Defending Social Security

According to a new poll conducted for The Hill, 77 percent of likely voters believe Social Security is in trouble, while just 15 percent believe the program is financially sound. 

In fact, Social Security is the most successful social program in American history. 

{mosads}Before Social Security was established 75 years ago, more than half of our elderly population lived in poverty. Because of Social Security, the poverty figure for seniors today is less than 10 percent. Social Security also provides dignified support for millions of widows, widowers, orphans and people with disabilities.

Throughout its history, in good times and bad, Social Security has paid every nickel it owed to every eligible American. As corporations over the last 30 years destroyed the retirement dreams of millions of older workers by eliminating defined-benefit pension plans, Social Security was there paying full benefits. When Wall Street greed and recklessness caused working people to lose billions in retirement savings, Social Security was there paying full benefits.

According to the latest report of the Social Security Administration, the program will be able to pay all of its promised benefits for the next 26 years. After 2037, Social Security will still be able to pay about 78 percent of promised benefits. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has come to a similar conclusion: Social Security will be able to pay full benefits to every eligible recipient until 2039, and after that, it will be able to cover 80 percent of promised benefits.

Although Social Security will be strong for more than a quarter-century, Congress should strengthen it for the longer term. That is why I agree with the president, who has called for raising the cap on taxable income. Today, that cap is at $106,800. No matter how much money you make, Social Security taxes are only deducted on the first $106,800. Removing the cap on incomes of $250,000 or more would make Social Security fully solvent for generations to come.

Even with no change, Social Security has a $2.6 trillion surplus that is projected to grow to more than $4 trillion in 2023. Is this surplus, as some have suggested, just a pile of worthless IOUs? Absolutely not! Social Security rightly invests its surpluses in U.S. Treasury bonds, the safest interest-bearing securities anywhere. These are the same bonds that wealthy investors and China and other foreign countries have purchased. The bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, which in our long history has never defaulted on its debt obligations. In other words, Social Security investments are safe.

Moreover, despite the manufactured hysteria about a crisis, the truth is that Social Security has not contributed one penny to the very serious deficit situation the United States faces. Social Security is fully funded by the payroll tax that workers and their employers pay. Deficits have ballooned in recent years mainly because of the costs of two wars, tax breaks for the rich, a Medicare prescription drug program written by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and the Wall Street bailout — not Social Security.

For all its success, Social Security faces unprecedented attacks from Wall Street, the Republican Party and a few Democrats. If the American people are not prepared to fight back, the dismantling of Social Security could begin in the very near future.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman, wants to partially privatize Social Security, lower its cost-of-living adjustments and drastically cut benefits. An increasing number of his fellow Republicans agree. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a leader of the Tea Party movement, wants to “wean” everyone except current retirees off Social Security and Medicare.

There are threats on other fronts. A commission established by President Obama called for increasing the retirement age to 69, reducing cost-of-living adjustments for today’s retirees and deeply reducing benefits for future retirees who make as little as $42,000 a year.

Why is Social Security under attack? First, Wall Street stands to make billions in profits if workers are forced to invest all of their retirement savings in private financial firms. Second, as the increasingly right-leaning Republican Party has become more anti-government, more and more Republicans simply do not believe government has a responsibility to provide retirement benefits to the elderly, or to help those with disabilities.

In my view, maintaining and strengthening Social Security is absolutely essential to the future well-being of our nation. For 75 years it has successfully provided dignity and support for tens of millions of Americans. Our job is to keep it strong for the next 75 years.

It shouldn’t be privatized. Its benefits shouldn’t be cut. The retirement age shouldn’t be raised.

Sanders is a member of the Senate Budget Committee.

Tags Michele Bachmann Paul Ryan
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