Sen. Sanders’ Plan To Actually Fix Social Security

You hear over and over that Social Security is “in trouble” or that we “can’t afford it.” This is as far from true as can be, and the idea behind this is to convince people to just give up on defending the program and let the haters have their way. The people who hate Social Security the most are the ones who say they want to make these changes to “save” it. Well Bernie Sanders loves the program and has introduced a bill that actually will save it.
The Haters
Conservatives have hated Social Security from the start, because it is a program that demonstrates once and for all the value of progressive governance. Social Security is as clear an example of We, the People watching out for and taking care of each other as there ever was. It has made a huge difference n the lives of older people, and their/our families. It works, is cost-effective and requires minimal overhead to keep it going. So they hate it.
A very recent example of conservative hatred for Social Security came from Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who said, that We, the People helping each other makes us weak,

“These programs actually weakened us as a people. … All of a sudden, for an increasing number of people in our nation, it was no longer necessary to worry about saving for security because that was the government’s job.”

Substitute the words “We, the People” or “each other” for “government” in Rubio’s statement and you’ll get the point: people don’t have to worry so much because we’re taking care of each other. He says that makes us weak. Yikes!
Decades Of Attacks
For decades conservatives who hate Social Security have been using every trick in the book to turn people against the program. Over and over you hear, “It’s a Ponzi scheme.” “It won’t be there for you.” This latest attack is that it “makes us weak.” And of course the old classic: “Social Security is broke.”
The “it’s going broke” and “won’t be there for you” attack strategy goes back to a 1983 Cato Institute Journal document, “Achieving a Leninist Strategy” by Stuart Butler of Cato and Peter Germanis of the Heritage Foundation. The document is still available at Cato, and select quotes are available at Plotting Privatization? from Z Magazine. If you have time it is worth reading the entire document (in particular the section “Weakening the Opposition”) to more fully understand the strategy that has been unfolding in the years since. But if you can’t, the following quotes give you an idea:

“Lenin recognized that fundamental change is contingent upon … its success in isolating and weakening its opponents. … we would do well to draw a few lessons from the Leninist strategy.”
” construct … a coalition that will … reap benefits from the IRA-based private system … but also the banks, insurance companies, and other institutions that will gain from providing such plans to the public.”
“The first element consists of a campaign to achieve small legislative changes that embellish the present IRA system, making it in practice a small-scale private Social Security system.
“The second main element … involves what one might crudely call guerrilla warfare against both the current Social Security system and the coalition that supports it.”
“The banking industry and other business groups that can benefit from expanded IRAs …” “… the strategy must be to propose moving to a private Social Security system in such a way as to … neutralize … the coalition that supports the existing system.”
“The next Social Security crisis may be further away than many people believe. … it could be many years before the conditions are such that a radical reform of Social Security is possible. But then, as Lenin well knew, to be a successful revolutionary, one must also be patient and consistently plan for real reform.”

Here is what to take away from this: Every time you hear that “Social Security is going broke” you are hearing a manufactured propaganda point that is part of a decades-old strategy. Every time you hear that “Social Security is a Ponzi scheme” you are hearing that strategy in operation. Every time you hear that “Social Security won’t be there for me anyway” ” you are witnessing that strategy unfold.
The Problem
The Social Security program is entirely self-funded, separate from the way that the government taxes and spends for other programs. People set aside money in their working years, they get a monthly amount when they retire. (The program also has other benefits including disability benefits, survivors funds and others.) Social Security does not contribute to the deficit in any way.
You never hear that the huge, vast, bloated, enormous, mammoth military budget is “going broke” or “won’t be there for you.” But year after year you hear that Social Security is “in trouble.”
Currently the program has built up a huge trust fund — over $2.5 trillion. This is invested in US Treasury Bonds, and is earning interest. But there are projections that this trust fund will be depleted in approx. 2037, and if this happens the program will have to cut payouts by as much as 25%. (Hey. when does the military budget Trust Fund run down?)
One big reason for this shortfall is that the last time the programs was comprehensively adjusted (1983, Greenspan Commission) certain economic growth and income projections were used to decide how much “payroll tax” to take out of people’s paychecks. They increased the amount taken out of paychecks, and set up an increasing “cap” on the income that would be taxed. Right now 6.2% (temporarily reduced to 4.2%) is taken out of paychecks, and employers kick in another 6.2%, on income up to a “cap” of $106,800. There is no “payroll tax” on amounts above that “cap.”
But something changed between 1983 and now: almost all the income gains have gone to a few at the very top. Instead of people who mostly were under that “cap” getting raises, thereby increasing the amount they pay into the fund, the raises went to people who already pass that amount, so the increased income is not contributing to the program. So that money that was calculated would go into the Social Security Trust Fund instead went to the top few. As a result the program is no longer bringing in enough money to keep the trust fund fully-funded past 2037.
Sen. Sanders’ Solution
Senator Bernie Sanders is introducing a bill to the Senate to fix this, once and for all. In simple terms, this bill will start taxing income above $250,000 a year to cover this Social Security shortfall. So instead of just “raising the cap” it lets that cap stay, and then takes it off again on income above $250,000. In effect it means there will be a gap between the current top income that is taxed, and $250K.
Get the money from where the money went: So because much of the real Social Security problem is that so much income is now going to just a few at the top, this gets the money to fix the problem from those top-level incomes.
Here is Sanders, talking about his bill:

“When [Social Security] was developed, 50 percent of seniors lived in poverty. Today, poverty among seniors is too high, but that number is ten percent. Social Security has done exactly what it was designed to do!”

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Close The Social Security “Cap” Tax Loophole!

