Social Security has turned 75. President Obama paid it tribute and pledged to protect it, while politicians nationwide keep fighting over its future.
The goal of the President and most Democrats is to preserve Social Security with the same basic philosophical approach and structural integrity that Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to create it 75 years ago. The strategy is to tell the truth about the currently strong state of the Social Security trust fund, while securing its long-term solvency by proposing moderately progressive tweaks to its funding mechanisms.
The goal of most Republicans is to divert a large portion of Social Security dollars into Wall Street investment accounts, known as "privatization", while preventing higher-income Americans from having to make contributions into the system on anywhere near all of their income. The strategy is to assert there's more of a near-term threat to the program than there really is, while recommending privatization and raising of the retirement age as the best ways of dealing with an exaggerated threat.
Here are the facts.
The Social Security Board Of Trustees recently reported it can pay full benefits through the year, 2037 and 75% of benefits for about another 50 years after that, even without any changes to strengthen the system. So there is nothing close to an immediate crisis, no matter what any politician suggests.
At the same time, we have an inherently inequitable situation in which Americans do not pay Social Security taxes on any income over $106,800. So if you are a billionaire, you only pay Social Security taxes on that first hundred grand of your billion dollars of income.
A Gallup poll released last month shows that Americans believe a more progressive taxation approach to ensuring Social Security's long-term stability is a good idea, by more than a 2-1 majority, and is in fact the best overall way to strengthen the program. A close second choice was to limit benefits paid out to the nation's wealthiest retirees.
This isn't some Liberal, Lefty "Let's Soak The RIch" class warfare thing, as much as the Tea Party, Fox News and the GOP try to make it out to be. More like good old-fashioned American common sense, backed up by solid research. Indeed, independent studies show that modifying the current income cap would wipe out about 90% of any projected Social Security deficits for the next 75 years.
But across the country, Republican office holders and candidates are trying to misrepresent the facts and overcome instinctive common sense with political nonsense. The very familiar argument will be that the private sector is better equipped to manage retirement money than is the government, that individual gambling on Wall Street makes more sense than federal guarantees for Main Street. Unless one is totally immune or allergic to recent history and factual information, it is easy to blow that argument right out of the murky, stagnant water of partisan politics that it is floated in.
The other GOP proposal that keeps popping up everywhere, like in Marco Rubio's Florida campaign for the U.S. Senate, is to raise Social Security eligibility age for full benefits (now anywhere from 65-67), to 70 years old.
Instead of following the will of the public and the advice of expert researchers, extreme conservative Republican Senate candidates like Rubio in Florida, Rand Paul in Kentucky and Sharron Angle in Nevada will keep pushing for privatization, and for forcing working people to work years longer before collecting Social Security.
All this, under the guise of "saving" a program that isn't close to needing immediate rescue. All this, under the cloak of overheated anti-government, ant-tax sloganeering. All this, when it's all too clear that it's Big Business, Wall Street and wealthy Americans who would benefit most from these Republican proposals - at great risk to the very literal "s ocial security" of hundreds of millions of lower income and middle class working people that the program was created to provide.