As the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Co-Chairs continue to release details of their plan to address the nation’s debt, many other proposed solutions are also being offered. On Tuesday, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the same Fiscal Commission, released her own deficit reduction plan, after rejecting the proposal of the commission’s co-chairs. Rep. Schakowsky plans to keep Social Security benefits intact, while making deep reductions at the Pentagon by cutting what many consider unnecessary weapons systems and reducing troop levels. She calls for a rise in corporate taxes on companies that outsource jobs, as well as controlling excessive pay for chief executives. Over half the proposed budget cut - $430 billion annually in 2015 - would be achieved by eliminating various corporate tax breaks, ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and creating a new energy tax through the cap-and-trade system. At the same time, a proposed additional $200 billion economic stimulus would create jobs and combat unemployment. Schakowsky’s plan calls for “sustained, long-term economic growth by ending the trend of concentrating more and more wealth in the hands of the rich and less and less in the hands of the middle class.
"Raising the retirement age would inflict further hardship among a group of workers who are likely to face health and economic problems in their 60s." –Doug Hart, President, Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans
"Of all the lies and confusion that still surround the Affordable Care Act, perhaps the greatest is that it is bad for seniors." - Dave Meinell, President, Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans
"My father died when I was three. Because of Social Security (survivors) benefits, my Mom, my younger sister and I survived." – Diane Fleming, DC Alliance Member
"We fear that Congress will balance the budget on the backs of the 98 percent, which is working Montanans and retired Montanans. We simply cannot afford these devastating cuts to vital services such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," –John Forkan, President, Montana Alliance for Retired Americans
"Along with national parks and Social Security, Medicare is one of the best ideas we Americans have ever devised." -Tim Cunningham, New Mexico Alliance Member
"Seniors have earned and deserve their Social Security checks, and they shouldn't have to go to Congress every 10 years and beg for the program to be renewed." –James Parent, Alliance for Retired Americans Regional Board Member
"Today's retirees paid Medicare and Social Security taxes in every paycheck we ever earned. Now that we are retired, these programs help us to be able to stay healthy and pay our bills. They are the promise we make to people who worked hard all their lives, and we need to keep that promise for today’s workers." –Tony Fransetta, President, Florida Alliance for Retired Americans
"Today's seniors want to lower the budget deficit. We do not want a large debt to be the legacy we leave to future generations, but we should not punish people who have paid Social Security taxes all their lives." –Jim Moore, President, North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans
"Social Security should remain what it has been for 77 years – a solid, reliable way that generations of workers have been able to retire with dignity, economic security, and peace of mind." –Barbara J. Easterling, President, Alliance for Retired Americans
"The fight for Social Security and Medicare is part of a larger fight for justice and fairness"—Barbara J. Easterling, President, Alliance for Retired Americans
"The health insurance reform helps not just seniors, but also middle-class families and young Americans, who are just starting to see the benefits. Don’t let Republicans take all that away." –Don Rowen, President Emeritus, Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans
"Honoring the promise of Social Security and Medicare should not be a partisan issue. Honoring the contributions that we make throughout our working years so that we may feed and clothe ourselves, keep a roof over our heads and those of our family, there is no reason for that to be a hotly contested partisan issue." –Edward Coyle, Executive Director, Alliance for Retired Americans
"We need to make sure that people who need Social Security to make ends meet will have it, and not fall victim to ill-informed and unnecessary cuts to these vital programs."
–Barbara J. Easterling, President, Alliance for Retired Americans
On Wednesday, the co-chairmen of the White House Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, released their ideas for dealing with the country’s massive debt. The recommendations are from Simpson and Bowles only, and do not represent the opinions of the full commission. The proposals include a reduction in Social Security cost-of-living increases for current retirees; a reduction in Social Security benefits for most future retirees; and a hike in the Social Security retirement age to 69 by 2075. In response, Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance, said, “The Bowles-Simpson proposal is not a package we can support. In fact, it is a package we will strongly oppose. While seniors are more than willing to pay their fair share to reduce the nation’s debt, we must not turn to them to pay off such a huge portion of what was accumulated by the entire country.” He also said that raising the retirement age to 69 is not a viable solution, when so many older workers in difficult jobs are already struggling.
