Social Security heats up as an issue for midterm elections

As if there weren’t enough hot-button issues for debate in the 2010 midterm elections, Social Security is emerging as another one.

Democrats have been taking the offensive, apparently hoping to use the issue to their advantage as they fight to maintain control of Congress. They’re emphasizing the program’s popularity among Americans, their commitment to protecting it and their contention that Republicans want to change Social Security to its detriment.

Social Security’s 75th anniversary was Saturday, and Democrats have tied some of their efforts to that milestone. President Obama, for one, talked about Social Security during his weekly address on Saturday.

“We have an obligation … to safeguard Social Security for our seniors, people with disabilities, and all Americans — today, tomorrow, and forever,” he said. “But what we can’t afford to do is privatize Social Security.”

This past week, Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, kicked off a campaign that sounded similar themes. And on Friday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a “Social Security Scorecard,” which gives the committee’s views of positions taken by 13 Republican Senate candidates.

A coalition of 60 liberal groups and advocates for the elderly, including the AFL-CIO and, also has Social Security plans, according to The Washington Post. Coalition members, it says, will “buttonhole” lawmakers who are campaigning for re-election this fall, calling for them to sign a pledge that commits them to opposing cuts to Social Security entitlements.

Even though Mr. Obama and others have voiced concern that Republicans favor privatization of the program, GOP leaders have not been pushing such plans. Both parties, rather, have been careful not to say anything about Social Security that would alienate retirement-age voters, who are a sizable part of the electorate in midterm elections.

Although Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has come out with a proposal that would make changes to Social Security, just a handful of Republican lawmakers have supported that measure. Ryan is the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee.

That’s not to say that Republicans are going along with the Democrats’ approach. “Democrats have resorted to fear-mongering in an attempt to divert voters’ attention away from their failed economic record,” The New York Times quoted Katie Wright, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, as saying. “Republicans are committed to making the reforms necessary to ensure the future of Social Security.”

Indeed, more proposed changes to the program could be coming. A bipartisan fiscal commission examining America’s federal deficits and debt is expected to come out with recommendations later this year. Many have speculated that the commission could recommend a change (or changes) to Social Security. A frequently cited idea: raising the retirement age at which people qualify for Social Security benefits.

In 2037, it’s estimated, Social Security’s combined trust funds will be exhausted. But that doesn’t mean that benefits would stop: Rather, the tax revenue coming in would pay about 78 percent of benefits, according to a report earlier this month from the Obama administration.

This year, in fact, tax revenues are expected to fall slightly below Social Security’s costs. This would be the first time this has happened since 1983. Although revenues are projected to exceed costs from 2012 to 2014, that is expected to switch permanently in 2015.

According to a new AARP survey, Social Security remains a popular government program. But only 35 percent of nonretirees say they are “very” or “somewhat” confident in the future of Social Security. However, the survey also found that half of nonretired adults would be willing to pay more now in payroll taxes to ensure Social Security both for today’s older people and for themselves.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by david granneman on 08/16/2010 - 10:36 am.

    I think we should privatize social security. Before you liberals start your usual name calling lets compare the two plans
    Social security – I have paid into social security for more than fourty years.
    I recently was informed that at age 65 I would get $1700 a month until I die.
    Presently social security is in the red and may not be around when I am 65.

    Private 401k – about 15 years ago I started a 401k savings plan. I put 3% of my pay with a matching from my company. Even with the ups and downs of the stock market, I have over $200,000 in my account. This is my money a when I die it will be go to my wife and daughter. If I would have started my 401 when I was young instead of paying into social security I think I would probably have almost a $1,000,000 today.

    What would you rather have a $1,000,000 in the bank or get $1700 a month until you die with nothing for your wife and daughter.
    president obama and the democrates do not want you in charge of your own retirement, they would tather have you subservent to the government and the monthly check. you own nothing and they control your retirement.

  2. Submitted by andy on 08/16/2010 - 01:13 pm.

    That’s funny- the 401K I got at work lost a third of it’s value when the Real Estate Bubble collapsed- and has been losing money ever since. So you’re saying the same people who crashed the economy should get to loot Social Security and go back to the casino?

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/16/2010 - 01:13 pm.

    ” … the survey also found that half of nonretired adults would be willing to pay more now in payroll taxes to ensure Social Security both for today’s older people and for themselves.”

    Interesting. I wonder what the other half want to do.

    Obama’s own catfood commission will be the one to decide to extend the retirement age and reduce benefits for new retirees, since he and the other gutless democrats need political cover to do what’s necessary. And when that happens, young people will begin to question their allegiance to the democrat party.

    But it’s always amusing to see them pull a play from their decades-old campaign playbook to scare the old folks, isn’t it?

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 08/16/2010 - 06:22 pm.

    The only “crisis” facing Social Security is the phony one cooked up by the Republicans and popularized by George Bush, who spoke of a $12 billion shortfall without mentioning that it would be incurred over the next 75 years. The private accounts he wanted would, of course, have been managed by Wall Street biggies who would charge all its millions of new customers large fees.

    In 1983, with an eye toward the number of baby boomers who would be retiring starting in 2010 or so, Congress raised the withholding tax slightly so there would be plenty of money in its reserve. There is, but we will need more some decades from now. There is no crisis.

    To be doubly sure there is enough to cover all future needs, the Congress could decide to remove the earnings cap altogether. Now, only the first $100,000 of income is taxed, but removing the cap would bring in many billions more each year.

    Readers and politicians should remember that Social Security is not just an insurance against utter poverty in old age. It is also support for families whose breadwinner dies before retirement age (it helps more children than does Medicaidand lets surviving spouses stay at home with their children) AND for workers who are disabled before retirement age (one in seven).

  5. Submitted by Dan Landherr on 08/17/2010 - 09:04 am.

    @David Granneman – nothing prevented you from investing money for your own retirement when you were younger. This isn’t an either/or choice. The 401K/Roth IRA and Social Security serve different purposes.

    If you had read the above article carefully you would notice that Social Security is not currently in the red. It has a massive surplus and is projected to be fine for 27 years with no adjustments to revenues or benefits. As mentioned by others a slight change to increase revenues will keep the system solvent.

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