President Obama has formed a Fiscal Committee to look at how to reduce the government deficit. With Medicare, Social Security, and the Defense budgets totaling 75% of government spending, it looks like Medicare and Social Security are primary targets for deficit hawks. The Fiscal Committee is scheduled to present its deficit reduction suggestions to the President in December of this year.
Barbara Kennelly, President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, spoke to the Fiscal Committee last week. Here are some of her remarks that address Social Security.
You are faced with the difficult mission of finding ways to reduce the deficit. On behalf of the 3 million members and supporters of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare – and millions of other Americans who support Social Security – I am here to urge you: while you are considering your macro-economics and deficit numbers – please do not lose sight of the millions of individual people whose quality of life depends on every decision you make affecting Social Security.
Many of my points are sometimes forgotten in the face of today’s fiscal crisis.
- More than 9 out of 10 American workers participate in Social Security – thus changes you make in the program will affect virtually every person in this country.
-Today, 52 million Americans receive benefits from Social Security.
But despite its importance to the American people, Social Security is not a generous program and the vast majority of seniors are not wealthy. They are average Americans who worked hard all their lives.
-Their median income in retirement is just $18,000
-The average Social Security retirement benefit is only $13,800 a year – $11,000 for women.
- And about 40% of the average senior’s Social Security check goes to health care out-of-pocket costs, even with Medicare
I was in Congress in 1983 during the last major Social Security reform. We made a number of changes designed to fund the benefits of the baby boomers when they began retiring in the early 2000s.
That reform was immensely successful – it extended the programs’ solvency for over half a century. And the surplus we built was invested in the safest asset possible – Special Issue Treasury Bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. I know it is customary for some today to disparage the Trust Funds as if they don’t exist. But those bonds are no different than any other debt instrument issued by the United States government, and I find it incomprehensible that Congress might someday agree to pay back our foreign neighbors before honoring the debt it owes to the American people.
I understand the drive to reduce the deficit – frankly, I’m as appalled by $1.4 Trillion in red ink this year as you are. But Social Security did not contribute one thin dime to the deficit – it should not be used as a piggy bank to fix the mistakes of the past.
The American people do not support cutting Social Security in order to reduce the deficit. American workers rightfully see Social Security as their money – not the government’s. It represents their hard-earned dollars that came out of each and every paycheck throughout their working lives. They are even willing to pay more to strengthen the program for their children and grandchildren.
They flat-out reject the notion that you can strengthen Social Security by cutting it.
Americans want fiscal sanity returned to Washington, but they don’t believe it should be accomplished by cutting Social Security.
Social Security benefit cuts are the last place you should be looking for deficit reduction, not the first place.