He added, “The Social Security cuts would hit current retirees, contrary to what was promised, since the change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) seems to take effect immediately. This will lower seniors’ benefits by about 3% after they have been retired for 10 years, and by about 6 % after 20 years.” He said that changing the CPI is an attack on the middle class, since today’s 20-year old workers who retire at age 65 would see their benefits cut by 17% if their wages average $43,000 over their working lives. He also called it “ridiculous” that billionaires pay the same amount into the system as someone earning $106,800, the current cap. He stressed that a better proposal would be requiring employees (and their employers) who make more than $106,800 a year to pay Social Security taxes on all their wages, not the 90% in the proposal. Coyle concluded, “We must not bully seniors into shouldering such a massive percentage of the debt while Wall Street millionaires once again just skate on through scot-free.” To see the co-chairs’ proposal, go to http://bit.ly/ajfG8p. To see “Ten Reasons the Social Security Proposal of the Fiscal Commission Co-Chairs Should be DOA (Dead on Arrival)” from Social Security Works, where the Alliance is a member of the Steering Committee, go to http://bit.ly/bLN4Q1. To see Mr. Coyle’s full statement, go to http://bit.ly/by0k67.
In the U.S. House, Republicans have netted 60 seats so far, with 8 Democratic districts too close to call. According to The Washington Post, most projections put the total GOP gain in the mid-60s, although several of the uncalled contests are almost certainly headed for recounts. GOP candidates defeated not only Democratic incumbents who won their seats in 2006 or 2008, but also long-serving incumbents such as Reps. John Spratt (S.C.), Ike Skelton (Mo.), Rick Boucher (Va.) and Jim Oberstar (Minn.). Historically, the Republican gains mark the biggest midterm election seat swap since 1938, when Democrats lost 71 House seats. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) is set to become the next Speaker of the House.
In the Senate, Republicans made solid gains but will remain in the minority when the 112th Congress convenes. The GOP gained six seats -- Illinois, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana and Wisconsin -- on Tuesday night, with a race in Alaska still not called. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) won the seat of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) claimed the seat of retiring Sen. Chris Dodd (D). The timing of California Sen. Barbara Boxer's (D) victory ensured Democrats would retain the majority. Democrats also won a major symbolic victory in Nevada as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) defeated former state assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R). Rep. Mark Kirk (R) and former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) emerged victorious in very close contests for the Senate seats in Illinois and Pennsylvania, respectively. Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and Sen. Patty Murray (D) won close races in Colorado and Washington.
This Tuesday is Election Day, and seniors have as much at stake as any age group this year. “For anyone you know who thinks that voting doesn’t matter, tell them that 104 lawmakers are on record as supporting the privatization of Social Security,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. “If those lawmakers become the majority, we are more likely than ever to see our Social Security benefits gambled away on Wall Street. Please vote.” For a list of the 104, go to http://thinkprogress.org/2010/10/27/gop-privatize-socialsecurity. Privatizers are not the only problem that could be coming down the pike with a bad election outcome. In an interview with National Journal out this week, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was asked what his party's main political job will be after next week's election. He gave a blunt answer: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
“We now have it on record that, if Republicans win control of the Senate, the man who aspires to be Majority Leader is placing his own political interests ahead of the needs of seniors and everyone else,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. Seniors are set to have a massive impact on the election results. For anyone who has difficulty casting a ballot, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights has set up a national hotline at 1-866-Our-Vote to address problems.
Download a printable version
Ten years have passed since the “hanging chad” problem in Florida, and since then a majority of states across the nation have overhauled their voting methods in hopes of simplifying the process and making it more accurate. One of the most pronounced changes has been the move away from lever and paper voting in favor of optical and electric voting methods. However, limited funds for voting equipment and rapidly aging voting machines in some areas are an indication that the country is not immune from problems re-emerging. In addition, voter suppression occurred recently when a front group called “Latinos for Reform,” run by a major donor to former President George W. Bush, was caught running television ads in Nevada telling Hispanic voters NOT to vote on November 2nd as a way of protesting. The ads are now off the air.
