Social Security Caucus Has True Grit—Who Else Will Join?

This is another in a series of posts for

The Social Security Caucus, who could also be known as the “True Grit” Caucus began meeting yesterday in the U.S. Senate as a new sense of urgency grew on the same day as the Tea Party Caucus met. The five Tea Party Senators expressed a willingness to privatize the program just a day after newly minted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said he’d be willing to make cuts for those under 55 to Social Security. In stark contrast Senator Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called Social Security “the most successful program our country has ever seen” at the news conference announcing the caucus. The group of six Senators that began meeting in support of Social Security are willing to stand up to the villains who would take away the great program like common thieves, using the usual smelly pile of lies about the program that have been told since its inception.

First, the program remains solvent for the next 25 years after being solvent for over 75 years. Is there anyone who could expect to have a perfect fiscal history for 100 straight years, let alone a freestanding government program that so many have sought the ability to tamper with?

During the press conference Schumer also made the point that the Tea Party caucus wants to privatize Social Security and privatizing it means ending it. Add to that correct remark that doing anything to cut Social Security benefits also means an end to it as we know it.

But by giving a song and dance about “insolvency” worthy of the Thriller video, some conservatives are pulling the wool over reporters’ eyes and their constituents’ eyes so they can do something to gut the program. Social Security is solvent until 2037, 25 years from this year. How many friends and relatives do you have whose bank accounts are solvent even for the next year, let alone for 25 years? Sure it needs to be fixed, but ultraconservatives who want to see the program killed always carp about Social Security’s insolvency when what they really want to do is make cuts to the program so they can eventually make it collapse.

The program needs to be fixed as do our education system, our current economic situation, too many movies being made about vampires, the personal hygiene of the cast from the Jersey Shore and so many other things. But let’s fix it, not kill it by pretending it’s going to end tomorrow.

For some perspective, 25 years ago, in 1986, America officially observed Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday for the first time, Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer was a number 1 hit song on tape and vinyl, and Top Gun was the top-grossing film of the year. 25 years from now is exactly 12 new Congress’ away from this one. Hopefully by then, one of the thirteen Congress’ can find a solution or a combination of solutions to keep the program solvent for another 100 years or longer, but it doesn’t have to be this one, or even the next one.

The fact is that another way to gut the successful program is by further raising the retirement age even though life expectancy for most Americans is not increasing, and for many Americans, life expectancy is actually decreasing. If we raised the retirement age we would slowly strangle benefits that on average are less than minimum wage already. Each year the retirement age would get raised by those who support benefit cuts for Social Security is nearly a 7% cut.

When politicians like those in the Tea Party Caucus tell reporters in the warm embrace of the Capitol they may raise the retirement age for Social Security but not mention this to their constituents at home, they’re trying to sneak something by as clearly as the writing on Sarah Palin’s hand, and as the Tea Party Caucus may attempt to do.

At the end of the press conference, because the media likes a good horse race or dueling Senators, a reporter asked about the Tea Party Caucus’s efforts. Barbara Kenelly from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare spoke about the fact that we would have many more Senators committed to preserving and strengthening Social Security than the Tea Party Caucus ever would have committed to privatizing Social Security. Lo and behold, there appeared Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) walking down the hallway the press conference was being held in, who joined Schumer, the founder of the caucus Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in becoming a founding member of the caucus.

Also standing with the Senators in addition to Kennelly were Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, co-chairs of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, Richard Fiesta, Director of Government and Political Affairs at the Alliance for Retired Americans, and pollster Celinda Lake, whose recent polling showed that no one including Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Tea Partiers, wants to see any of their benefits cut.

Tea Party Caucus members who want to privatize Social Security or cut benefits in any way should consider changing their tune on this issue and joining the Social Security Caucus or at least speaking honestly to their constituents about the issue they’re so willing to tell tales about under the Capitol dome.

Brian Beutler at TPMDC notes Schumer saying “We’re not crying wolf here. This is a serious movement to undo the most successful government program in the 20th century.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), clearly at least an honorary member of the new caucus, may have made the point more strongly on Meet the Press than the President made so well in the State of the Union, but trying to gut our most successful program that Americans nearly all support will never happen if they’re remotely honest about what they’re trying to do. If there’s one thing that moderate and progressive Democrats can have true grit on, it’s this issue. Hopefully more will join the caucus and more will protect, strengthen and preserve the program for future generations.

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