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In an interview with the editorial board of North Jersey's The Record last Tuesday, Cory Booker staked out several policy positions that should make progressives wary.

Most notable was his support for raising the Social Security retirement age for individuals under 30:

For Social Security, Booker said he opposes raising the retirement age for most people in the country – except, perhaps, for people in their 20s or younger – because the country made promises to them.
This contrast between old and young is characteristic of Republicans like Paul Ryan, who want to make sure that their older electoral base does not fret about the efforts to gut social insurance programs.

The millennial generation (i.e., the under 30 crowd) will face the brunt of the retirement security crisis in this country because the transition away from pensions to 401 (k)s--or nothing at all--started long before they entered the workforce.

In a report from earlier this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics explained that pensions "are becoming rare for workers in private industry. In 2011, only 10 percent of all private sector establishments provided defined benefit plans, covering 18 percent of private industry employees."

Reuters similarly reported on the decline of the pension and the rise of retirement insecurity:

As recently as 1998, 52 percent of Americans over age 60 received income from a defined benefit pension, according to a new study by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS). By 2010, that figure had fallen to 43 percent. In the private sector, the decline has been more dramatic - down from 38 percent in 1979 to 15 percent in 2010.

The erosion is continuing, with automotive giants General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co announcing plans to terminate pension plans for hundreds of thousands of retirees, and public sector plans facing financial pressure to increase funding levels and curtail benefits.

How important are defined benefit pensions in keeping seniors out of poverty? The study - which is based on U.S. Census Bureau data - found poverty rates were nine times greater in 2010 in households without defined benefit pension income. Pensions resulted in 4.7 million fewer poor or "near poor" families and 1.2 million fewer families on various forms of public assistance.

"But people will be living longer, so the retirement age has to go up," you might think.  Not so fast.  

Recent studies have found that whites without a high school diploma have actually seen their life expectancy decline over the past two decades. White women without a high school diploma lost five years of life between 1990 and 2008; white men without a high school diploma, three.

For a robust defense of Social Security, turn to NJ senate candidate and progressive representative from NJ-12 (mainly Mercer and Middlesex counties). Holt recently released a video explaining how to shore up Social Security and guarantee retirement security.

Here's Holt on his website explaining how to address Social Security:

Social Security has been one of the most successful government programs in U.S. history.  Today more than 44 million seniors benefit from the program (1), and without it, 21 million of them would be in poverty. (2)  In New Jersey alone, it is estimated that 357,000 seniors are kept out of poverty by the program.

After Wall Street blew up the economy, Social Security became even more important.  Nearly half of all households have savings significantly below what they need. (3)  We should expand this successful program, not cut it.  Yet it’s become bipartisan to talk about cutting Social Security – especially since major cuts were proposed by the Simpson-Bowles commission – and that’s wrong.  If everyone paid the same rate into Social Security, we’d have more than enough money to make the program solvent and expand it.

A Simple Solution

Most people think everyone pays the same rate on payroll taxes.  In fact, the taxes are only collected on the first $113,700 an individual makes.  The result is a middle-class worker making $50,000 a year pays the full 6.2% rate while someone making a million pays less than a single percentage point.  This has effectively increased the burden on the vast majority of workers while giving the top one percent a pass. (4)

As income inequality has worsened in recent years, a smaller and smaller fraction of overall income has been covered by Social Security taxes.  In fact, the amount of income not taxed for Social Security has increased 88% since the 1983 tax reform. (5)  Simply returning the fraction of wages subject to the tax back up to the 1983 level (90%) would make Social Security solvent for another generation.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this step alone would allow the Social Security trust fund to be fully funded through 2082. (6)  Covering all income would allow us to actually expand Social Security.

Social Security is a program that everyone participates in and everyone should have to pay the same rate.  It’s simply unfair that millionaires pay a LOWER rate than average Americans.

Despite the fact that lifting the payroll tax cap is such a popular idea, with 68% of Americans supporting elimination of the cap, Congress refuses to take any action.(7) This isn’t rocket science.  It isn’t even fifth-grade math.  To save Social Security, make the wealthy pay their fair share.  End of story.

Holt has opposed privatization, chained CPI, and raising the retirement age, and he is a co-sponsor of Ted Deutch's Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act, which would expand Social Security benefits for seniors.  (Deutch's legislation is identical to that which Mark Begich introduced earlier this year.)

Social Security was not the only issue where Booker took a position that should concern progressives.

He said that he had "not formed an opinion" on a carbon tax.  Forty-one Democrats in the Senate, including NJ's Bob Menendez, voted for a carbon tax during the budget vote-a-rama earlier this year. (Frank Lautenberg would have done so, but he was too ill to attend.)

Rush Holt, who would be the only scientist in the Senate if elected, is a strong supporter of a carbon tax.  You can read about why on his website or by watching a short video he created.

Booker also called Rush Holt's support for repealing the USA PATRIOT Act "a little irresponsible."  Frankly, I think that the federal government is the irresponsible party here--because of its abuse of powers under the act.

The section entitled Balancing Privacy and Security on Booker's website manages to avoid even mentioning the USA PATRIOT Act.

Holt introduced the Surveillance State Repeal Act last week:

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 00:00

(Washington, DC) Today Rep. Rush Holt introduced legislation to repeal federal surveillance laws that the government abused by collecting personal information on millions of Americans in violation of the Constitution, as revealed by a federal whistleblower and multiple media outlets last month.

“As we now know, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been collecting the personal communications of literally millions of innocent Americans for no legitimate reason,” said Holt. “Instead of using these powers to zero in on the tiny number of real terrorist threats we face, the executive branch turned these surveillance powers against the American people as a whole. My legislation would put a stop to that right now.”

Holt’s bill, the “Surveillance State Repeal Act”, would repeal the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act, each of which contains provisions that allowed the dragnet surveillance.  The bill would reinstate a uniform probable cause-based warrant standard for surveillance requests, and prohibit the federal government from forcing technology companies from building in hardware or software “back doors” to make it easier for the government to spy on the public. Additional features of the bill include the true legal protections for national security whistleblowers, as well as changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to give it greater expertise in reviewing and challenging executive branch applications for surveillance operations.

“The executive branch’s groundless mass surveillance of Americans has turned our conception of liberty on its head. My legislation would restore the proper constitutional balance and ensure our people are treated as citizens first, not suspects.”

New Jersey has an important choice to make in its upcoming Senate primary.  Do Jersey Democrats want a neoliberal Wall Street Democrat with deep ties to right-wing think tanks or a stalwart progressive who will be one of the Senate's strongest civil liberties champions and will, as he noted in his Geek Out web hangout last night, join the ranks of Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Tammy Baldwin to push for economic fairness, justice, and opportunity?

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