Yesterday I attended a town hall meeting at a local senior center. Social Security was the topic of the meeting, which was hosted by my new congressman Brian Higgins (D-NY 27)
. His guests were congressman Charles Rangel (NY-15)
and Barbara Kennelly, former member of Congress and current president & CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare
Approximately 125 people, most senior citizens, turned out for the meeting despite the fact that it was a beautiful warm, sunny Saturday morning here in Western New York (and we don't get too many of those.) We heard a very informative presentation about the so-called Social Security "crisis," what a truly bipartisan approach to the challenge will look like, and why we need to stay vigilant.
Those of you who have been following the Social Security issue closely may not find anything new here, but I think it was a good overall briefing on the issues for those of us who were there. If you're interested, more details follow.
All speakers agreed that there while there are crises that Congress ought to be addressing, Social Security is not one of them. Rep. Higgins said that if we're concerned about future generations these are the things we should be focused on:
--the growing national debt
--the growing trade deficit
--the growing ranks of those without health insurance
The panel played a video excerpt from ABC's Nightline regarding the Social Security numbers. Citing Bush's attempt to telegraph a sense of urgency, Koppel and crew interviewed experts and concluded (like Paul Krugman) that the trust fund is currently running a surplus, although without some intervention, the demographics will cause the program to "hit a big iceberg in 2042." Still, come 2042, incoming payroll deductions will pay for at least 75% of obligations. Nightline concludes there is no immediate crisis; there is a long term challenge.
Barbara Kennelly told the crowd that her organization did a poll (June 10-15) of red state voters. 57% of their polling sample had voted for Bush, 37% for Kerry. 52% of these red state voters said they absolutely disapproved of the Bush proposal.31% approved it. 96% said people have a right to their Social Security benefits. She noted that the latest anti-SS proposals call for using the SS surplus for private accounts and said we've got to stay strong.
Congressman Rangel reminded everyone that the Republicans have been after this program since FDR first proposed it. "Not one Republican voted for it," he said. "Not one." He suggested that the purpose of the private account proposal is to take money out of the SS trust fund to weaken it and hasten Social Security's demise. He said Bush "wants to be remembered for taking FDR's program and breaking it."
He said the president would have us believe that there is a crisis because the SS trust fund really isn't there -- he calls it "empty paper." Stating that the trust fund consists of government bonds backed by the "full faith and credit" of the United States, Rangel said that if the U.S. says that's worthless paper, then there is no United States. "We have an obligation to see that promises made are promises kept," he said.
Other Rangel quotes:
"In Harlem, when you tell people over 55 not to worry, it means if you're under 55, you'd better worry."
"This president will not be remembered as a uniter, but he will be remembered for trying to take away one of the primary prizes we as a people have fought for. And he failed at it."
"This turkey ain't flying' in the Congress."