By ROBBY STERN
(Mar. 27, 2014) — This past weekend, Rep. Adam Smith (D-9th) announced at his town hall meeting that he would co-sponsor the Strengthening Social Security Act, HR 3118, becoming the third member of Washington’s Congressional delegation to support this legislation. Along with Reps. Jim McDermott (D-7th) and Rick Larsen (D-2nd), Smith has now stepped forward to support eliminating the cap. (Just Scrap the Cap!)
Social Security payroll tax contributions are only paid on wages up to $113,700 in 2013. The less than 6 percent of Americans who make more than that don’t pay a penny beyond that cap to keep the system healthy. While some in Congress want to ensure the Social Security system’s long-term viability by cutting benefits, HR 3118 takes the fairer, more responsible approach by getting rid of that cap so that wealthier people pay Social Security taxes on all of their earnings like the rest of us do.
The legislation uses the additional revenue not only to shore up the system’s long-term finances, but also to increase benefits by an average of more than $80 per month. It also changes the formula for calculating the annual cost of living adjustment to the CPI-E, the consumer price index for the elderly. This index better reflects the health care costs faced by Social Security recipients.
Nancy Altman, the co-chair of the national coalition Social Security Works, says Rep. Smith’s support is significant. We are moving closer and closer to having more than 50% of the House Democratic Caucus signing in support of the legislation.
Never has the need to strengthen Social Security been more important. The decision by the Boeing Co. to blackmail Machinists union members to give up their defined-benefit pension is the most recent example of the avaricious and irresponsible actions being foisted on U.S. workers by corporate America. While we must continue to fight for the preservation and strengthening of private and public defined-benefit pensions, we also want to bring all generations together to fight for a stronger Social Security program that will offer the opportunity for a secure retirement for all workers.
The struggle to Scrap the Cap began more than a decade ago. The phrase was actually coined by Will Parry and first promoted by the predecessor organization that is now Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action. PSARA took the concept public in a national way four years ago when we brought a resolution to the national Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) convention. The national organization was not yet ready to take this policy position so the resolution was tabled and referred to the national executive board. Some time later, the ARA adopted the proposal, as did the national Social Security Works coalition in Washington, D.C.
Despite the setback at the ARA convention, PSARA continued the campaign, convening a coalition along with our partners the Economic Opportunity Institute. Social Security Works-Washington (SSW-WA) became the vehicle for advancing the campaign to strengthen Social Security. We decided to focus on our Congressional delegation.
The first elected representative to agree to publicly support Scrapping the Cap was Rep. Jim McDermott at the MLKCLC Labor Day Picnic three years ago. He was followed by Rep. Larsen when he dramatically announced his support at a Social Security forum sponsored by SSW-WA held at Everett Community College.
During the 2012 Congressional campaign, candidate Suzan DelBene (D-1st) announced her support for Scrapping the Cap, although she has not yet agreed to co-sponsor HR 3118.
So far, no one else in the Washington Congressional delegation has agreed to support Scrapping the Cap. That is the task that lies ahead for all of us. We need to win the support of Reps. DelBene, Derek Kilmer (D-6th) and Denny Heck (D-10th) for HR 3118 AND we need to win the support of Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell for the Senate companion bill, S 567.
The need could not be greater. As the baby boomers age, there is an exponential increase in the number of seniors. The U.S. ranked 19th in retirement security for the second year in a row, according to a report from Natixis Global Asset Management. To quote from the report, “U.S. retirees are facing worse conditions for their golden years than retired workers in many other developed countries — from Canada and the United Kingdom to South Korea.”
As PSARA works to help build a progressive movement in our region that promotes both needed reforms and systemic change, it is our goal that part of the discussion of that movement include retirement security for all generations, both for those of us now in our senior years and for the generations to follow.
Let’s start by winning the support of our Congressional delegation for strengthening Social Security!
Robby Stern is President of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, chairs Social Security Works-Washington, and serves on the Executive Board of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. For more information, visit www.PSARA.org.