Initial post. I've been working on a letter I will be sending to my elected representatives regarding the upcoming battle over Social Security. I am in favor of keeping the system as it is. It will face red ink decades down the road, but this can be avoided by far less drastic means than the President is proposing (borrowing the transition costs, which will run into the trillions in the first 10 years alone).
The system was never meant as an investment vehicle, but as a way of sharing (and thus reducing) risk among all members of society. Each generation pays retirement benefits for their elders. So I am currently paying for my grandparents' generation's retirement. Soon I will be paying for my parents' generation as well. And the younger generations will be paying benefits to me when I retire, if the system has not been dismantled by then. The risk is shared because the only way a retiree won't receive his/her full benefits is if the whole system hits a rock. The White House is claiming that this is, in fact, what will be happening soon. I don't beleive it. This is not because I'm sticking my head in the sand. The Social Security Trustees, the Congressional Budget Office, and other experts say the problem is minor. This is manufactured crisis, just like the build up to Iraq.
Other's have spoken about this more eloquently and succinctly than me. Josh Marshal at Talking Points Memo has been tracking this issue intensely since December. He archives all his posts, but links to a couple choice posts are here, here, and here.
Paul Krugman at the New York Times is a Princeton economist and he breaks it down better than anyone. He too has been writing op-eds on this since early December, but unfortunately the older ones have already passed into pay-only land. Here's one that was reposted at Common Dreams.
Here's my letter. Feel free to copy it in whole or in part. Or write one in your own words. But if you want to preserve Social Security, let your elected representatives in Washington know. If they're Democrat, let them know that party unity is crucial on this one. If they're Republican (like mine), let them know that the president's "mandate" is not big enough to give them cover on this issue. Especially the Representatives and the Class I Senators who will be up for relection in two years. Let them know we're watching.
I am writing this letter to all of my representatives in Congress. This is the first time I have ever written to an elected representative.
There is a movement underway in the White House and in the Congress to overhaul the Social Security system. This movement is being made under the guise of "saving" the system because it is in imminent danger of collapsing.
The system is not in imminent danger. The CBO reports that the trust fund will be solvent until 2052. And even then it would require only modest adjustments in either tax increases or benefit cuts to make up the shortfall. And again, neither of these adjustments require immediate action. In fact, raising the income cap for payroll taxes would make the trust fund solvent well into the next century.
But lets be honest with one another. You're aware of all this already. The real reason that the heat is on to "save" Social Security is because the financial interests on Wall Street, supporters of the President, aren't making money from the current system. And that's what this is really about: greed. In order to get an even larger slice of the pie than they already have, they are willing to risk the retirement security of the majority of Americans. This is simply despicable. The Social Security system is one of the most successful federal programs in history, supported by Republican and Democratic presidents alike. The great Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, a strong supporter of Social Security, understood the moral imperative of preserving this safety net when he said, "... there must be lifted from the minds of men the fears of disaster, poverty, and old age." The system was never meant to be an investment vehicle. Its insurance.
The fact that the President is willing to finance the transition to privatization by borrowing still more money is even more astounding, but not surprising given his record thus far. So, to avoid borrowing money in the future to cover an expected shortfall then, we're supposed to borrow money for certain today? Contributing to the nation's serious national debt problem, the product mainly of the last three Republican administrations, to "fix" a program that has been jeopardized by that same national debt problem ... it just defies comprehension. The President's proposal, as its been articulated so far, is simply not credible as a program to "save" Social Security. On the other hand, it sounds like a perfectly reasonable proposal to bankrupt the federal government. Is that his aim?
Mr. Bradley, in a 2002 debate you said, "We have to protect and preserve Social Security for today's recipients and tomorrow's recipients. I'm clearly not in favor of privatizing it, or raising the retirement age or reducing benefits." That is the correct answer, and I hope that you still feel that way. As your constituent, I'm going to hold you to your word.
Mr. Gregg, regardless of your views on privatization in general, as Chairman of the Budget Committee, you cannot possibly consider Bush's proposal to be wise.
Mr. Sununu, as cosponsor of privatization legislation, your stance on this issue has been made clear. So perhaps I am wasting my time here. But, as one of your constiuents, I am still going to register my my displeasure.
President Bush and his people have been busy trying to spin his very narrow re-election victory into a "mandate". But, the truth is that nearly half of the voters, 49.27% in fact, voted for someone else. He is eager to spend, or borrow against, the political capital he wants us to believe he has. And he wants all of you in the Congress to follow along with him as he lays hands on the third rail of American politics. I'm sure you understand as well as I do that his coat tails aren't as big as he'd have us believe. But, if you believe that Bush's mandate is big enough to offer you cover, then, by all means, grab hold. I, and the majority of Americans who believe that the Social Security system should be preserved as it is, will make sure that the third rail is fully charged.
President Bush will never again have to face re-election, but you and the other members of Congress will. I am sure you are aware of this fact as well, and will consider it when deliberating over this issue. Thank you for your time and consideration.