UPDATE: To everyone saying it is an entitlement, this update's for you. First, I agree, it Social Security, et alia, are entitlements. I chose the title of this diary because it was a quote from the article, but also because I liked the use of the word "promise," which makes clear the obligation owed by the government and our elected officials to all of us, and not just our "right" to receive some benefit. Let me explain.
The term "entitlement" has gotten a bad connotation due to Republicans demonizing the word, but I agree we should push back and reclaim it. However, the social safety net is also a compact or covenant by the federal government with Americans. The government takes out taxes for the programs from our paychecks or income (for all you private business owners and "contractors") and to justify the taxation the government "promised" to pay retirement and health benefits when we needed them. The programs have been among the most successful and cost efficient ever administered by the Federal Government, especially when you compare it to the other sacred cow of the budget, our Defense Department., where waste and corruption are rampant and the primary beneficiaries are defense contractors. National Defense is also a "promise" made by the government to Americans, one that sadly it has failed at on numerous occasions (911 being just one of many failures). Yet no one ever argues over the effectiveness or efficiency our Military Industrial Complex, much less the burden it imposes on taxpayers and the national debt.
So, I agree with those who embrace the term "entitlement" but I also want to impress upon people the nature of the promise that was made to the American people by our Government, a promise up to now that they have for the most part kept. That our elected officials are even discussing reducing entitlements, i.e., breaking that longstanding promise and/or covenant with the American people who have held up their end of the bargain, much less actually suggesting reforms that would harm the most vulnerable in our society so billionaires, millionaires and corporations can continue to pay the lowest income taxes since the 1920's is beyond outrageous.
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Last night in Youngstown, Ohio, 200 or so people, seniors and activists and politicians, met at a town-hall event at United Baptist Church. Senator Sherrod Brown appeared and spoke at the event that was sponsored by the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative. The message from the people of Youngstown who attended was clear. Here's the takeaway quote from Carolyn Williams of Youngstown:
“Social Security is not an entitlement; it is a promise to the American people who have paid into the system,” Williams told [the audience]. [...]
“Proposed cuts will force recipients to pay higher insurance premiums and co-pays, and deny us money for essentials like prescription drugs and groceries.”
Williams has reason to be angry with all the talk in Washington about cutting Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. She had to take an early retirement as an X-Ray Technician who worked hard for 24 years because of an injury. She depends on benefits to survive. But she wasn't the only person last night to tell her personal story and express her anger at official Washington's out of touch attitude toward the suffering of working people who rely on our social safety net. They paid for these benefits with their taxes and now they don't want the wealthy and the corporations to avoid paying there share of the deficits brought about by the Bush tax cuts, the needless and illegal wars he fought and the borrowing by the Treasury to fund those deficits (which Republicans approved each time it came up during President Bush's two terms). They haven't forgotten what former Vice President Dick Cheney said about deficits to then Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill when the GOP was in control of our government:
O'Neill, fired in a shakeup of Bush's economic team in December 2002, raised objections to a new round of tax cuts and said the president balked at his more aggressive plan to combat corporate crime after a string of accounting scandals because of opposition from "the corporate crowd," a key constituency.
O'Neill said he tried to warn Vice President Dick Cheney that growing budget deficits-expected to top $500 billion this fiscal year alone-posed a threat to the economy. Cheney cut him off. "You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don't matter," he said, according to excerpts. Cheney continued: "We won the midterms (congressional elections). This is our due." A month later, Cheney told the Treasury secretary he was fired.
This is our due. Well, those tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthiest among us and major corporations, the massive and wasteful spending increases for Defense led led to the surge in deficits after Bill Clinton handed Bush a budget surplus. Furthermore, the lack of federal regulation of financial institutions and the lax policy of the Fed regarding the bubble in real estate that blew the economy to kingdom come under Bush in 2007-2008 and the huge sums of cash handed out to bailout said financial institutions was all generated by the excessive spending and borrowing of Republicans.
