Nancy J. Altman

Trump really does have a plan to destroy Social Security

Donald Trump’s nonstop lies, together with his endless cries of “fake news” and “hoax,” make the role of media fact checkers more important than ever. Unfortunately, on the crucial issue of Social Security, too many of them are furiously defending Trump from his own words.

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Trump is a brazen liar about Social Security

In his State of the Union address, Donald Trump claimed that “we will always protect your Social Security.” But just two weeks ago, Trump said just the opposite. He was in Davos, hobnobbing with Wall Street billionaires. While there, he sat for an interview with CNBC’s Joe Kernen, who asked him if “entitlements” would “ever be on your plate.”

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You might be surprised at how far Americans are willing to go to overthrow the power of Big Pharma

As the 2020 election looms, “Morning Joe” pundits love to talk about “electability.” The out-of-touch television personalities chide the left for advocating policies they perceive as unpopular with the electorate. Yet, “electability” appears differently to primary voters, who increasingly see progressive politicians as prepared to beat Trump. The message that Democrats need to return to is an age-old one: rich, powerful interests are ripping us off, and it’s time to fight back.

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Republicans want to cut Social Security 'behind closed doors'

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) just said out loud what Republican politicians usually only talk about in secret meetings with their billionaire donors: The GOP wants to cut our earned Social Security benefits—and they want to do it behind closed doors so that they don’t have to pay the political price.

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Intergenerational warfare is a scam

President Franklin Roosevelt famously remarked about attacks on Social Security, “It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them.” We can see that strategy at work today.

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Trump's insidious plan to derail Social Security — and avoid a massive 2020 backlash

Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal included billions of dollars in Social Security cuts. The proposed cuts were a huge betrayal of his campaign promise to protect our Social Security system. Fortunately for Social Security’s current and future beneficiaries, he has little chance of getting these cuts past the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats.

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The remarkable Mothers of Social Security

This Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate the remarkable Mothers of Social Security. Without them, this essential program may never have been born. It certainly would be much less successful and effective.

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Trump’s budget director reveals plans to attack Social Security and Medicare

Opponents of Social Security and Medicare are so eager to end these two overwhelmingly important and popular earned benefits that they can’t contain themselves. Mick Mulvaney, the Trump administration’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, is the latest to make crystal clear the longstanding plan to destroy both programs.

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I Used to Work for Republicans - Now I Fear What They'll Do If They Win in November

Everyone who cares about their Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid needs to vote on November 6. If Republican politicians and the donors who own them retain full control of Congress, they are determined to finally succeed in their longstanding goal of ending all three programs.

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Seniors Are Getting Slowly Strangled by Social Security’s Flawed Math - Here’s How to Fix It

As a result of inflation, people on fixed incomes find that their incomes decline in value over time. One extremely important feature of Social Security is that its benefits are adjusted every year automatically to offset increases in inflation so that the modest, but vital, benefits do not erode over time. It is important to understand that these adjustments are not increases. They are intended to simply allow people to tread water, to maintain their purchasing power.

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Medicare for All is Achievable, Despite What Hillary Clinton Says on 2016 Campaign Trail

Hillary Clinton is wrong when she says that Medicare for all is not achievable. In fact, if she and her husband had embraced the concept in 1993, we would be nearly there today.

Medicare was supposed to be a first step toward Medicare for all. After activists tried and failed to include universal health care in the Social Security Act of 1935, and after President Harry Truman tried during his presidency to achieve that goal, supporters decided that an incremental approach was most likely to bring ultimate success.

So activists decided to fight to cover seniors, as a first step. They achieved that goal with the enactment of Medicare in 1965. In 1972, Medicare was expanded to cover people with disabilities. But that is where progress stopped.

