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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 19th, 2009 - 02:22:19

Obama pledges to reshape Social Security and Medicare programs?
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Jan 19, 2009, 00:26

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Oh no, the president-elect is not even in the catbird seat yet, just fraternizing with the Washington Post Editorial Board and they�re writing Obama Pledges Entitlement Reform.

To quote: �President-elect Barack Obama pledged yesterday to shape a new Social Security and Medicare �bargain� with the American people, saying that the nation�s long-term economic recovery cannot be attained unless the government finally gets control over its most costly entitlement programs.�

With all due respect Mr. President-elect, that�s baloney. I�m holding in my hand a �Special Report: Social Security -- It�s Future and Yours� from Barbara B. Kennelly, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. She has been a historic defender of Social Security and Medicare for over 20 years -- first as a member of Congress and ranking member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, and then as counselor to the commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

She, as I and many other seniors, challenges any proposed �bargain� you make, Mr. Obama, until you have been cleansed of the general misinformation about Social Security that exists these days -- the false claims, predictions and outright misleading statements. So please, Mr. Obama, hear us, because millions of seniors have Ms. Kennelly�s document in their hands and have the facts not the spin.

First things first: Social Security is not going bankrupt

This is carryover (more like a hangover) from the Bush administration, which would have bankrupted Social Security with its privatization program, designed to create millions of Wall Street accounts for seniors that would have lead them into the pit in which the Street and its runners now sit. Also, using the danger of a Wall Street collapse is also a scare tactic, plain and simple to take apart this historically successful program.

FACT 1 . . . According to Social Security�s own actuaries, this laudable national retirement plan is running a healthy $2 trillion surplus -- a surplus projected to grow to almost $4.2 trillion by 2017. In how many areas of government today, Mr. Obama, can you find healthy surpluses, and without taint of corruption.

FACT 2 . . . The current projects show Social Security able to pay full benefits for another three decades and then some, at least if another president doesn�t plan as Bush did to loot the Social Security Trust. Remember �those useless pieces of paper� in the Trust he spoke of? They were United States Treasuries, and hardly useless.

FACT 3 . . . Past that, the actuaries project a modest gap between taxes collected and benefits paid, but there are reasonable, solid, and relatively modest adjustments that would help the viability of Social Security to endure for many years to come.

One would be to simply raise the annual taxable maximum for Social Security, which stood at $102,000 as of 2008. Given the trillions in tax cuts gifted to the rich and superrich by Bush, this would be a modest proposal to add to the coffers of Social Security. So that Warren Buffett, to quote a household name, could be paying a bit more, not the same in Social Security taxes as his secretary. I understand that raising any tax anywhere is a dirty world in the post-Republican world, but one that would certainly not have fazed the creator of Social Security, your spiritual political mentor, Franklin D Roosevelt, who created this revered �entitlement.�

Radical changes are not required to �save� Social Security

Indeed, privatizing Social Security would have been as disastrous as the financial community�s current Depression. I mention this again, because like the proverbial Loch Ness Monster, the notion of privatization keeps surfacing again and again and doesn�t get any prettier (even with some lipstick on it) or more viable with each ugly appearance.

Fact 4 . . . The stage has also been set for a new round of sweeping reform proposals based on the false claim that spending on all entitlement programs, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, is a grave challenge to America�s economic health. Ironically, they are probably the best thing that ever happened to America�s health. Its finances have been in other hands, unfortunately. What�s more there are forces in Washington perpetuating this myth that we must cut entitlement spending, but the simple truth is this . . .

Fact 5 . . . Even before the Wall Street crisis crippled our economy, as did the Iraq war, the Bush tax breaks for most of the rich and superrich were a major reason behind increasing our national debt and the resulting pressures to rein in spending. The progressive tax as you may remember was traded in like an older, well-running car for the gaudy money-guzzling regressive tax. And now as the economy�s engine is frozen like its credit, many of the original legislators behind those earlier political decisions point to Social Security and blame it -- or Medicare. Absurd.

Fact 6 . . . Entitlement spending cuts are always the convenient punching bags to strike at, laying the blame on them for thoughtlessly acquired deficits. The so-called �reforms,� privatization et al, would do nothing but destroy these sterling programs.

Now, when retirees need Social Security more than ever, the mindless march for �entitlement reform� stumbles on . . .

With the average Social Security benefit check of about $1,000 a month, retired Americans are struggling to afford soaring food, energy, healthcare and pharmaceutical costs. But reason isn�t being used to solve these issues. Ideology is -- of all those opposed to the very principle of Social Security. In fact, they�re thrown big money into campaigns to reduce government spending, which include ultimately cutting guaranteed benefits. Roosevelt must be rolling over in his grave at this heresy.