Most people don’t know that there is a huge loophole in the Social Security tax. Believe it or not, after $107K income you don’t pay the Social Security tax at all. This loophole is called the “cap.” The “cap” loophole is bigger than the looholes that let big corporations get out of paying their taxes because while not all corporations avoid taxes the “cap” applies to everyone making over $107K. Closing this loophole would fix all of Social Security’s so-called “problems.”
The “Cap”
Working people pay into their Social Security account from every dollar they earn but high-income earners only pay on a fraction of what they earn. Most people don’t make enough to take advantage of this loophole, so they don’t even know about this loophole. But once you reach $106,800 of income you stop paying anything into Social Security.
The Social Security “Problem”
Social Security has built up a huge trust fund of money that people have set aside for their retirement. This trust fund covers everyone’s Social Security benefits well into the future. But under some economic assumptions and with continuing concentration of wealth this trust fund begins to run out, and could be gone by approximately 2037. After 2037 the amount coming in from money people set aside could fall short of the amounts going out, and predictions are that without some changes the amounts paid out could be as much as 25% short. Of course, because of cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), benefit checks will be larger than now, even with this potential 25% cut. But this will be a blow to retired people, and should be avoided.
Proposed Solutions
There are several proposals to solve the problem of this potential cut in benefits in the year 2037. Many of these solutions involve schemes to cut benefits now, instead of in 2037, to avoid having to cut in 2037. But for some reason many people are skeptical and do not see the logic of making big cuts in Social Security now in order to avoid possible small cuts later.
Other solutions involve raising the retirement age beyond the current retirement age of 67. People who do not sit at desks in their jobs and have to stand, lift, bend or use their hands worry that they will be unable to work until they die, and would rather see a solution to fixing the problem of a potential shortfall way off in the future than making them continue to work. Also, longevity studies show that people in higher incomes — the very people receiving the “cap” loophole — are living longer but not people who make less.
Still other solutions involve “means testing” — excluding some people from receiving benefits everyone has paid for. This is undemocratic — we are all in this together and have an equal stake and are entitled to equal benefits. That is what the word “entitlement” means: in a democracy we are all equally entitled to certain things.
These proposals all involve cutting or delaying benefits for recipients. But there is another solution that does not involve benefits: raising the cap on the level of earnings that pay into Social Security.
Raise The Cap
The one solution that is seemingly off the table in plutocratic circles is called “raising the cap.” This means fixing the loophole that lets people making over $106,800 stop paying into the Social Security fund. This would, of course, solve the problem of any potential shortfall in Social Security and could even enable restoring a lower retirement age, which would help alleviate the chronic unemployment problem as well.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Cut Taxes At The Top And Pensions For Old People

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF). I am a Fellow with CAF.
Today’s new York Times has a front-page story (really an editorial) that promotes cutting the Social Security pensions of Americans and other things that we as citizens are entitled to.

Many analysts say the president and Congress could send a strong signal to global markets by agreeing this year to a package of both long-term tax increases and spending reductions, especially in the popular entitlement programs, that would not take effect until 2012.

Let’s remember how we got here.
For decades following the depression and WWII the country had operated with a budget that was in or nearly in balance while maintaining our infrastructure and investing in our future. Past concentrations of wealth were decreasing, the middle class was expanding, and we led the world in growing prosperity.
The trouble all started when we dramatically cut taxes on the rich. For decades the top tax rate was 90%. Then we cut it to 70% and then 50% dramatically from there all the way to around 30%. The budget immediately went completely out of balance. The tax cuts created a “structural deficit.”
At the same time as we cut taxes for the rich we raised taxes on everyone else, saying the money would be used to pay for peoples’ retirement. However, that money instead was used to defer the damage caused by the tax cuts for the rich.
And we started to dramatically increase the military budget. Today we spend about $1 trillion a year on military, veterans, intelligence, nukes, and the share of debt interest from past military spending — more than every other country in the world combined.
And we started cutting everything else back. We cut back investing in R&D, schools, transportation, you name it. We stopped even maintaining the existing infrastructure. The very investment that could have led to economic growth was cut because of those tax cuts.
And now because the debt and continued borrowing — caused by those huge tax cuts for the rich and huge increases in military spending — has gotten SO bad, the corporate and media elite demand that we … cut back the pensions of old people, further decrease infrastructure maintenance and investment, etc. ? As the SNL Church Lady used to say, “Isn’t that conveeeeenient?”
They are trying very hard to keep the public from noting that we spend more on military than the rest of the world combined, and that the budget and economy worked so much better when tax rates at the top were very much higher. If you want to fix the borrowing you need to fix the cause of the borrowing. You need to get the money from where the money went.

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Attack On Pensions

Tackling the Social Security Mess,

I came away believing that a consensus exists among economists across the ideological spectrum on at least one important issue: America’s entitlement spending — mostly Social Security and Medicare — is not sustainable.

It’s the TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH that are not sustainable. THAT is why we will have trouble providing for our people as we get older.
United Aitlines was supposed to fund its pensions. Instead, it paid that money out as dividends, increased share prices, bonuses or otherwise enriching what we might call the owner class. Same with all the other companies that were supposed to be funding their pension obligations. They handed the money out to the rich instead, and now say “too bad, ain’t gonna pay you” to the people who did the actual work.
America was supposed to fund its Social Security. Instead it paid that money out as tax cuts, corporate subsidies, no-bid contracts, whatever, to the owner class. They handed the money out to the rich instead, and now says “too bad, ain’t gonna pay you” to the people who did the actual work.
But I’ve been going on about this for years.