Now Republicans, whose corporate and wealthy "friends" made out like bandits (literally) during the Bush years, are all about "sacrifice" but the only people they want to bleed are the poor and middle class. Paul Ryan made that clear with his ill-fated budget proposal earlier this year, and Republicans in the House are counting on Democrats to go along with cuts to the safety net so they can cover their ass for that major blunder. They want Republican candidates next year to be immunized by the Paul Ryan debacle by making Democrats approve spending cuts to these programs. That way the GOP and its the corporate backed PACs that support them can run attack ads painting Democrats (again) as the bad guys who took benefits form the hands of seniors and other beneficiaries of the social safety net that Democrats created in the first place.
Well the people who attended last night's town-hall meeting have something to say about that:
Another speaker was Virginia Wepfer of Lake Milton, who worked 56 years as a nurse before suffering a back injury in 2003 that required about six months of physical therapy.
In addition, Wepfer’s husband, Gordon, suffered a fall last year that tore a muscle in his right shoulder, resulting in roughly two months of such therapy.
Nevertheless, Gordon Wepfer is able to raise both arms and his wife walks much better, thanks to the necessary treatments that were paid for largely by Medicare, Virginia Wepfer explained.
“You can judge a society by the way it treats its most vulnerable members,” she added.
Gloria Hobbs of Youngstown is on Social Security and receives Medicaid to supplement her Medicare coverage. All three are necessary for Hobbs to take care of herself, she said.
“These programs are not a matter of entitlement; they are a matter of survival for our seniors,” she continued. “These sweeping changes will overwhelm an already distressed population.”
You can judge a society by the way it treats its most vulnerable members. Yes you can.
Right now my family relies on the benefits my wife receives from Social Security Disability Income and Medicare. As I have explained before she survived pancreatic cancer in 2006, but one of her her chemotherapy drugs (now well established by research as a medication that causes brain and central nervous system injuries) caused her to incur brain damage. She is also a brittle diabetic. Even with her SSDI benefits (on which we pay federal and state income taxes) we live on the edge. My disability for the autoimmune system disorder TRAPS was not approved for benefits by my disability insurer (at the time they disallowed my claim based on a doctor I never met whom they hired to review my file, I had no single definitive diagnosis). I was advised my SSDI claim would likely be disallowed.
So our family depends entirely on my wife's income. Any cuts to that could mean my 16 year old daughter, an Honor's Student (she takes all honor's or advanced placement classes in Math, Science, History and English) who just received the highest mark (a 5) on her Advanced Placement World History Test, might have to settle for community college rather than go to a better but more expensive four year university, especially since student financial aid is also on the Republican's cutting block. Why? Because my wife's medications are extremely expensive. Medicare for a person receiving SSDI only covers her doctor visits, not her drug costs, which as a "retiree" under the her former employer's group plan (for which we pay the full premium of $6000 plus a $2,400 deductible) we still paid roughly $3,500 for her medications alone in co-pays. So, yes, this means a lot to me and my family, just as it does to millions of people in even worse straits than ours across the country.
I might also add that cutting those benefits will have a ripple effect throughout our economy by increasing healthcare costs to everyone and damaging our economy further, if people on Medicaid and medicare are forced to cut back on other spending, and people on Medicaid are forced to rely on treatment by Hospital Emergency Departments. These will add further stress to state and local governments, and further weaken our already inefficient, overly expensive and teetering health care system.
Let me repeat the quotes by Carolyn Williams and Gloria Hobbs of Youngstown, again:
“You can judge a society by the way it treats its most vulnerable members." Gloria Hobbs.
“Social Security is not an entitlement; it is a promise to the American people who have paid into the system.” Carolyn Williams.
However, The Republicans in their current incarnation, resemble the radicals of the John Birch Society from the 1960's more than responsible and reasonable conservatives don't care about you and me. All the more reason Democrats must stand up for their core principles: preserving and maintaining the social insurance programs and other social benefits programs that protect the most vulnerable among us, and upon which most of you (or your loved ones) will someday have to rely as well.
Please remind your Congressional Representatives and your Senators (especially if they are Democrats) and President Obama that there are more important things than protecting the ill gotten gains of Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil and the Koch Brothers, to name but a few. Acquiescing to Republican demands to cut our social safety net is not an effective way to win elections. Allowing the GOP to continue to play their game of Soviet style brinkmanship can only damage the Democratic Party and, more importantly the American people.
Thank you for reading.