Social Security Showdown: Lies, damn lies, and statistics

As Social Security approaches its 80th birthday this Friday, Aug. 14, Congressional Republicans and the billionaire buddies who fund their campaigns, think tanks, and PR spinners, are moving their latest scheme to destroy it. They apparently have no shame in their quest to make the lives of the most vulnerable Americans – seniors, the disabled and their dependents – ever more miserable.

See list of August 14 events below.

Congressional Republicans set up their latest attack on Social Security and its Disability Insurance last January when they passed a rule designed to force a crisis in Social Security funding that would force cuts. The rule would block the traditionally routine transfer of funds from the Social Security fund to its Disability Insurance fund (SSDI), something that has been done 11 times before. Not doing it again will cause the SSDI fund to become insolvent in 2016, requiring a 20 percent cut in benefits for the nearly 10 million Americans too disabled to work.

This would be a mean-spirited policy even if it were not unnecessary. But according to the 2015 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund, released July 22, Social Security will run a $9.2 billion surplus this year, bringing its accumulated surplus to about $2.8 trillion. With simply rebalancing the two trust funds, something that has been routinely done many times, Social Security and the Disability Insurance fund are projected to be able to continue to pay full benefits through 2034.

Changing the stats, ignoring the facts

The Republican claim that Social Security is running a deficit and cuts in benefits or a raise in the retirement age (the Republican proposal to the non-crisis) is another statistical lie. They claim there is a deficit because they count as Social Security income only the money from its premiums, that is, payroll contributions, ignoring the two other dedicated income sources: investment income and income tax revenue.

In fact Social Security could afford to expand and increase benefits with one simple legislative fix – make the rich pay their fair share. Currently everyone pays 6.2 percent of their income into the Social Security fund. But those contributions are capped at the first $118,500 earned per year. Any income above that is left untouched. If the cap was scrapped and the rich had to pay the 6.2 percent on the rest of their income, Social Security could remain solvent nearly into the next century. But as usual Republicans use their “no new taxes” mantra to fend off making the rich pay their fair share, preferring cuts to benefits for the poor.

Fanning the flames of hysteria

But you are unlikely to hear much about this alternative in the corporate mainstream media. Instead it repeats the Republican sky-is-falling hysteria about how Social Security and SSDI are going broke and require cuts without ever questioning the facts, logic or calculations used to come to that conclusion. And while the corporate media details Republican proposals to cut benefits and raise the retirement age, they studiously avoid any mention of the “scrap the cap” solution, even though some version of it is in five Democratic bills currently in Congress, and is supported by many respected economists.

Further, all ten of the top Republican presidential candidates except Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee want to cut benefits, raise the retirement age or privatize Social Security – or some combination of the three.

Congressional Republicans will be pushing their anti-Social Security legislation this week. So the actions planned throughout the country around its 80th birthday are more important than ever to publicize the importance of the program and the right way to fix it.

Columbia Journalism Review: “How the Media Has Shaped the Social Security Debate”

“Social Security Turns 80” Birthday Events — Friday, August 14

  • Berkeley – North Berkeley BART station, leafleting 4:30-6p – Info: Julia Cato, 510-549-0534
  • Oakland – Info: Sandra Simon, 510-567-3557
  • Sacramento – 5th and I Streets – 4-6p – Info: Elizabeth Pataki, 916-386-8377
  • Stockton – Hammer and West Streets, 4p – Pacific and March, 4:45p – Delta College at Yokuts, 5:15p – Info: Carol Bailey, 209-951-0499
  • San Francisco (3 events) – Info: Michael Lyon, 415-215-7575

1) Embarcadero/Ferry Bldg – 7:30-9:30a
2) Powell Street BART – 10a-12p
3) Montgomery BART – 12-2p

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About Randy Lyman

SEIU Local 1021 Communications Dept.

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