Social Security: Still a Powerful Weapon for Democrats

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren supporting Social Security/Medicare.

Republicans seem to be wagering that the third rail of American politics has lost its potency, and they are gearing up for a frontal assault on Social Security and Medicare. They are at least partly right, because most of their own voters seem to live in the alternate universe of Fox News, where “fair and balanced” means “spun and twisted.”

Still, Democrats need to take the bet. Every Democrat running for the House or Senate in 2018 needs to use this like a campaign mantra: Social Security is yours to keep, not theirs to take.

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Here is a piece from Motley Fool, via Newsweek, that explains how Rep. Sam Johnson, a Republican from Texas, wants to “reform” and “save” Social Security. Johnson’s plan would “save” the program by raising the retirement age by two years and slashing benefits to most recipients by about a third.

This is to be taken seriously for a couple of reasons. Johnson is no trivial figure. He is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security. Second, Donald Trump, who said during his fraudulent campaign that he wants to leave benefits alone, cannot be trusted for a mile, a meter, or a micron. The strong likelihood is that he, too, will represent himself as saving the program, either by reducing it or by turning it over to the private sector. Either way, it’s salvation by destruction.

Ike: Abolishing Social Security “stupid”.

The Social Security Act, cornerstone of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, was passed in 1935 over the strident objections of Republicans and conservative Democrats, who assailed it as socialistic. The opponents were correct in their description but misguided in their assault, as the program has proven through its phenomenal success and popularity. Indeed, President Dwight Eisenhower’s wisdom on the topic is often quoted:

Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

The stupid people show up from time to time. Driven by the same ideology as their political forebears, they are called the Koch brothers rather than the Hunt brothers; Ted Cruz rather than Pat McCarran. But they are the same old bunch of right-wingers who believe everyone is on his own and that we as a society have no responsibility for our least fortunate members. You can tell who they are; they’re the ones constantly telling you they follow Jesus.

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The thing is, it has become abundantly clear that more people care about their own selfish interests than about the United States of America, if caring for the country means the welfare of people other than themselves, or the common good. Many of them are very sadly misguided concerning what their own interests are, but they’ve been trying to vote their interests. So fine. Let’s talk to them about their selfish interests.

Seniors rely increasingly on Social Security after retirement. It now represents 38 per cent of all income for Americans aged 65 and older. That is due in some part to the staggering losses in pension funds during the 2008 economic meltdown and the continuing raiding of pension funds by corporations – a massive, legal transfer of wealth from workers to executives. These losses are by no means all recoverable. Indeed, the federal government’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. is actuarially belly up.

As for Medicare, the majority of American seniors would be dead pretty soon without it. Here, from AARP, is a summary demographic profile of Medicare enrollees. Almost half live with at least three chronic medical conditions.

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Medicare is under the same kind of assault as the mother program, Social Security, and from the same people. House Speaker Paul Ryan has long advocated privatization of both programs, and Trump – campaign rhetoric notwithstanding – will not likely resist the attacks of Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-SC.

The rocky road of the Trump-Pence years will get a lot rougher as the budget outlines define themselves. With increased defense spending guaranteed to reverse Barack Obama’s trend of declining deficits, Republicans will, as usual blame their lopsided, outsized budgets on the poor and broken.

This time, because the poor will include regular working folk and their parents, the Democrats have the tools to fight back effectively. It’s all about Social Security and Medicare in 2018.