As you encounter congressional candidates who are out vote-hunting this week, as them a simple question: Will you pledge to oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including increasing the retirement age, and any effort to privatize Social Security?
It's a simple yes or no question, and we've made it simple to get those yes-or-no answers posted for all to see.
This week, we're kicking our Social Security pledge campaign into high gear with this exercise in crowd-sourcing. Just ask the question, get the candidate's signature on this pledge if they answer yes, and email the result to email@example.com.
If you've been what we've been posting on OurFuture.org the past few weeks, you know why this matters.
You've heard calls from leaders on the right, such as House Minority Leader John Boehner, say that the retirement age for Social Security should be raised from 66 to 70, which a Center for Economic and Policy research report says would mean a 10 percent benefit cut for workers now in their mid-40s. Members of both parties are adopting the argument that this is somehow responsible, when it is at least unnecessary and is in some fundamental respects irresponsible.
There's also a proposal to cut Social Security benefits by replacing the cost-of-living adjustment recipients get each year with an alternative calculation that would not keep pace with inflation. If that happens, retirees would see the value of their monthly checks decline relative to inflation. As beneficiaries get older, it would become harder for them to make ends meet, especially as they grapple with health care costs that have historically risen far faster than the rate of inflation.
Also, don't believe the hype that the "privatization argument is dead." It is true that on the right, only a few hardy wonks, such as Rep. Paul Ryan, openly embrace the idea of converting some or all of the Social Security program into something like a 401(k), where your benefits would depend on the wiles of the stock market. But a privatized Social Security system, combined with a permissively regulated Wall Street free to extract maximum profit, remains a pillar of conservative economic dogma. Even though most Americans are not likely to forget that the collapse of Wall Street's conservative house of cards resulted in the loss of more than $2 trillion in retirement savings, privatization only needs a conservative majority in Congress and a political climate skillfully created with the help of Wall Street lobbyists to reassert itself.
The "cut-Social-Security" drumbeat is a major distraction from what's really driving up the federal deficit, which is the lack of economic growth and the unwillingness of congressional conservatives to allow the tax cuts that the wealthiest Americans received from President Bush in 2003 to expire. Getting people working again and paying into the Social Security trust fund would go a long way toward fixing the long-range problems with the system. Adjusting upward the ceiling on Social Security payroll taxes, which hasn't happened since the 1980s, would also help.
The point is that the real adult conversation to be had about Social Security is not over how much we should penalize seniors, now or in the future, to give off some macho appearance of "responsibility," but how we protect and even enhance Social Security so that it does continue to offer the security that older and disabled Americans, and their dependents, need. People deserve to know which candidates for office are willing to have that conversation.
So, this week, download and print a copy of the pledge and ask a candidate for Congress if he or she will sign it. If the candidate does, email an image (or a link to a video posted on YouTube or other video-sharing service) of the signed pledge to firstname.lastname@example.org with a few details about how, when and where the pledge was obtained. If the candidate refuses, tell us that as well, with as much detail as you can capture of how the candidate responded. (If you've posted video, send us the link.)
This exercise will make a lot of congressional candidates uncomfortable. So be it. The public is already uncomfortable with what they're hearing out of such places as the White House deficit commission about what is being proposed for Social Security without the benefit of the kind of deliberative, democratic process that accompanied the successful Social Security reforms of the mid-1980s. That's the discomfort congressional candidates need to feel with greater intensity, and the public deserves to see how they will respond.