The following resources focus on election protection. They are produced by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, who have set up a national hotline for any voting problems: 1-866-Our-Vote. For information on fundamental voting rights and commonly asked questions, go to http://www.866ourvote.org/elections-101. For pages with state-specific laws and pdf's with more detailed information on your state's election laws, click on http://www.866ourvote.org/state. In addition, for information on the voting rights of the disabled from the National Disability Rights Network, go to http://bit.ly/bokzr8. “Voters can go the polls with peace of mind, knowing that the system has improved,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. “However, if you do experience a problem, help is available. Don’t go home without casting your ballot.”
Download a printable version
The federal government announced today that tens of millions of Social Security recipients will go through another year in 2011 without an increase in their monthly benefits, marking only the second year without an increase since automatic adjustments for inflation were adopted. The first year was 2010. The cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, are set each year by an inflation measure that was adopted by Congress back in 1975. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced that when Congress returns in November, he will press for passage of $250 in emergency relief for Social Security recipients and disabled veterans to compensate for the lack of a COLA. That same proposal was defeated in the Senate on March 3, when only one Republican voted to allow the amendment to be considered. Sanders said the estimated $13 billion cost of the help for seniors is only a fraction of the $70 billion in annual tax breaks that Senate Republicans are pushing for the wealthiest Americans.
According to USA Today, early voting, in which a voter may cast a ballot at an elections office, is underway in 14 states. Early voting gets underway in another 17 states and in the District of Columbia over the next two weeks. In all, 33 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of in-person early voting, while other states allow voters to file absentee ballots early, according to the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS). Vermont kicked the voting off on Sept. 20, followed by South Dakota on Sept. 21, Iowa and Wyoming on Sept. 23, Nebraska on Sept. 27, Ohio on September 28, Wisconsin on October 3, California and Indiana on Oct. 4, and Arizona on October 7. Rather than setting a date far in advance, some states began offering ballots when they became available. For the first time this year, Illinois voters are casting absentee ballots without having to explain why they are doing so; this is known as “no excuse” absentee voting. “I encourage Alliance members to take advantage of early voting, so that your ballot will count even if you can’t make it to the polls on Election Day,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.
The President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, looking for ways to balance the federal budget, met for the fifth time on Wednesday, but hard decisions are not expected until after the November 2 elections. Social Security is one of several areas being considered by the panel for changes, and picketers outside the meeting demanded the commission keep its hands off the program. A top target of protesters was Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator and now a co-chairman of the commission, who this summer described Social Security as “a milk cow with 310 million tits.” The National Organization for Women (NOW) has a new slogan: “Tits for an Ass,” and NOW members arrived on Capitol Hill on Wednesday with 1,500 rubber baby bottle tops (nipples) and presented them to the Fiscal Commission as part of its campaign calling for the removal of Simpson. According to The Washington Post, NOW President Terry O'Neill told Simpson that she was giving him the nipples “in hopes that you'll have the decency to resign from the commission.” When Simpson said that cutting Social Security had historically never happened, O’Neill responded, “Well let's hope that your efforts to make it happen now fail.”
Download a printable version
House Republicans released their “Pledge to America” on Thursday for the fall elections, calling to “repeal and replace” the new health care law, and offering little in what they would do for seniors. Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance, responded in a statement, “Today’s agenda provides few specifics for voters concerned about Social Security and Medicare. Conspicuously absent from today’s plan are both aspiring-Speaker John Boehner’s pledge to increase the Social Security retirement age to 70, and also the ‘Roadmap’ of the Budget Committee’s Paul Ryan which would let Wall Street run a privatized Social Security and end Medicare as we know it.” To view Mr. Coyle’s full statement, including questions regarding Republican plans to take away seniors’ benefits under the new health law, go to http://bit.ly/af1hM8. Rep. Ryan admitted on CNN on Thursday that Republicans are still pursuing the privatization of Social Security, saying that the “Pledge to America” encompasses just the “initial first steps” of the House Republican agenda, and that Social Security privatization would come later on.
This week the New York Times ran a powerful portrait of life on the job for many older Americans, showing just how devastating a retirement age increase would be for millions of workers. Against a backdrop of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) pledging that a Republican-led Congress would increase the age to 70, the Times told the stories of several workers – an airline baggage handler, a nursing assistant, and a tire maker – including one who noted that at work, “dessert with lunch is ibuprofen.” A recent study by the Center for Economic Policy Research found that one in three workers over age 58 works a physically demanding job.