Nobodys Buying The Cut-Social-Security Line

Isaiah J. Poole

The next time a conservative politician goes to the microphone and says something to the effect that “the American people have spoken, and they’ve made it clear that they want us to rein in out-of-control entitlement spending and keep programs such as Social Security from bankrupting the country,” you already know the right response: “The American people have said no such thing.”

In fact, according to a poll released today by Celinda Lake, not even a majority of your Tea Party loyalists, with their “Taxed Enough Already” signs, are supporting the idea that Social Security benefits need to be cut as part of a deficit-reduction plan.

A whopping 82% of respondents in the poll oppose Social Security cuts for the purpose of deficit reduction, while only 15% support cuts. What’s particularly telling is the striking uniformity of opinion across the political spectrum: 83% of Democrats, 82% of Republicans, 78% of independents and 74% of Tea Party supporters.

The poll also reinforces the findings of other polls that have shown broad public rejection of any tampering of current benefit formulas or any increase in the retirement age in the name of long-term solvency of the Social Security trust fund. Instead, 66% of poll respondents said they would support raising the payroll tax cap on incomes above $106,000. That includes roughly six out of 10 Republicans and Tea Party supporters.

“We have seen time and time again, despite the elite dialogue, real people, voters, see little relationship between the deficit and Social Security, and that is reiterated in this work,” Lake said.

The wisdom of the crowd happens here to be truly wise. Eric Kingson, the co-director of Social Security Works, which commissioned the poll, noted that the single step of eliminating the payroll tax cap would assure the solvency of the Social Security trust fund for at least the next 75 years, plus allow for a modest benefit increase.

At minimum, a significant increase in the payroll tax cap would be in order merely because the current cap has not kept pace with the sharp increase in earnings at the top end of the income scale relative to the decade-long stagnation of wages in real terms among middle-class workers.

Said Kingson: “A question I would have is why would you not listen to the American public if it wants to do that and instead raise the retirement age on people, many of whom have been losing jobs and are afraid for their children and their future? Why would we cut benefits in the future when there is a clear alternative for what we could do? Why in God’s name would you cut the cost-of-living allowance for today’s seniors when there are other ways [to keep the system solvent]?”

With some prominent Democrats siding with conservatives in advocating benefit cuts and an increase in the retirement age, Lake said that the party has lost its traditional advantage over Republicans on the issue of Social Security. That coincided with a precipitous drop in senior support during the 2010 midterms when compared to 2008.

Lake would not draw a direct causal link between how some Democrats handled the Social Security issue and their loss of the senior vote, but she said, “It is a real wake-up call,” later adding, “It does speak to the benefit of the party taking a strong and vocal stand,” she said.

There will be an opportunity for citizens to register their opposition to Social Security cuts next Tuesday, November 30. On that day Social Security Works is urging people to call their member of Congress and tell them to oppose any plan to weaken Social Security. One such plan has already been offered by the co-chairs of the White House deficit commission, and the full commission is due to issue a proposal in a matter of days that will put future retiree benefits on the cutting board. To participate in the call-in, go to strengthensocialsecurity.org/callcongress.

Let’s see if the conservatives who keep saying that Washington should “listen to the American people” will listen to the American people on Social Security.

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