Social Security Give-and-Take Leaves Old Folks in the Hole

Spring has come to recession-era America, which means that all across the nation, millions of old people are emerging from hibernation and hobbling out to their mailboxes in search of their long-awaited Social alan balgowlah-heights-mailbox-hoops-umSecurity stimulus checks. The first round of payments, which were provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, have just been mailed out. So while the big banks may be raking in their trillions, U.S. elders–along with recipients of SSI and veterans’ benefits–will soon have a whopping $250 to protect them from the ravages of the economic meltdown. 

 And it looks like we’d better make it last, since it’s the last addition to our monthly checks that we’re likely to see for a long, long time. Federal forecasts show that for the first time in more than three decades, there will be no increase in Social Security benefits next year. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office projects that because of low inflation caused by the recession, there will be no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to Social Security until 2013.

As the New York Times reports, “In theory, low inflation is good for people on fixed incomes.” In the current circumstances, however, “The absence of a cost-of-living adjustment, calculated under a formula set by law, will be a shock to older Americans already hit by plummeting home values, investment losses and rising health costs.” While Social Security levels remain frozen, the premiums and co-pays for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program will no doubt continue to rise steeply, as they have every year since the program began. For at least a quarter of Medicare beneficiaries (including working geezers like myself), Medicare Part B premiums will go up as well.

And if we don’t watch out, it might not stop there: The straw man of Social Security “reform” is yet again raising his scruffy head, this time courtesy of Congressional Democrats. As Roll Call reported last week:

In a year already jam-packed with major legislative initiatives, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is breathing new life into the idea of tackling Social Security reform….Hoyer signaled that Democratic leaders may take steps to act on Social Security reform in the fall after Congress advances its two biggest priorities: health care reform and climate change legislation.

“Of our entitlement programs, I believe we would have the easiest challenge in reforming Social Security,” Hoyer said. “Frankly, I believe Social Security is not very difficult mathematically. It may be difficult politically, but not mathematically.”

The Washington Post confirmed that Hoyer is looking to create “a bipartisan consensus” for “overhauling the Social Security system.” Democrats, the Post reported, “have found a willing partner in the Senate,” alan como-mailbox-painting-flowers-umwhere South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham “has stated his desire to work with President Obama to make changes to keep Social Security solvent.”

Graham has long been a supporter of Social Security privatization. But after what’s happened to people’s 401(k)s in the last year, even Graham has had to admit that dog won’t hunt. Instead, he now presents Social Security reform as a “math problem”: “You can do a combination of things, give a little here and give a little there, and get it done,”  he said. 

Anyone who supports the program that lifted millions of elders out of poverty should still be concerned by the ongoing disconnect between the “reform” rhetoric and Social Security’s actual fiscal soundness. (The nation’s private financial institutions, as Dean Baker has pointed out, only dream of being as solvent as the Social Security system.) Following Hoyer’s announcement, the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare commented

given the long list of critical challenges this nation faces right now…it’s hard to imagine why Social Security would share space at the top of the legislative priority list ….After all, Social Security is able to pay full benefits for at least 30 more years….

Some worry Social Security will be used as a bargaining chip in the healthcare debate, others see this as part of ongoing efforts to balance the budget through entitlement program cuts.

As I’ve written before, there are still plenty of powerful voices on the right who woulalan belfield-mailbox-long-umd like to preserve the myth of Social Security as a ticking time bomb that will one day land in the laps of the young. In doing so, they can create a phony intergenerational conflict that deflects attention from the true villains in our economic mess, while at the same time achieving their long-cherished dream of cutting entitlements. As William Greider has written, these forces are getting a new boost from the recession:

Governing elites in Washington and Wall Street have devised a fiendishly clever “grand bargain” they want President Obama to embrace in the name of “fiscal responsibility.” The government, they argue, having spent billions on bailing out the banks, can recover its costs by looting the Social Security system.

By now, we’re all used to witnessing these kinds of bait-and-switch tactics. But according to yet another Washington myth, we’re not supposed to see them coming from the Democrats.

Photos: Alan Wadell, Walk Sydney Streets

Photos: Alan Waddell, Walk Sydney Streets. (Alan was actually Australian, but these photos were too great to pass up. Find out more about Alan Waddell and his walks at

3 responses to “Social Security Give-and-Take Leaves Old Folks in the Hole

  1. George Fulmore

    My understanding is that there cannot be an increase in the Medicare Part B premium that is greater than the increase in one’s Social Security payment. In other words, the amount of the Social Security check (out of which Part B premiums are paid) is not to be less than it was the year before. If there is no increase in SS payments, then there can not be an increase in Medicare Part B for those of us already in both systems.
    As for the overall “problems,” because all the surplus income from the payroll tax that should have been deposited into the SS Trust Fund has been spent by other federal programs, instead of having $2.2 trillion of REAL money in the SS Trust Fund, it only has IOUs. In any case, those IOUs have the backing of the full faith and credit of the United States, which should make them good as gold.

  2. Of course. This is all ALL the purest BULLSHIT. “Mathematics–you take from here and put there–?” Steny, NOW I see why Nancy P got you as an assisstant! You’re a true DemoPublican, but you see, the rest of us can count. We know that the only thing that stops all the pigs from looting Social Security; enriching themselves and their friends and leaving the rest of America to starve and die in the streets as we did during their First Great Depression–is this:

    BEFORE any taxes are collected, the various Social Security Funds to which both Houses owe money (for this project, or that–the latest, being the wars that Bush lied us into) MUST BE REPAID.

    That, and ONLY THAT, stands behind our Middle Class and the destitution that the previous foul and vile Upper Classes, gleefully visited on America. That’s what the ‘little bit of math here…and there” will be designed to circumvent, which would spell THE END for Social Security AND Medicare.

    The pigs are trying to loot Social Security by way of Medicare. The medical costs don’t HAVE to be rising by @120% or so a year–that’s the purest bullshit! The costs CAN NOT ONLY BE STOPPED IN THEIR TRACKS–THEY CAN AND SHOULD BE ROLLED BACK. WAY BACK.

    “Ooh!” I hear, “but–but that will stifle INNOVATION” (a word which “hackneyed” doesn’t even begin to describe, by now!) the Republicans blubber.


    Most especially–if you can’t afford your medicine because of Republican policies–which is now the case–then they have to shut up, because then EVEN THE ‘MEDIA’ can’t deny that ‘everybody knows that’.

    Why in God’s name the Republicans in Democratic clothing aren’t being identified and voted out of office, I can only assume is the result of our once-free Press having been completely taken over by Corporate interests. The journalists who would investigate the latest crooks’ doings in Congress and the House, are all gone or are so few as to not make a difference.

    I feel badly for my kids; I thought that I was protecting them by always voting Democratic. Now I see that it’s more complicated than that; I have to take our candidates’ VOTING RECORDS into account.

    Not only me, but my kids, will be doing that, as of 2010.

    I will also be teaching my kids–as so many have done and are doing–to NOT LISTEN TO THE NEWS, unless it’s the BBC and/or the Jim Lehrer NewsHour. To remember that even there, Gwen Ifill seems to be the Corporate Apologist. And we get far too much of that, anyway, in the “Unfair and Unbalanced, FAUX NEWS.”

  3. it seems to me that alot of the people cussing our new so called socialist pres obama , are drawing s.s., medicare, disablity. sounds to me like they are talking with their mouths to full. most of those get their info. from talk radio and aman that makes 38,000,000.00 a year, and believeing his every word. i swear i missed something somewhere. maybe if we would cut back on those programs i would have more money in my pocket, but would you, think hard. if you can and try it without any help from the multi millioniares on radios advice.

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