Sunday, May 6, 2012

Expose the Hoax! Save Social Security and Medicare

A gigantic hoax is being perpetrated on the American people. The hoax is that in the foreseeable future Social Security and Medicare will go bust unless drastic cuts in benefits are adopted. The goal is to ensure that the working class and low income people pay through the nose if these two programs are to be made salvageable. Either that or privatize them.

The propaganda mills are working overtime to soften popular opposition to the measures that are already being put in place and the more Draconian ones projected to be enacted after the November elections.
While it is frequently claimed that there is a fundamental difference between the two major political parties over cutting benefits, the reality is that there is basic agreement between them on the need to do so. The differences come over how much, how soon, and “balancing” the cuts with an increase in revenue.

To be sure, the Republicans are virtually unanimous in pushing for cuts. But the Democrats, with a minority of dissenters, are in accord. President Obama has made clear that be believes “entitlements” must be cut. And when he addressed the Associated Press on April 3, he said, “I’ve got some of the most liberal Democrats in Congress who were prepared to make significant changes to entitlements that go against their political interests, and who said they were willing to do it.” Also, all six Democratic Party members of the ill-fated “Super Committee” announced their support for cuts, and were strongly criticized for having done so by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and many others.

This headline in the April 24, 2012 Wall Street Journal warns “Stress Rises on Social Security — Report Says Program Will Exhaust Reserves Three Years Earlier Than Expected.”

The article goes on to warn: “Social Security, which pays retirement and disability benefits to 56 million Americans, will exhaust its reserves by 2033, three years sooner than previously estimated, a new government report said Monday” and “The Medicare fund that pays for hospital benefits would be exhausted in 2024.”

The Journal article concludes that “The forecast raises pressure on the White House and Congress to tackle the entitlement program, which many politicians fear changing because of potential voter backlash.”

But here’s the rub: None of the politicians pushing for cuts advocate ending the cap that permits those who receive more than $110,100 a year in income (the cap in 2012) to stop paying the Social Security tax for the rest of the year. That means that those who make $110,000 a year or less pay Social Security tax on 100% of their income while someone whose income for the year is a million dollars pays only on 10%. That is grossly unfair! Getting rid of the cap would, in itself, go a very long way toward solving what the right wing calls the Social Security “crisis.” We say, “ZAP THE CAP!”

The Emergency Labor Network also calls for slashing astronomical military spending, and instead of spending trillions on wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, use the money to increase funding for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other safety net programs. We join other antiwar groups in demanding, “Bring the Troops Home Now From Afghanistan!”

Meanwhile the bipartisan drive in Congress to cut urgently needed social programs continues unabated and the movement to stop it in its tracks has yet to materialize.

The latest example of this is the legislation Congress passed as a way to pay for the payroll tax reduction:
  •  Cut the maximum number of weeks that unemployment compensation would be paid from 99 to 63 in “average” unemployed states and 73 in high-unemployed states.
  •  Cut $15 billion in pension benefits for government workers.
  • Cut $21 billion from health care spending, including $5 billion from the disease prevention fund.
The Obama administration hailed the deal, claiming that it proves that the two major parties can work together if only they put their minds to it. The media proclaimed what happened as a big victory for the administration.

But the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) denounced the legislation in the strongest terms. Political Action Committee and Issue Mobilization Director Bob Nicklas declared: “We need to fight back because they smell blood. They’re coming after us. We’re not in a battle; we’re in a war. And we can’t win a war by being polite.” (emphasis in the original)

AFGE president John Gage added: “I am outraged that lawmakers are willing to pay for this extension in unemployment insurance by forcing new federal workers to pay substantially more for their retirement. Going after the pay and benefits of working-class men and women does nothing to create new jobs in this country. We continue to pay massive subsidies to oil companies and bail out the banks that started this recession with their shady lending practices that caused millions of Americans to lose their homes. Explain to me how that makes any sense.”

It doesn’t make any sense but what is needed to drive that point home is a mass mobilization of the working class and its allies. Otherwise the forces hell-bent on cutting safety net and benefit programs will likely have their way every time. If we in labor let individual unions like AFGE and the Treasury Workers take severe hits without all-out solidarity campaigns in their defense and without hitting the streets in Washington and elsewhere, then unions will continue to be picked off one by one.

Last August Congress passed legislation providing for $600 billion in cuts across the board (with only a few exceptions) to domestic programs effective January 1, 2013, if the Super Committee failed to propose anything to deal with the debt and deficit problems, which is what happened.

The National Education Association has warned about the devastating consequences if this bill takes effect to federal education programs for K-12 students — “cuts such as haven’t been seen since the Reagan administration.” These include more than $1 billion in cuts to Title 1 grants to disadvantaged school districts, $900 million in cuts to special education programs, and $589 million in cuts to Head Start programs (which serve mostly low-income families).

The fight to cut the safety net programs continues relentlessly. Any time any kind of spending proposal comes before Congress, the benefit-cutters will again go at it to decide which section of the working class will be forced to shoulder the cost, while the millionaires and billionaires continue on their merry way with no sacrifice whatever. That is what the future looks like, unless the mass movement intervenes and prevents such travesties.

The Emergency Labor Network has long urged building the broadest possible united front in support of the demands: “No Cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Other Human Services Programs! Protect and Expand the Safety Net!” These demands reflect the will of the vast majority of the American people and the need now is to demonstrate that majority’s sentiment where it can make the most difference: in the streets.

We also urge adoption of resolutions by unions, seniors’ organizations, retirees’ groups, and community formations embodying the above demands and encouraging the organizing of forums and town meetings, letters to the editor, use of the social media, and utilization of other means to convey those messages to the widest possible audience.

Of course, we would be much further ahead if the labor movement had its own independent political party, which would be fighting to implement a platform to  continue and expand the safety net programs, ensure retirement security, protect good paying pensions that workers can rely on which are not subject to cancellation by corporate mergers or courts, and guarantee quality health care for all.

Isn’t it time for those of us in the labor movement to engage in a serious discussion on the need for political independence from the two major corporate parties? And how, together with our allies, we can establish a party which is accountable to us and prioritizes people over profits?

> Issued by the Emergency Labor Network (ELN)

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