In 1993, the electorate wanted better health care. The newly elected President Bill Clinton put Hillary Clinton in charge of a task force to develop a proposal. They created a Rube Goldberg machine, easily attacked by the health care industry because the proposal was so hard to understand. If instead, the Clinton administration had further built on the extremely successful and popular Medicare program, then nearly three decades old, they would likely have been successful. There was a strong case to be made (as there still is) to lower the Medicare age of eligibility from age 65 to age 62, when seniors are first eligible for Social Security benefits.

Lowering the Medicare age to 62 or even 55 would have benefited Medicare, where the risk pool would be expanded to include younger, healthier seniors, as well as private health care insurance, where those same people - who, in private insurance, are the oldest and sickest -- would have been shifted out. The Clintons could have also proposed to add to Medicare, a Medikids piece -- universal coverage of all children. That was considered in 1965 by strategists seeking to take a first step toward government-provided health care, and continues, polls show, to be popular. The health care industry would, of course, have opposed the expansion. But an energized and united electorate, mobilized by a committed administration, could have overcome it. That is what happened in 1965, with the enactment of Medicare, when the medical industry tried as hard as it could to defeat it.

Those two expansions -- lowering the Medicare age and adding children -- would have been easy to explain and popular. They constitute excellent policy, and would have been easily understood by the electorate. A newly-elected Clinton administration, laser-focused on an incremental expansion of Medicare, would have had an excellent chance of success. President Obama could have built on that success, proposing lowering the Medicare age further, raising the Medikids age, and allowing those with pre-existing conditions and others to buy into Medicare at a reasonable price. Eventually, more and more people would have opted in, getting us ever closer to the goal of Medicare for All.

This strategy is still likely to work. It is completely compatible with Obamacare. Medicare is popular among conservatives and liberals alike. Many seniors, who have been a growing part of the Republican base, are hanging on until they reach their 65th birthdays. A Medicare expansion, polls show, is overwhelmingly popular, just as Social Security expansion is. As part of the expansion effort, a new push for a public option, in the form of a Medicare buy-in, would help reach the ultimate goal.

An incremental approach only works if one has a vision of where the incremental steps are leading. In a campaign, candidates present the ultimate goals, not a blueprint for incremental change. But to attack the ultimate goal as unrealistic, when incremental steps can get you there, is a disservice. It is a disservice to all of the millions of Americans who believe that high quality, affordable health care should be a right, not a privilege. It is a disservice to all those who want a more efficient health care system in order to have resources to spend on other pressing domestic needs. It is a disservice to those who see that a more efficient health care system will allow more compensation to be paid in the form of cash wages, as opposed to health insurance.

Claiming that such a noble, important and popular goal -- Medicare for all -- is unrealistic does not show pragmatism. Rather, it shows a lack of imagination.

America Can Afford To Increase Social Security, Despite What The Washington Post Says

"It's simple math," is the refrain often uttered by those seeking to explain why cutting, not expanding, Social Security is the choice to make. A variation of that phrase, "arithmetical realities of an aging society," appeared in Fred Hiatt's recent opinion piece ("Never-Compromise Wins Again," Washington Post, 3/23/15). The math is simple, but Mr. Hiatt gets it wrong.

In an effort to show that Social Security will be unaffordable in the future, Mr. Hiatt points out the misleading fact that there used to be a larger number of workers, in comparison to Social Security beneficiaries, than there are now, and there will be an even smaller number in the future. But this "simple math" leaves an important variable out of the equation: productivity. The worker to beneficiary ratio doesn't prove unaffordability any more than affordability is proven from the equally true observation that the total dependency ratio (workers compared to seniors and children) was much higher in the 1950s and 1960s than it is now or will be through most of the 21st century.

The appropriate measure to assess affordability, one that takes into account productivity, is the percentage of our Gross Domestic Product--the total value of all goods and services--represented by Social Security. Currently, Social Security represents about five percent of GDP. In the future, at its most expensive, it will represent about 6.2 percent. Many other industrialized countries spend a much higher percentage of their GDP on their counterpart programs right now than we will at Social Security's most expensive. Compared to that 6.2 percent of GDP, for example, Austria today spends 11.9 percent, Germany, 10.7 percent, and Japan, 9.8 percent.

