Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Plot to Kill Social Security

by SHAMUS COOKE

In Washington each new day brings a fresh call to “reform entitlement programs” — Social Security, Medicare, etc., (in Congress, the word “reform” now means to eliminate, or drastically reduce). Tackling Social Security has been on the to-do list of the corporate elite for years, and they’re not waiting any longer. After years of promoting this cause, conservative think tanks have now garnered solid support from the political establishment as a whole, which includes the Republican and Democratic parties.

The newest liberal recruit to the destruction of Social Security is Thomas Friedman, the influential columnist for The New York Times, who wrote recently:

“The president needs to persuade the country to invest in the future and pay for the past… We have to pay for more new schools and infrastructure than ever, while accepting more entitlement cuts than ever [Social Security, Medicare, etc.] when public trust in government is lower than ever.” (February 20, 2010).

The nonchalance which Friedman calls for cutting Social Security is indicative of the climate in Washington, where the last remnants of liberalism have been suffocated under the heavy demands of profit-hungry corporations, especially financial institutions and big banks. For political hacks like Friedman — and there are thousands of them — the ONLY solution to curing the U.S. deficit is cutting social services in general, while specifically targeting Social Security and Medicare.

But President Obama revealed these assertions to be lies, when he recently announced, “fixing Social Security would be simple.” The Associated Press explains:

“The system is funded with a tax on earnings, up to $109,000 a year. Obama says lifting that cap to tax a larger share of income would be one way to extend the system of monthly payments for retirees. It also would be unpopular with some.” (February 19, 2010).

This idea is indeed very unpopular with the very rich, who enjoy the privilege of paying no Social Security tax after the $109,000 threshold. Obama let an unpopular truth out of the bag when he brought up this fact; but conveniently for him, many mainstream news outlets decided not to amplify the President’s voice.

Obama, however, is unlikely to promote this “radical” idea much further, since he’s already decided on a method to undermine Social Security. Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is a bi-partisan group that is set to attack Social Security in a way where, in the end, both political parties will be blamed, so that neither party is overburdened with guilt. The Republicans — having made their contempt for Obama more than known — are salivating at the chance to cooperate.

The Washington Post recently announced that Republican leaders have agreed to
Obama’s commission, while making no secret about the motive behind the grouping:

“…Obama’s commission may lack the power to force the parties to reach consensus on a plan that is almost certain to require deep cuts to the popular entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — as well as significant tax increases…Building bipartisan consensus for such a plan would be particularly difficult in the run-up to the fall elections…” (February 19, 2010).

Since the foregone conclusions of Obama’s panel will be so unpopular, the Washington Post explains that they will be announced after the fall elections, in December 2010.

There will be little room in Obama’s commission for his above-mentioned tax increase on the rich. The Republicans have already announced that they will be solidly focusing on reducing services for the working class, not taxing the wealthy.

What will the “reformed” Social Security look like? Again, the Conservative think tanks have an idea waiting in the wings: personal savings accounts. In the same way that 401(k)s killed the pension, Social Security is set to be privatized for the mighty benefit of Wall Street.

Just last week, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin announced a privatization plan that just happened to coincide with the creation of Obama’s commission. Michael Hiltzik of The Los Angles Times called Ryan’s plan “a roadmap for killing Social Security.” He writes:

“His [Ryan’s] privatization scheme would allow workers under 55 to place more than one-third of their current Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts, with the ultimate goal of shifting most of that money into the stock market.” (February 17, 2010).

By creating individual accounts, Wall Street is bolstered while the public nature of Social Security is undermined, since Social Security is a “pay as you go” program: if workers under 55 decide to invest in Wall Street, and not to pay into the Social Security fund, older workers don’t receive benefits. Social Security is thus dismantled.

Only workers who have money to save — and are gullible enough to trust their money to Wall Street — will put money in their new Social Security accounts.

The killing of Social Security and Medicare cannot be a one-act drama. If both programs were instantly destroyed, the public outrage would be uncontrollable. Obama’s deficit commission, then, will likely work to undermine the program in a variety of ways so that a future Congress can finish the job.

Therefore, Obama’s commission may recommend a variety of tactics to strip the program: instituting benefit cuts, increasing the age in which benefits are received, and introducing a limited option for personal accounts. Also possible is the implementation of a tiny, ineffectual tax on the rich to give the illusion that everybody is making “sacrifices.”

Whatever methods are used to attack Social Security, they will surely erode the last vestiges of credibility from the two-party system. Most Republicans are aware that their cooperation on the elimination of Social Security and Medicare will destroy what’s left of their party, which is why they are in the midst of creating a new, more radically right-wing party — now a mere tea party.

But the above scenarios are not inevitable, as the corporate establishment would have you think. The only reason Social Security and Medicare were not attacked earlier was the fear of working class reaction. That fear must be reintroduced.

A coalition of unions, pensioners, AARP members, and other retiree organizations must unite to oppose any cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and social services. To begin, these groups could include their demands in a “jobs for all” march on Washington, which many unions have been calling on the labor movement to organize.

Other community and student groups would be drawn into such a struggle, as could the general public. In place of cuts to essential services, a tax on the wealthy and corporations must be demanded, alongside of an end to foreign wars, bank bailouts, and other forms of corporate welfare. If such a coalition fails to materialize, the banks and corporations will continue to loot workers in this country unchallenged. The sooner the cut backs are organized against and smashed, the better.

SHAMUS COOKE is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org).  He can be reached at shamuscook@yahoo.com

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail