Strengthen Social Security Coalition Puts Both Parties On Notice

Isaiah J. Poole

More than 60 organizations that represent more than 60 million Americans are banding together to deliver a straightforward message to politicians this fall: Don’t mess with Social Security.

“Don’t turn Social Security in the scapegoat for the deficit,” said AFSCME President Gerald McEntee today at a news conference in Washington’s National Press Club launching the Strengthen Social Security campaign. “Don’t raise the retirement age. Don’t tamper with the COLA (cost-of-living adjustment). If you break the promise that was made to American working families 75 years ago, we’ll hold you accountable.”

“This is very personal for me and for most Americans,” said Justin Ruben, the executive director of MoveOn.org. “I have people in my immediate family who would literally be homeless if it weren’t for Social Security. So do millions of other MoveOn members. So, I have one message for the Republicans and Democrats who want to cut taxes for the rich, but then balance the budget on the banks of our parents and grandparents: The 5 million members of MoveOn.org, who live in every state and congressional district, will never let that happen.”

The cross-section of organizations includes labor, women’s groups, civil rights, senior’s groups and other grassroots activist organizations. (The Campaign for America’s Future is a steering committee member.) Each has signed onto a statement that includes several key principles:

  • Social Security, which has a current surplus of $2.6 trillion, is not the cause of the federal deficit, and thus should not be cut to reduce the deficit.
  • Social Security should not be privatized, in whole or in part.
  • Social Security is insurance that workers pay for and should not be means-tested.
  • Social Security is fully funded for the next 25 years; to fully fund benefits beyond that time, we should ask those who can most afford to pay a little more to do so.
  • The retirement age is already going to increase to 67; there should not be another increase because that would be a benefit cut with the greatest hardship falling on older Americans with physically demanding jobs or are otherwise unable to find work.
  • The average Social Security benefit, $13,000, should not be reduced, including by changes in the cost-of-living adjustment or the benefit formula.
  • In fact, benefits should be increased for those who are most disadvantaged.

The movement is a direct pushback against the White House deficit commission—whose leaders, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, are united in their belief that future Social Security recipients have to take it on the chin to make up for failed conservative economic policies. The principles, of course, are also in opposition to the stated positions of key leaders in both parties, such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who recently embraced the unpopular idea of raising the retirement age for Social Security benefits to 69. “Our members immediately made sure he knew what they thought of that,” Ruben of MoveOn said. “Any members who repeat these debunked talking points can expect to hear from angry constituents.”

Ed Coyle, the director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, said the Strengthen Social Security coalition plans to hold “hundreds of community events around the country to mark the 75th anniversary of Social Security,” including 62 sponsored by his organization. “Many groups, including the Alliance, will be involved in the 2010 elections, demanding clear, unequivocal answers from the candidates on where they stand on Social Security.”

“We’re saying enough is enough,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. “This can be fixed in the long term very simply, without benefit cuts. The people they’re trying to take the money from have already paid two or three times. Wall Street is already back to business as usual; nothing has changed for them. The American public says, ‘Let them pay for it this time. Let them help this time. Not us again.'”

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