Social Security & Medicare Decades of Success Celebration

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Join Social Security Works – Washington and hundreds of your Seattle friends and neighbors as we celebrate the 80th anniversary of Social Security’s, and the 50th anniversary of Medicare!

We are rallying at Westlake Park on August 8th at 1 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, US Senate
Rep. Adam Smith, US House of Representatives
Sen. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Legislature
Hon. Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Council Member
Lynne Dodson – Secretary Treasurer, Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO
Heather Villanueva – Senior Community Strength Organizer, SEIU 775, Board member, Ingersoll Gender Center
Rebecca Saldana – Executive Director, Puget Sound Sage
Gerald Hankerson – President of Alaska, Oregon, Washington State Area Conference NAACP
Marcelas Owens – Youth leader, Washington CAN!
Hugh Foy, MD. Physicians for a National Health Plan Western Washington, Professor of Surgery, UW School of Medicine, Director of the Surgical Specialties Clinic, Harborview
Jackie Boschak – President of Washington Alliance for Retired Americans President

Jim Page, musician and activist
Daniel Pak of Kore Ionz
Geo Quibuyen of Blue Scholars

Social Security and Medicare are crucial tenets of retirement security. They are the most successful anti-poverty programs in the history of the US, but face unrelenting corporate attack. Join us as we celebrate Social Security and Medicare while calling on our elected officials to protect and expand these program by scrapping the cap on taxable income, adopting the caregiver credit, and using the CPI-E to calculate benefits.

County seniors sound off on nation’s debt

From The Columbian:

Nearly three-fourths of Clark County seniors prefer either closing corporate tax loopholes and raising taxes for wealthy Americans over cutting Social Security and Medicare as a means to reduce the country’s burgeoning debt, according to an unscientific poll conducted Thursday at an AARP event in Vancouver.

Reductions to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have dominated congressional discussion on how to rein in debt and whether to increase the nation’s $14.2 trillion debt ceiling. Congress must raise the ceiling by Aug. 2 to keep the government from going into default.

Read more form The Columbian: County seniors sound off on nation’s debt »

Senator Cantwell protesting U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan budget proposal

From Publicola:

Photo via Publicola

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) was at a retirement home in Seattle on Sunday to protest U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal, which: A) scales back Medicare for seniors by giving seniors a fixed $8,000 voucher rather than guaranteed coverage (Cantwell was joined by American Association of Retired Persons Washington) and B) caps Medicaid for poor people.

Cantwell broke it down to the local level: Five hundred thousand soon-to-be seniors in Washington state would have to pay twice as much for health care (she cites the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office for that stat) and more than 60,000 seniors  would to pay $38 million extra on medication.

In King County, Sen. Cantwell warns, nearly 20,000 seniors would face $9.5 million in higher prescription costs next year.

Both Cantwell and U.S. Sen. Murray (D-WA) and 48 other senators signed a letter to President Obama last week opposing the GOP house plan.

The letter says, in part:

Giving  seniors a voucher of approximately $8,000 … is a reckless and irresponsible way to address the health care needs of older Americans.  And it is an unacceptable means by which to finance tax cuts for those who are earning ten times or more than the retirement income of the average Medicare recipient.

Seniors, who have paid into the system their entire working lives, deserve affordable, secure health coverage upon retirement. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in the first year of the voucher program, out-of-pocket expenses for seniors would double under the Republican plan to more than $12,500 annually.  For seniors on a fixed income, a doubling of out-of-pocket expenses is simply unaffordable, particularly when the average Social Security benefit is only $14,000 per year.

The Republican budget proposal would not keep pace with the rate of inflation for health care, meaning seniors would pay ever higher out-of-pocket costs.

Take lessons from past to guide future for Social Security and Medicare

From the Public News Service:

mark-schmitt img
Mark Schmitt, Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute

Members of Washington state’s congressional delegation are getting an earful during this recess about proposed changes to Medicare and Social Security. In the debate about the futures of these programs, some want Congress to look back at what the country was like without them.

Mark Schmitt, a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, is a former editor of The American Prospect magazine and also a staff member of former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley (D-NJ). Schmitt estimates that Social Security lifts half of all seniors out of poverty, where most of them were before it started. He says both programs have worked to transform and stabilize the lives of the elderly.

“Medicare provides that guarantee that we’re going to have some kind of health care in old age, which people didn’t have at all before 1965. And Social Security does a lot of things for all of our families.”

Republicans have suggested cutting Social Security benefits or raising the retirement age and, in the U.S. House, have proposed turning Medicare into a private voucher program. But the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities predicts that under a voucher system, seniors could end up paying twice as much for half the coverage.

For older Americans, says Schmitt, private health insurance has never really worked.

“What was there before there was Medicare? Well, basically there was nothing. It was a very, very expensive proposition to buy any kind of health insurance for people who were over 65, and you were probably better off just bearing whatever costs you were going to bear on your own.”

Schmitt calls the programs “social insurance.” Since so many people collect benefits, he says, private insurance companies can’t afford to cover them. In his view, the programs have to be administered by the government.

“We are all going to retire, we are all going to have greater costs in our old age. Only by sharing those across all of society, sharing that risk across all of us, is it possible to create an insurance system against that.”

More than one million people in Washington state receive Social Security, and about 954,000 use Medicare benefits.

The Alliance for Retired Americans has declared this (Apr. 25-30) a national week of action, protesting the proposed changes with a theme of “Don’t Make Us Work ‘Til We Die.”

Social Security and Medicare will be major parts of the budget debate when Congress returns from its break on May 2.