The question of whether Social Security should be expanded, fully funded at its current level of scheduled benefits, or scaled back is not one of math or demographics, but one of values- how we choose to spend our combined wealth. Confusing this question is some other wrong math.

Like one of those fifth grade math word problems involving percentages of pies, advocates of cutting Social Security portray federal expenditures as a pie, and then complain that too much of it is going to seniors. What is missed in this analysis is that there are two pies. One pie is Social Security- disability insurance, life insurance, and joint and survivor annuities financed from its own dedicated revenue paid primarily by insured workers and their employers. That pie cannot borrow or deficit-spend. The other pie is the general operating fund of the United States, financed primarily through the federal income tax.

Past Congresses have tried to make it as clear as possible that there are two pies, going so far as to enact Public Law 101-508, which unambiguously states that Social Security "shall not be counted...for purposes of...the budget of the United States Government." While the federal budget has a large deficit, Social Security has a large and growing accumulated surplus. Cutting its benefits would shrink the Social Security pie, but not increase the general-fund pie.

Mr. Hiatt and others are missing other important math. Social Security benefits average just $14,600 in 2015. That math is the one that too many Americans are scribbling on the back of envelopes, or neatly entering in Excel spreadsheets. It is the math of hard choices - do I pay for my medications this month, or buy groceries? Forgo heat or pay my phone bill?

These are not questions that people should have to ask themselves when they live in the wealthiest country in the world, at the richest time in our history.

Mr. Hiatt and others imply that cuts would affect only the wealthiest beneficiaries, but that math doesn't work. There has not been a single serious proposal to cut Social Security that is so limited. The Bowles-Simpson proposal supported by Social Security opponents would cut benefits of workers earning around $40,000 by almost twenty percent, according to Social Security's Chief Actuary. Those earning more would see their benefits cut by higher percentages; even workers earning just $11,000 would see substantial cuts.

Social Security Works proudly stands by our opposition to cutting even a single penny from our earned Social Security benefits. The American people agree with us;according to the National Academy of Social Insurance, "71% of respondents would prefer a package of changes that increases Social Security revenues, pays for benefit improvements, and eliminates the projected financing gap."

Now is the time to expand our Social Security system. It is deeply popular, and it is profoundly wise policy. It's simple math.

Expanding Social Security Is the Cheapest Way to Bring More Security to America's Retirees

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a new book, “Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All,” published by The New Press, 2015, all rights reserved. Order a copy here.) 

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GOP's New House Rules Set Stage For Social Security Cuts

Republican opponents of Social Security have not wasted even a single day in their plan to dismantle Social Security brick by brick. What should be a dry, mundane exercise -- the adoption of new rules by the newly convening House of Representatives -- has turned into a stealth attack on America's working families.

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How Congress Has Already Cut Your Social Security Benefits

(Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a new book, “Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All,” published by The New Press, 2015, all rights reserved. Order a copy here.) 

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America’s Retirement Security Crisis Is Huge and Quickly Approaching

(Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a new book, “Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All,” published by The New Press, 2015, all rights reserved. Order a copy here.) 

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5 Most Economically Vulnerable Groups of Aging Americans Who Need Social Security

(Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a new book, “Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All,” published by The New Press, 2015, all rights reserved. Order a copy here.) 

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Stop the False War of Words on Seniors Who Need Social Security

(Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a new book, “Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All,” published by The New Press, 2015, all rights reserved. Order a copy here.) 

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New York Times Columnist Peter Orszag Joins the Social Security Fearmongering Crowd

Tuesday's election gave expression to a deep frustration that Washington is not listening to Main Street. This frustration seems reasonable after reading the tin-eared response to the elections penned by former OMB Director Peter Orszag, in his recent opinion piece with its fear-mongering title, "Saving Social Security."

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