WASHINGTON — Thousands cheered at a Capitol Hill rally April 26 as lawmakers and leaders of labor, retirees, women, youth of color and the disabled vowed “no compromise” in the battle to block President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security.
“Wall Street, keep your greedy, greasy hands off our Social Security,” thundered William McNary, president of USAction.
Bush’s plan is like a “dead fish lying in the sun,” McNary said. “At a distance it looks shiny but the nearer you get, the more it stinks.”
Union members sporting T-shirts and signs reading, “Stop Privatization” swelled the crowd. They cheered as American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Gerald McEntee said, “We will stop you dead in your tracks, Bush. We’re not going to let you take away Social Security, gut labor laws. We’re not going to let you put right-wing extremists on the bench.”
United Steelworkers District 8 legislative representative Don Forcino told the World, “When Bethlehem Steel declared bankruptcy, a lot of workers lost their pensions.” If Congress approves Bush’s plan, “these workers won’t know if they can count on Social Security, either.”
To take care of any shortfall in the Social Security trust fund, he said, “just take the cap off. Right now, they exempt any income above $90,000. Tax all income.”
Daisy Fields, a Baltimore AFSCME retiree, said Social Security benefits are a lifeline for her. “We are going to do our best to stop them from privatizing it,” she said. “If we band together and stick to it, they can be stopped.”
A cheer went up when scores of Democratic senators and representatives filed onto the platform, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. The lawmakers joined hands in support of a “declaration of unity” that read in part, “We are united in our commitment to strengthen Social Security, not privatize it [and] will oppose any scheme for deep benefit cuts or massive debt to fund risky private accounts.”
“Let’s make sure that Bush gets the message,” Reid told the crowd. “Stop trying to privatize Social Security. The Democrats in Congress won’t back down and the people won’t back down.”
The rally, initiated by Americans United to Protect Social Security, coincided with Senate Finance Committee hearings on the issue. On the day of the rally Bush took his scandal-plagued crony, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Air Force One to an event in Texas to stump for his Social Security scheme. Bush desperately needs DeLay, “The Hammer,” to push his plan through a reluctant House
George Kourpias, president of the 3-million-member Alliance for Retired Americans, said that without Social Security “nearly half of all seniors in the United States today would be poor.” Private accounts would require “massive cuts in monthly benefits for everybody,” he warned. Estimates of those cuts range as high as 30 percent.
NOW President Kim Gandy said Social Security “keeps fully one-half of all women over age 65 out of poverty.” Recalling a truism, “Don’t risk anything in the market you can’t afford to lose,” she added, “That is exactly what Bush and the backers of privatization propose that we do, risk. Women aren’t buying it.”
Brandon Neal, NAACP youth and student director, said 22 percent of those who receive Social Security survivor benefits “use that money to go to school. Social Security is especially important to Black, Latino and other people of color because they have been confined to the lower end of the wage scale.”
Jim Ward, president of the National Coalition for Disability Rights, said 7 million disabled people, their spouses and children depend on Social Security survivor benefits. “Is it moral for the world’s richest nation to be awarding tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent while waging war on the poor and disabled of our country?” he demanded. “We say, hands off Social Security.”
Former Congresswoman Barbara Kennelly, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said, “There are those who have never accepted the legitimacy of Social Security and they think this is their opportunity to eliminate Social Security for seniors, children and the disabled. We will not accept it.”