Unions launch crash drive against GOP commission to cut Social Security
AFGE President Everett Kelley

WASHINGTON—The nation’s unions have launched a crash drive, trying to mobilize members quickly against a Republican plan for a secretive commission to cut Social Security and Medicare, before House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., can rush it through.

In a jammed D.C. press conference on February 15, AFGE President Everett Kelley, Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., and other speakers described the scheme, sponsored by another Trumpite right-winger, as a disaster for working families, workers of color and young workers.

Johnson intends to have lawmakers insert the 13-member commission into key legislation, either the upcoming House budget resolution, which is a spending blueprint, or the money bill funding various departments which lawmakers must pass by March 2. Right now, the commission is in a stand-alone bill, HR5779.

Said Teachers (AFT) Secretary-Treasurer Fed Ingram: “We represent teachers, 77% of whom are women…All are simply asking ‘Be fair, be fair to the people who paid in.’

“You gotta put your shoes on” to walk congressional halls and lobby, “hit the keyboard” of your computer to e-mail lawmakers “to speak truth to power,” he urged.

Speakers said the commission, with six lawmakers from each party and seven outside “experts,” would meet behind closed doors, hold sham public hearings without a text for people to study and be really controlled by those “experts,” including from the corporate class.

“We need hearings and up-or-down votes so the public can see what is going on,” said Larson, who arranged the press conference inside the Capitol. Added Will Attig of the Union Veterans Council, “When you talk about an in-the-dark commission, this isn’t democracy.”

One Republican proposal is in public view, Larson said: Raising the initial retirement age for Social Security benefits from its current 67 to age 70. Larson said that would hit young workers, as every year a person can’t get benefits reduces their ultimate value by 7%. The total cut: 21% over three years.

Hearing about that impact on younger workers, Attig said, “This isn’t just about cuts on benefits. It’s about attacks on workers…The people who are already left behind will be left further behind. That’s why this fight is important.”

What Congress really should do, he elaborated, is increase Social Security benefits by increasing the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. It’s now $168,600, but the cap applies only to earned income on W-2s or 1099 forms—not to interest, dividends or capital gains. All those benefit the rich.

Raise the cap

Raise the cap, another speaker said, and you can raise average yearly Social Security payouts for male retirees, a little over $14,000, and woman retirees, $12,000.

“In 2005, they asked a noted investor, Warren Buffett, how he would fix Social Security. His answer was ‘scrap the cap,’” said Robert Roach, the former top Machinists official who now heads the Alliance for Retired Americans.

The AFL-CIO will play a big role in the fight, as it did, one speaker said, when it led the successful assault on GOP President George W. Bush’s 2005 plan to privatize Social Security, thus turning over its billions of dollars in annual revenue—taken from workers’ payroll taxes—to wolves of Wall Street.

Federation President Liz Shuler called Johnson’s commission scheme “a terrible idea.”

Though she could not attend the press conference, Shuler added the Republican commission’s cuts “would push older Americans into poverty, take away people’s health care and end up costing the government more.”

“The labor movement stands united in our belief that slashing crucial programs like Medicare and Social Security—which millions of hardworking individuals rely on and have contributed to—will make people poorer, sicker, hungrier and even lose their homes. It also would put the pay and benefits for federal workers on the chopping block,” Shuler continued.

“This commission is a power grab that is trying to bypass the regular democratic process by hiding behind closed doors and fast-tracking a plan that escapes public scrutiny and accountability… Working people support a revenue-centric approach that makes the ultra-rich and big corporations pay their fair share instead of a cruel commission.”

A procession of unionists, notably AFGE President Everett Kelley, marched to the press conference podium to denounce the Republican commission scheme and warn that Speaker Johnson and his team would try to push it through Congress soon, possibly as early as March 2, the deadline Congress faces for funding major federal departments.

“The whole purpose of this ‘fiscal commission’ is a sham,” Kelley said. “Congress does not have a spending problem”—the excuse Johnson gives for establishing his commission and putting it behind closed doors.

“We have a revenue problem,” Kelley continued. “Since the 1980s, the federal debt has grown by $30 trillion” mostly due Republican tax cuts for corporations and the rich. “But the wealth of the wealthiest has grown by $40 trillion” while workers “get tax scraps.”

“We’ve lived through more than one ‘commission,’” said Kelley. The results have been “federal pay freezes, retirement cuts and sequestration,” automatic spending cuts when Congress can’t pass money bills. “And now they want devastating cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.