Fact 7 . . . In fact, one of the most outspoken and wealthiest opponents of entitlement spending is one Peter G. Peterson, who pledged $1 billion towards �solving� what he claims are �America�s most significant challenges.� One of mine is to see him go away and count his money on some planet in outer space. Peterson�s �foundation� is a front organization to lobby for �educating the public� to accept spending cuts that would cut apart future benefits for retirees. Not the nicest of people.

Fact 8 . . . With a title from Star Wars, a group of so-called �deficit warriors� on Capitol Hill is pushing a scheme to enforce 30-year spending limits on Social Security and Medicare. The �warriors� call it the necessary �first step� to protecting the economy. Instead, how about a financial market that�s thoroughly regulated and transparent? But then how could this be? The members of this cabal range from former Congressional Budget Office directors and White House budget officials from the Clinton administration to conservative think tank economists and budget experts. Well, they must need the work. But they might pick less productive programs to tear apart. How about working on the national debt or the subprime mortgage scandal and sending at least one bureaucrat or debt salesmen to jail for the devastating corruption that so far has gone totally unpunished?

Fact 9 . . . Even before, you, Mr. Obama, were elected, the Washington Post touted the plan as �an intriguing mechanism for forcing lawmakers -- and the next president -- to focus on the problem� of runaway deficits. How about deconstructing the derivatives market instead, which runs relatively unobserved, and with little accounting for its profits and awful debts? What about an investigation of Wall Street money laundering, estimated by experts at two or three trillion every year? These are the things that are bankrupting us, not innocent seniors and their modest pension money and benefits. If you want to cut, Mr. Obama, get to the heart of the economy cancer, Wall Street, dark hole in space that it is.

Anyone who is on Social Security belongs in this debate

Don�t count on the politicians, Wall Street operatives, and so-called policy experts to have answers and say what is best for Social Security, Mr. Obama. Don�t hand these people the power. They can barely police themselves, let alone what�s best for seniors.

Fact 10 . . . While Congress may hold the strings of power on Social Security, it�s the seniors they will listen to most when they raise their voices; people who gave the best years of their lives helping to pay for this Social Security system, many of whose critics have personally tried to deconstruct it for their own profit.

Listen to Barbara Connelly, Mr. Obama. In her 17 years in Congress she will tell you, every time there was a proposal on the table that could in any way jeopardize Social Security or Medicare benefits, the most informed, most involved, and most vocal opponents were seniors, who have been around long enough to know the adage, God helps those who help themselves. Lord knows these dogs of the darkness aren�t.

Barbara will also tell you these program�s opponents weren�t acting alone. They were part of a highly organized, nationwide grassroots effort to disparage Social Security and Medicare, as if any of these profiteers had a real idea, a real program that could top the 72 years of Social Security�s unparalleled success; or Medicare�s, its offspring, 43 years of life-saving achievement. Both of them have inestimably improved the quality of life of seniors, your writer included.

So seniors, brothers and sisters, black, white and every shade of the human rainbow, stand up, be heard, be counted, tell it like it is to Congress, and help Mr. Obama decide. Yes, you can join the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Its address is 10 G Street, NE, Washington, DC, 20090-7131. Tell them your want to sign the Petition to Congress. A contribution according to your means may be asked of you. It�s okay. It�s an investment in your future well-being.

You will be adding your voices and support to this National Committee that will be working for (and not to dismantle) your Social Security and Medicare. These people have been fighting -- and winning -- battles on behalf of retired Americans for more than two decades. They will direct your clout to where it counts: protecting benefits, rights and your security in your retirement years.

Fact 11 . . . The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare was launched in 1982 by James Roosevelt, the eldest son of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The committee is 100 percent independent.

Fact 12 . . . They don�t sell insurance, accept �donations� from investment firms or drug companies. They don�t accept money from the federal government. The committee is solely supported by members, people like you, who are stepping forward to support the cause. You and all those like you are the source of the committee�s strength in Washington, the committee that has been a leader in just about every major debate that could impact seniors� benefits.

Fact 13 . . . They have taken on the recurring challenges, like protecting COLAs (Cost-of-Living Adjustments) and fighting unfair budget cuts -- and the major, history-making battles against restructuring America�s socials insurance programs.

Fact 14 . . . The national committee is now in its 18th consecutive year of staving off attempts to privatize Social Security through well-timed, well-organized media campaigns, testimony on Capitol Hill, and the grassroots support of millions of members and supporters. And lastly, remember this.

The discussion on Social Security and Medicare will begin next month, Mr. Obama said, �when he convenes a fiscal responsibility summit before delivering his first budget to Congress. He said his administration will begin confronting the issues of entitlement reform and long-term budget deficits, soon after it jump-starts job growth and the stock market.�

He also added, �What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further. We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else�s.�

Therefore, seniors, make sure these so-called hard decisions aren�t going to make your life on Social Security and/or Medicare incredibly hard. Join the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare today -- before the can may be kicked in the wrong direction. And please, let the new President Obama and the Congress know how you feel.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York City. Reach him at

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