Coalition launches campaign to save Social Security, Medicare
By Mark Gruenberg 18 November 2012
|WASHINGTON - Diane Fleming first encountered Social Security when she was three years old. Now she’s 70, and one of hundreds of people descending on Congress to make sure Social Security and Medicare stay alive and unchanged despite pressure for slashes from business, Republicans and budget-cutters.
|“My father died when I was three. Because of Social Security (survivors) benefits, my Mom, my younger sister and I survived,” even though they had to move in with her grandparents, Fleming told a packed hearing room on Capitol Hill.
“Now my mother is 91, and though she’s in good health, there’s no way she could live without Social Security.”
The same thing goes for Fleming herself. A longtime Machinist who worked as a reservations agent and in ticketing for United Airlines for 39 years, Fleming was looking forward to a secure retirement with a good – and paid-for – traditional pension.
Then, several years ago, United filed for bankruptcy protection. Its cash went to top executives. They used bankruptcy to dump United workers’ pensions on the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., resulting in huge cuts in monthly pension payouts to veteran employees such as Fleming. It’s a fate millions of workers have suffered as companies went belly-up, even before the Great Recession hit.
“I lost my full pension and had to take early retirement and survive on Social Security and a reduced pension,” Fleming says. So she came to D.C. to ensure Social Security stays intact for her, her mother, and 56 million other current recipients – including those who have lost their private pensions to corporate collapses.
Fleming now also works for the labor-backed Alliance for Retired Americans, one of a wide range of organizations that banded together on Nov. 15 to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from the budget-cutting in the on-going negotiations between Congress and the White House.
Those talks are aimed at avoiding the year-end “fiscal cliff” of budget cuts and tax hikes that, starting Jan. 1, could throw the nation back into recession. One recent estimate said first-year cuts and hikes alone would take $609 billion out of the economy.
Republicans who control the House and hamstring the Senate seized upon the talks to demand cuts in what they call “entitlements” -- the programs people depend on. In response, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees and the National Organization for Women, among other groups, sent their members around Congress to lobby lawmakers to oppose any cuts. They got an enthusiastic reception from congressional Democrats, including those who spoke at the Nov. 15 event, organized by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt.
And the lawmakers organized their own coalition to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Sanders told the crowd.
“You’re going to find a lot of well-paid lobbyists here in the halls” of Congress who earn six or seven figures to represent millionaires and billionaires,” the fiery Sanders declared. “So it’s delightful to welcome you, representing the middle class.”
The organizations and individuals lobbying from the outside, and the coalition talking to their colleagues on the inside, make the point that Social Security contributed “not one penny” to the government’s tide of red ink, as one speaker said. Its trust funds, Sanders said, have enough money “to pay 100% of benefits” through 2040. That $2.7 trillion surplus includes federal IOUs to Social Security, however.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare and the health care law, added eight years – to 2024 -- to the life of the Medicare trust fund, he said.
But there’s a way to ensure Social Security survives for 75 years, Sanders declared: Remove the current cap, $106,800, on the amount of individual earnings subject to Social Security payroll taxes. That would force the rich to “pay their fair share” for the nation’s retirement system.
Mark Gruenberg writes for Press Associates, Inc., news service. Used by permission.