John Kerry’s campaign managers are reportedly in near panic mode. Their candidate, who was supposed to be pulling ahead of Bush, is slumping in the polls even before Bush reads the acceptance speech his own campaign hands him on Thursday evening. And little wonder thereps panic: Kerry and his Democratic Leadership Council minders have thus far managed to make him the candidate of no ideas, no positions, and no spine.
On foreign policy, he offers just a promise to do everything Bush has done, only “better” in some vague, undefined way. Domestically, he has offered little that would energize the traditional Democratic base.
Fortunately, this past week he was handed a golden opportunity to finally stake out a position that could define him as a true man of the people-one that, if he would take it, would win him Republican votes even from religious conservatives, while losing him almost nothing.
This gift comes courtesy of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, who a few days ago made the outrageous statement that politicians need to tell the Baby Boomer generation (of which I am a charter member at 55) that we aren’t going to get the benefits we were promised and that we worked for all these past three to four decades. He says that to “save” Social Security, our generation’s benefits need to be cut.
Now first of all, let me point out–as Kerry and Democratic candidates everywhere should be doing, but aren’t because Greenspan is held in reverence by everyone in Washington–that this proposal to knife Baby Boomers in the back is coming from a guy who is already pulling down the maximum Social Security benefit of $1800 a month, even as he earns $200,000 a year at his day job, and who will be collecting an additional $10,000 every month from his federal pension when he finally steps down and moves to a retirement villa in Palm Springs or Beverly Hills with his TV-producer wife.
But beyond the fact that this modern-day Marie Antoinette has been thus far been given a pass by Kerry and the Democrats, his threat to Boomer Social Security benefits is also based on a grotesque lie–a lie that both our corporate media and the supposed party of working people are seemingly afraid to challenge.
The truth: there is no Social Security crisis.
If Kerry’s timid and clueless issue people would call the Social Security Administration and talk to the agency’s actuarial people–the civil service guys who just work with the numbers-they’d learn that even at this late date with the first Baby Boomers just a decade away from retirement, all it would take to shore up the Trust Fund with enough cash to cover the entire flood of retires would be to eliminate the cap on income that is subject to the Social Security tax.
Right now, that cap is set at a little over $80,000. If someone makes $120,000–or $200,000 like Mr. Greenspan–then $40,000 (or in Greenspan’s case $$120,000) of that income is exempt from taxation for the purposes of Social Security.
Tax that extra income of the upper strata of society (and remember, we’re not talking about joint family incomes of $80,000 here, we’re talking about individual payroll income) at the same rate as lower incomes are taxed, and the Social Security shortfall vanishes completely.
You’d think that this would be a no-brainer a Democrat like John Kerry. After all, the vast majority of those making over $80,000 a year are Republicans anyhow, and he’d likely win a huge number of new votes from Republican workers who earn less than $80,000 and who are worried sick about their retirement fund.
So why isn’t Kerry jumping on this? Because it’s not just the rich who’d have to pay more Social Security taxes. It’s also their employers. Remember, when you have 7.5 percent taken off the top of your paycheck each pay period for Social Security, so does your boss. So ending the cap on Social Security taxes for the wealthy would also mean a higher payroll tax bill for employers-the ones who are pumping huge amounts of cash into Kerry’s campaign warchest to ensure that he remains a creature of the corporations.
Clearly the supposedly worker-friendly Democrats, John Kerry included, are afraid of and beholden to that constituency. So afraid that they’re thus far unable to take up the call for a universal Social Security tax on all income-even though not doing so could be consigning Kerry’s campaign to the fate of Dukakis and Mondale before him.
That should tell us a lot about the sorry state of our political system.
We Baby Boomers don’t have to take this lying down! It’s clear that a second Bush administration will see a major assault on Social Security. But it’s not good enough to hear vague platitudes from Kerry to the effect that he “won’t raise the retirement age” and “won’t cut benefits.” Absent a promise to go get the money from the rich, who’ve been escaping Social Security taxation for decades, his promises don’t mean squat.
We Boomers, and younger workers too, should condemn this craven threat from Greenspan to steal our retirement. But at the same time, we should demand that John Kerry, and every Democrat running for Congress, take a stand now in favor of eliminating the cap on income subject to Social Security taxation.
If they do this, they will have a winning campaign theme. If they won’t, they don’t deserve our votes.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” to be published this fall by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org