The ongoing horror of climbing COVID-19 infection and death rates dominates our lives every day. And in between the almost numbing cascade of health and economic statistics, comes the near daily reveal of another severe weakness in our underlying systems.
- Our deep racial divides show up as greater death and job loss for black and brown workers
- Our broken health insurance looks good compared to a dysfunctional healthcare system
- The collapse of the gig economy has left millions regretting the cash without benefits model
- Governments struggle with the simple transfer of billions of dollars to those who need them
- Already unsustainable retirements are weakened by 401k losses and evaporation of savings
After the coming years of herculean tasks requiring mass testing, lockdowns, treatments and vaccines help us prevail over the virus, the to-do list of addressing and hopefully fixing all these problems will be long and take years to accomplish. These are deep and divisive issues that will not be quickly solved.
The immensity of this challenging future makes it imperative that we work now to identify the crucial supports that exist, avoid weakening them further and protect them going forward. You don’t have to be an economist, business guru, or politician to figure out the essential first step in this process of securing the future of aging workers. We must come together to preserve and strengthen Social Security.
It is well past time to stop treating this essential social insurance program as a political football. Ironically, when the federal and state governments found themselves unable to get appropriated cash from the Treasury to Americans, both fans and skeptics of Social Security were quick to use it as the ONLY reliable way to transfer life-saving funds. One would hope that the short- and long-term value of strengthening this one remnant of the social safety net would be a no-brainer. But don’t bet on it.
The “Biggest Brain” Misses the No-Brainer
Since Presidential aspirant Donald Trump descended the Trump Tower escalator many years and thousands of spoken and tweeted words ago, he has not been a subtle advocate of his views. One can agree or disagree with his worldview, but few should doubt his significant political (aka marketing) skills. And in my view, he has played the issue of Social Security brilliantly.
Republican opposition to Social Security began with its creation under FDR. Over the last decade it has been a key Republican talking point as Exhibit A of the deadly “entitlement mentality” driving our long-term Federal debt. Aiming his insurgent campaign at the aging working class of Red America, Trump saw an opening. He broke with every Republican Presidential primary candidate by publicly and repeatedly declaring “I will not touch your Social Security or Medicare.”
As primary winner and President, he presided over the elimination of the entitlement talking point from the catechism of what quickly became his party. As he ramped up defense spending and enacted major tax cuts, the silence on the debt threat was deafening. In due course, the time came to pay the piper. As the President bore down of his 2020 re-election campaign, the ironclad commitment to leave Social Security alone began to weaken. The pattern is clear:
1. After the assembly of the wealthy and powerful at the Davos World Economic Forum on January 22, he told CNBC the following:
Kernen: “Entitlements ever be on your plate?”
TRUMP: At some point they will be. We have tremendous growth…And at the right time, we will take a look at that. You know, that’s actually the easiest of all things, if you look, cause it’s such a big percentage.
Kernen: –[Will you] do some of the things that you said you wouldn’t do in the past, though, in terms of Medicare–
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, we’re going– we’re going to look.
2. Promising no Social Security cuts at the State of the Union, his February budget cut $71 billion.
3. Senate Republican leaders have indicated clearly that they are on board.
“Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the second-ranking Senate Republican, expressed hope to the New York Times that Trump would be “interested” in reforming Social Security and Medicare. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) was even more optimistic. “We’ve brought it up with President Trump, who has talked about it being a second-term project,” Barrasso said. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made no secret of wanting to cut Social Security.
4. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump is arguing strongly for a payroll tax cut as a way to get cash into workers’ hands. Such a move would cripple and help end the dedicated revenue stream that keeps the program alive.
Our broader, long-term campaign to fix work and retirement cannot succeed if Social Security withers.
Respectful Exits, as the Voice of Aging Workers, calls on all of us to take this fight on now and act as if our lives depended on victory. Because they do. Please sign our Social Security Pledge and encourage your co-workers and employers to do the same.