive immigration reform, investment in jobs, infrastructure, education and clean energy, federal action to reduce gun violence and pay equity for women – all critical for the president’s agenda. Now significant sections of the Obama coalition are forced to spend resources and energy in rightfully fighting the president’s proposal; resources that could have been used to win on other issues.
There are winning alternatives to the budget battles. Sanders and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., have introduced legislation to eliminate the Social Security payroll tax cap on income above $250,000, so millionaires and billionaires pay the same share as everyone else. President Obama endorsed this approach during his 2008 presidential campaign.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has introduced a “back to work” budget that cancels the sequester and funds infrastructure, education, other public works, and provides aid to states and local communities to rehire laid-off teachers, firefighters and other public employees. All funded by closing tax cuts and loopholes enjoyed by the super-rich and corporations, and cutting military spending.
You can tell the president you may support him on many issues – but not on these cuts! Sign the AFL-CIO’s petition that says: Benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare are unacceptable. I’m calling on you to oppose any and all cuts to Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid benefits and focus on immediate solutions to get Americans back to work, like repealing the sequester and ending tax loopholes for corporations and the richest 2%.