Republican congressional candidates are itching to pull the trigger on Social Security should they gain power, a fact that makes our participation in these elections as important as ever. Republican Party leaders have called for raising the retirement age to force seniors to work longer, gutting benefits, and privatizing all or parts of the program to turn billions from the Social Security trust over to the same Wall Street bankers who caused the crash of 2008.
But we can speak up now to block their efforts and demand Congress protect Social Security from their greedy hands.
We can demand congressional candidates speak up against gutting Social Security like people in Illinois recently who called on Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk to pledge to protect Social Security from his party's proposed abuses.
According to People's World writer John Bachtell, Kirk has a bad record on working families' issues like this. For example, his vote against a recent jobs bill:
Kirk voted against the $26 billion HR 1586 Education and Medicaid Assistance Act, which among other things saved the jobs of 161,000 teachers including 6 thousand in Illinois alone. The bill saved the jobs of 158,000 other public employees including firefighters and police.
Watch the video here:
The Campaign for America's Future has created a web page that provides resources for voters to find out if their representatives have pledged to protect Social Security and how to put the pressure on them if they haven't. Check it out here.
The Alliance for Retired Americans has put out this call for us to speak up to block Republican efforts to raise the retirement age:
Tell Congress: Don't Raise Retirement Age!
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) plans to introduce a resolution expressing the sense of Congress against raising the retirement age when Congress reconvenes this month. "This resolution, especially with a large number of cosponsors, can be a good counterweight to proposals at the Fiscal Commission to raise the retirement age," said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. In a "Dear Colleague" letter sent to members of the House recently, Giffords said that an increase in the retirement age is simply a cut in benefits. Current cosponsors include: Reps. Travis Childers (D-MS), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Laura Richardson (D-CA), Diane Watson (D-CA), Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) and Joe Courtney (D-CT). To ask your Member of Congress to co-sponsor the resolution, go to http://www.retiredamericans.org/newsroom/friday-alert-archives/view/2010-09-tell-congress-dont-raise-retirement-age.
What about that darn deficit commission?
A lot of people have rightfully raised concerns about the bipartisan deficit commission and some of the things its members have said about Social Security. Some have expressed fears that suggest they believe what ever that commission or its individual members says or have said will become law.
The important thing to remember is that that commission came into existence as part of a compromise to win Republican votes on economic stimulus and healthcare legislation. Without the compromise where would we be?
More importantly, COMMISSIONS DON'T MAKE LAWS; Congress does. The fight to protect Social Security will center around the midterm congressional election struggle and our ability to prevent Republicans like Republican/Tea Party Senate candidate Rand Paul, who has called Social Security a "ponzi scheme," or Alaska Republican/Tea Party Senate hopeful Jim Miller, who has declared Social Security to be "unconstitutional," or Nevada Republican/Tea Party Senate candidate Sharron Angle who has called for Social Security's privatization, from winning the power to write or pass laws that will harm working families.
Progressive have a special role to play in this fight. But some seem to have given up on it already, mistakenly spreading the impression that the commission's proposals will become law or even that the President supports the commission's proposals even before we know what they are, citing his refusal to denounce extreme comments by some of its members or because he appointed Republicans to it.
But while it is important for progressives to put the heat on the commission and fight to publicize and de-legitimize the extremist assertions of some of its members, why would the President himself undermine the commission before it has even made a pronouncement, as some leftists want him to? For example, why would the White House want to kick Alan Simpson off the commission, whose offensive remarks about Social Security earned him sharp criticism from many quarters. Politically, Simpson, contrary to his own agenda of course, may now be able to do more good than harm.
So far, the President has limited his political positions regarding possible recommendations from the commission to a rejection of the Republican Party plan to privatize Social Security. This is not because there is any reason to believe he supports raising the retirement age or cutting benefits, as some have suggested as part of their concerted campaign to make him the real enemy of working people and of Social Security.
Instead, there are a few important tactical reasons for the President to not go further on stating his positions explicitly in advance or by firing controversial members of the commission.
First, President Obama doesn't want to appear to set the agenda of a commission that is supposed to be bipartisan and reflecting both the legislative and executive branches of government – especially since a fragile coalition of most of the Senate Democrats and two or three Senate Republicans, which has passed and may yet still pass important pro-working-class legislation, depends in no small part on its existence and the appearance of its bipartisanship.
Second, this commission may propose military spending cuts and taxes on higher incomes that progressive will want to support. There have been important signs that the Obama administration is ready to cut as much as $100 billion from the Pentagon budget. In addition, the administration has outlined a tax plan that allows the Bush tax cuts for the rich to expire, while protecting tax cuts for the working class. If the commission makes recommendations like these, but the President has already undermined its bipartisanship or its legitimacy in advance, why would members of Congress from either party who are of a mind to consider its proposals take them seriously?
Third, back to Alan Simpson. If controversial Republicans are fired and some who are more amenable to Democratic views on things like Social Security are appointed, what happens to the general impression of its bipartisan character. Keeping Simpson makes it less possible for extremist Republicans to denounce it as a tool of the Democratic agenda.
Unlike the pundits (from the left and right) who want to convince people that the President is their enemy, he has to conduct real politics in an arena that reflects a diversity of regional, class, and other interests. Our role should be to put pressure on the point where changes in law actually occur: Congress.
To resolve long-term federal budget issues, we should demand candidates pledge to protect Social Security, pass tax laws that require the wealthy to pay their fair share, and adjust spending priorities to address working families' needs not war or bloated military spending. Those who refuse should not get our support in this election – simple as that.
This is a winnable fight; but not if we promote divisions by taking our eyes of the real enemies of Social Security in the Republican Party and allow them to sneak in the back door of power in this election. There is no third side in this struggle.