Cantwell, Murray stand against Social Security cuts

(Oct. 6) — As Congress negotiates yet another deficit-reduction deal to avoid the year-end “fiscal cliff,” 29 U.S. Senators — including Washington state’s Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell — have taken a strong, public stand against any cuts to Social Security as part of the negotiations. The commitment by this bloc of Senators couldn’t come at a better time.

At the end of the year, the Bush tax cuts will expire automatically and Congress will have to decide whether to extend them for the middle class, as President Obama wants and the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate voted to do, or also extend them for the richest 2% of Americans, as the Republican-controlled House voted to do. And thanks to last summer’s debt-ceiling agreement, across-the-board budget cuts are scheduled to take effect in January 2013. More than 1,000 government programs, including the defense budget and Medicare, are in line for “deep, automatic cuts.”

Most expect Congress to come to some agreement after the election but before year’s end to avert the automatic cuts, but yet another round of deficit-reduction deal-making has advocates for Social Security worried that Republican negotiators will continue to make the case that cutting Social Security benefits should be part of that deal.

Some Democrats have expressed willingness to consider such cuts. President Obama himself raised eyebrows during Wednesday’s presidential debate by saying that he and Mitt Romney have similar positions on the Social Security issue and that the program might have to be “tweaked.” Romney has written that there is a “certain logic” to raising the retirement age and has said his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget that calls for shifting Social Security into private accounts is “marvelous.”

So the timing of the Sept. 20 letter signed by 29 U.S. Senators is especially important.

“We will oppose including Social Security cuts for future or current beneficiaries in any deficit reduction package,” the senators unequivocally state. Social Security has not contributed to the deficit or to the national debt, the senators added. The program that benefits more than 50 million retirees, widows, widowers, orphans and disabled Americans has a $2.7 trillion surplus and, according to actuaries, will be able to pay every benefit owed to every eligible recipient for the next 21 years.

“Contrary to some claims, Social Security is not the cause of our nation’s deficit problem. Not only does the program operate independently, but it is prohibited from borrowing,” the letter said. “Even though Social Security operates in a fiscally responsible manner, some still advocate deep benefit cuts and seem convinced that Social Security hands out lavish welfare checks. But Social Security is not welfare. Seniors earned their benefits by working and paying into the system.”

Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, and Robby Stern, President of the Puget Sound Advocates for retirement Action, co-signed a letter to Sens. Cantwell and Murray thanking them for signing Sanders letter and ‘for being a consistent and strong advocate for this program.”

“We know you have a great understanding of the Social Security program and a commitment to protecting and preserving it for generations to come,” Johnson and Stern wrote to Washington’s Senators. “We genuinely appreciate your commitment and are proud to have you representing us in this effort.”

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