Social Security is not responsible for federal deficits

From Ten Reasons Not to Cut Social Security Benefits:

Federal budget deficits currently are unusually high, but Social Security bears no responsibility for today’s shortfalls. Keep in mind that the federal government was experiencing budget surpluses at the end of the 1990s, but those quickly were transformed into deficits early in the 2000s because of large tax cuts and increased governmental spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as homeland security.

The nation’s fiscal situation worsened when the recent economic downturn caused federal revenues to collapse along with taxable incomes and profits, greatly widening budget deficits. Because Social Security continued to collect hundreds of billions of dollars more from payroll taxes than it spent on benefits throughout the decade, however, the program actually reduced overall federal budget deficits far below what they otherwise would have been.

As the graph above shows, the dominant cause of the projected long-term debt problem is not Social Security, nor short-term deficit spending to aid economic recovery, but rather the expectation that health care costs will continue to rise much more rapidly than overall inflation. Projections show that combined Medicare and Medicaid outlays for the federal government will double, from about 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) today to about 10 percent by 2030.

Social Security’s expected growth is expected to be far more modest, and much more manageable, gradually rising from the same 5 percent of GDP today to about 6 percent by 2030, as the Baby Boom generation retires.

Throughout that period, the revenues dedicated to the program from payroll taxes and commitments from its large and growing trust funds will be more than sufficient to pay benefits in full until around 2037. At that point, if nothing is done, benefits would have to decline by about a fifth. But even if the Trust Fund is exhausted in 2037, payroll taxes alone at the current level would cover benefits averaging $19,300 ‐‐ about $1,600 more than today’s typical retiree receives (after inflation).

Fiscal Commission proposal lacks real support because it lacks real solutions

Social Security Works Washington released this statement following today’s vote by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform:

President’s Obama’s Fiscal Commission fell short of the required 14 vote requirement needed to send their proposal to Congress for one simple reason: it didn’t have broad public support, and the members of the commission knew it.

“It’s absurd to think that cutting Social Security benefits and Medicare is going to help deal with the deficit,” says Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans president Robby Stern. “Social Security benefits are earned by American workers, and don’t contribute one dime to the deficit. And cutting Medicare reimbursements would dramatically diminish preventive care – and only add to increasing health care costs.”

Currently, Social Security benefits amount to about 5% of GDP, and are expected to rise only about 1% by 2030 – holding steady well into the future. By contrast, health care costs are projected to rise to nearly 20% of GDP by 2080, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Source: Congressional Budget Office

The Commission’s proposal to cap Medicare reimbursements would simply shift more health care costs to consumers – without addressing the underlying problem of skyrocketing health care costs.

“The Commission plan sidestepped an opportunity to deal with a root cause of the deficit, and would leave seniors and vulnerable Americans stuck with the bill,” says Robby Stern. “Their plan addresses only the symptoms, not the cause – so I’m not surprised they didn’t have the votes.”

Social Security Works Washington is committed to working with Washington’s congressional delegation to defend and strengthen Social Security. We will be in touch with our representatives in Congress to educate them about how they can ensure Social Security and Medicare continue to provide benefits that guarantee American workers and seniors are economically secure and healthy – not just during this recession, but for decades to come.

A call for apathy in the face of attacks on Social Security and the middle class?

A recent article by James K. Galbraith in Mother Jones News is in one respect a call to arms – a powerful reminder of how public decisions made by those we elect to office affect our lives and jobs, houses and health, and paychecks and wealth. But it is also a (perhaps unintentional) call for apathy in the face of mounting attacks on Social Security and middle class economic security.

Galbraith is spot on, for example, in ringing the alarm bell about emerging plans to cut Social Security and Medicare right after the November elections:

The attack will come right after the election, when the Bowles-Simpson commission on deficit reduction issues its report. It will almost surely recommend deep cuts in Social Security, probably in the form of an increase in the retirement age. This is a direct cut in benefits, targeted in an especially nasty way at minorities and all others who work harder, earn less (PDF), and live shorter lives (PDF) after retirement than, say, college professors or senators.


The cochairman of that commission, former GOP senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, has made his views clear. In an August email (PDF)Â to the head of OWL (née the Older Women’s League), he called Social Security “a milk cow with 310 million tits.” He wants you to think of Social Security as welfare, not something you’ve earned—a boondoggle, rather than a program that puts money into the economy every day.

The fact is, even if you were never an autoworker, were never in a union, never owned a house, even if you’ve never been sick and never got anything else from the New Deal – whoever you are, Social Security and Medicare help you right now. They support your business: Spending by old folks is part of the income of small and large companies everywhere, an effective and stable support for the economy. Social Security provides survivors’ benefits that raise children in your schools. It will keep your parents off your back. And when you do get older, Social Security and Medicare will protect you, and they will protect your children from bankrupting themselves over you. That is, if these programs are protected, now, from their assailants.

What’s odd is that while Galbraith ably describes the threat facing Social Security and Medicare, he writes as if the decision Congress is about to make is totally out of voters’ hands. His closing paragraph reads:

The House has agreed to vote on the Bowles-Simpson package – whatever it eventually contains – if it passes in the Senate. So it will come down to the Senate. Will the Democrats hold the line? Or will they give in to this assault on the last bastion of the American middle class?

This notion – of distant deliberative bodies passing down decisions from on high, or more broadly of powerful and inescapable forces shaping our lives – is woven throughout Galbraith’s column.

Continue reading “A call for apathy in the face of attacks on Social Security and the middle class?”