A bellwether is an entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings, and in America one can arguably cite the New Deal as a bellwether that three generations of Republicans have sought to destroy. Chief among the New Deal’s features conservatives have spent nearly 80 years attempting to eliminate is the Social Security Trust primarily because it helps the American people and does not enrich corporations and the wealthy.
Over the past five years, the GOP and their conservative backers have spread lies and misinformation about Social Security and were successful in labeling it an “entitlement” to portray it as a handout that contributes to lazy Americans’ culture of dependency on government. However, Social Security is an entitlement only in the sense that people who paid into the program all their working lives are “entitled” to a return on their investment that in reality makes Social Security a “mandated retirement savings plan” Republicans lust to hand over to their wealthy Wall Street supporters.
There are myriad reasons Republicans hate Social Security including it is proof a government program can be successful, it helps the people, reduces poverty, pumps $2 into the economy for every benefit dollar spent contributing to economic growth, is wildly popular, and it has trillions of dollars in reserves conservatives believe belong to the rich. Republicans and Wall Street CEOs have spent no small amount of time, money, and energy portraying Social Security as going broke, blowing up the deficit, and an existential threat to America’s economy that Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfien said “we can’t afford.” Two months ago Speaker of the House John Boehner claimed Republicans would engage in a “whale of a fight” to slash discretionary spending on “entitlements” like Social Security as a primary feature of a deficit reduction plan in the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis.
Republicans, like their man-god Ronald Reagan, know Social Security is forbidden by statute to add or take away one cent from the deficit, but they have been successful in convincing most of Washington, including President Obama, that any deficit reduction plan must slash Social Security “entitlement spending” or the nation’s economy is doomed. What Republicans, and some Democrats, refuse to tell the American people is that cutting Social Security is stealing from the people, creates poverty for senior citizens, and is detrimental to the nation’s economy.
Social Security’s purpose was to reduce poverty in Americans who could no longer work due to old age, and it hassucceeded in providing retired Americans with a very modest retirement income, and as FDR intended, prevents seniors from living out the rest of their lives in poverty. According to the Urban Institute, an average couple with two-earners who earned average wages during their working lives receive less in Social Security benefits than they paid in, and it applies to single males and females as well. For most retired Americans the average Social Security benefit is less than $15,000 a year, and most retirees depend on that small amount as the major source of their income. Still, Republicans claim it is an exorbitant expense creating a nation of takers that the country can no longer afford despite it is fully funded until at least 2037 with a surplus of approximately $2.8 trillion dollars in reserve. Further, the trust cannot run out of money and has an insanely lower administrative cost (1%) than 401K retirement plans Republicans and Wall Street claim are where Social Security belongs.
Cutting Social Security will also be a major hit to the nation’s economy because according to the Public Policy Institute, the retirement savings plan stimulates the economy to the tune of over $1 trillion annually that prompted Dean Baker to call the Social Security Trust “the greatest success story of any program in U.S. history.” At a paltry $15,000 in Social Security retirement income, retirees spend every last penny on goods and services, and even a hit from the popular chained-CPI will reduce the average retiree’s benefit by $658 a year at age 65, and $1,100 when they are 75; the economy would reflect the loss in consumer spending that would result in more job losses that may be a value-added feature Republicans seek.
Republicans and their filthy rich sponsors like the Koch brothers and Lloyd Blankfein are rabid to cut Social Security for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it is endemic to their vision to hurt millions of senior citizens, working families, disabled veterans, and children. They also want to destroy Social Security because it is wildly popular with the people and for nearly eighty years it belied Republican claims that government programs are inherent failures. The Republicans also want desperately to get their hands on the Trust’s $2.8 trillion to pass on to the rich in the form of tax cuts, and to Wall Street to squander in the next market crash. Likely, they are also desperate to cut the program to conceal the money George W. Bush “borrowed” to pay for his two ill-advised and unfunded wars and tax cuts for the rich that are still contributing to the nation’s deficit.
There is no economic upside to cutting Social Security, and yet with every new Republican fiscal crisis and budget negotiation it is the first item on the agenda for Republicans to cut. Whether it is chained-CPI, raising the retirement age, or just slashing benefits, Republicans and so-called deficit hawks are on a crusade that began nearly 80 years ago to destroy the New Deal and what better way than decimate its greatest feature. Republican liars know full well it does not and cannot affect the deficit, but that is not their reason for targeting the American people’s retirement program any more than claiming it will run out of money in the near future. If that were the case, they would eliminate the earnings cap and keep the program solvent in perpetuity, but that would guarantee that FDR’s New Deal vision to provide senior Americans with a secure retirement would continue without end.
If the American people have learned anything from Republicans over the past five years, it is that they will go to any lengths to eliminate the people’s financial security whether it is killing jobs, retarding economic growth, or stealing their pensions. People can say what they want about the out-of-control spending and economic malfeasance of Ronald Reagan, but he did one thing the people are waiting for Barack Obama to do; tell the American people in the starkest terms that “Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit” and put an end to the Republicans’ eighty year crusade to destroy the program once and for all.