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Democrats Defend Social Security on Multiple Fronts

Next week marks the 75th anniversary of Social Security, and in the official House Democratic talking points set next week as a time to discuss the program. But already, House members are defending Social Security, resisting efforts to cut it, and even working to strengthen it over the short and long term.

Gabrielle Giffords, a Blue Dog from Arizona, last week distributed a letter opposing any increase in the Social Security retirement age. She was seeking other co-sponsors for a sense of the House resolution to that effect. Her co-sponsors at the time of the letter included fellow Blue Dog Travis Childers (D-MS), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Laura Richardson (D-CA). Noting that 78% of the public in a recent poll opposes raising the retirement age, Giffords framed the choice sharply in the letter.

There is no denying that times are tough and we need to get our fiscal house in order, but let’s be honest, Social Security is not the cause of our budget crisis. In fact, the surplus within the Social Security trust fund is estimated to grow to $4.3 trillion by 2023.

Social Security is America’s most successful social insurance program, keeping nearly half of our nation’s senior citizens from falling below the poverty line. It is a promise that we have made to our seniors, and it is imperative that we keep our promise.

Top Democratic leaders like Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn have floated raising the retirement age to close the long-term actuarial imbalance in Social Security. Giffords, a Blue Dog, is unexpectedly leading the effort to stop them. In 2005, Democrats got full party unity against George Bush’s privatization scheme, and this effort from inside the Blue Dog caucus suggests that there’s residual understanding of the importance of the issue to voters.

In addition to Giffords, Rep. Ted Deutch, who replaced Robert Wexler early this year, introduced legislation to close the Social Security long-term gap through the most popular means: ensuring that everyone pays into the payroll tax on all of their salary, rather than only the first $106,000. It has enough money leftover to raise Social Security benefits through an adjustment of the Consumer Price Index.

“The Alliance for Retired Americans commends Congressman Deutch for introducing the Preserving Our Promise to Seniors Act. This legislation closes the 75 year funding gap of Social Security by slowly phasing out the cap on wages. The measure also provides enhanced benefits by creating a fairer cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) formula and guaranteeing supplemental benefits in non-COLA years. This legislation proves that Social Security can be protected for future generations without instituting benefit cuts on middle class Americans,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, a four million-member grassroots advocacy organization.

You expect this from Deutch, whose district has the highest concentration of seniors in the country. But Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), a Blue Dog who runs the Ways and Means Committee subcommittee with jurisdiction over Social Security, has introduced his own bill, the Seniors Protection Act of 2010, which would give a one-time benefit of $250 to Social Security recipients in 2011 if there is, as expected, no cost-of-living adjustment. This was a part of the stimulus package, and President Obama endorsed extending it early this year. Nancy Pelosi offered this praise of the action last week:

“The Seniors Protection Act provides Social Security recipients with a special payment that will help millions of Americans who rely on Social Security to make ends meet. Our legislation is fiscally responsible – it will be fully paid for, not adding a dime to the deficit – and it deserves bipartisan support from all Members of Congress.

“Congressional Republicans should stand behind the Seniors Protection Act and abandon their promises to pursue – once again – a risky scheme to privatize and cut Social Security, turning over our seniors’ retirements to the whims of Wall Street.

“Americans work their entire lives to earn Social Security. During this time of hardship in our economy, the Seniors Protection Act ensures that we uphold our bedrock promise of economic security for our nation’s seniors and retirees.”

You’re seeing a lot of action on a variety of fronts on this issue. It’s going to be hard for the cat food commission to swoop in and reverse that.

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David Dayen

David Dayen