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Social Security supporters announced today that over 100 members of Congress are signing a letter to President Obama demanding that the Deficit Commission keep its hands off Social Security. They say that if the deficit commission tries to cut the program they say it will not make it through Congress.

I joined a press call for the announcement with Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), Congressman Dan Maffei (D-NY), Gerald McEntee, International President, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Barbara Easterling, President of the Alliance for Retired Americans and Heidi Hartmann, National Council of Women’s Organizations.

The letter to President Obama says, (excerpts, read the whole letter here.)

We write today to express our strong support for Social Security and our view that it should be strengthened. We oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including raising the retirement age. We also oppose any effort to privatize Social Security, in whole or in part.

[. . .] If any of the Commission’s recommendations cut or diminish Social Security in any way, we will stand firmly against them. We urge you to join us in protecting and strengthening Social Security rather than letting it fall victim to a misguided attempt to reduce budget deficits on the backs of working families.

In addition to the letter Senators Sanders and Brown have introduced a resolution in the Senate in opposition to raising the retirement age, risky privatization schemes, or cutting Social Security benefits. This resolution now has 11 co-sponsors. This resolution concludes, (please read the “Whereas” reasons leading to this conclusion)

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate to reaffirm our commitment to the Social Security program, one of the greatest legislative accomplishments in the history of our Nation, without privatizing Social Security, raising the Normal Retirement Age, or other similar cuts to benefits under title II of the Social Security Act.

Here are some of the statements on the call (from notes):

Sen. Bernie Sanders:

There is strong opposition to cutting, raising, privatizing. Over 100 members have signed on. We are on this call to send a loud and clear message to the deficit commission: Do not cut benefits for vulnerable members of society. If you do we will vote it down.

Social Security is not the cause of those problems and has not added one dime to the deficit or national debt. It has a surplus that will grow to $4 trillion. CBO has estimated that SS is able to pay full benefits until 2039, almost 80% after that.

Cutting SS would be a disaster, 45% of workers 58 and over are employed in jobs that are physically demanding and it would be difficult if not impossible to stay on the job until age 70. Plus keeping those older workers in the job market will make it much harder to younger workers to find jobs.

Sen. Sherrod Brown:

We strongly believe cuts to SS benefits must not be part of any recommendations from the deficit commission. SS should never be privatized and retirement age not raised.

A number of conservative politicians, think tanks and private interests would love to see it privatized. But what happens if stocks drop, where would money come from?
Reporters, members of Congress and others sit at desks, but there are many Americans, from waitresses to hospital technicians to carpenters who are on their feet and whose bodies are on the line every day cannot work until 70.

Rep. Raul Grajalva:

I want to just echo all that has been said. We do have 105 signatures on our letter. No privatization, no reduction, no raising the age.

The commission has let it out of the bag what their attitude is. But SS did not create the deficit, the program is universal, is solvent, and needs to be strengthened not cut.

This letter is a clear statement that if this is the kind of recommendation from commission it will have a difficult time.

Heidi Hartmann, the National Council of Women’s Organizations: (Note – earlier I incorrectly attributed the following to Barbara Easterling, President of the Alliance for Retired Americans.)

For women average SS benefits are only $12,000 a year now. SS is the nation’s most important children’s insurance program, 4 million children receiving benefits. Its overhead is less than 1%. Any problems are easily fixed on the revenue side, not the benefits side.

Cutting Social Security hits women particularly hard.

One interesting question came up, what are the added costs to the government if the retirement age is raised and people with physical jobs have to work until 70? Doesn’t this increase medical, disability and other costs? This was not answered but will be looked at.

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