The majority of people assembled at Thomas Edison High School Monday night for U.S. Rep. James P. Moran's Town Hall Meeting on "The Future of Social Security" were critical of President George Bush's plan to privatize the program.
"Social Security is the most successful government program in the history of mankind. When it was launched in 1935 it transformed our society," Moran (D-8) told those gathered at the Franconia Road school in Lee District.
"It enabled families to plan their lives in a whole different way. It gave independence to both seniors and their children. It also defined what the Democratic party was about. Therefore, I believe this (Bush's plan) is politically driven. That is why it is Bush's centerpiece," Moran said. "And, I intend to fight it all the way."
Joining Moran was Barbara Kennelly, president and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and former congresswoman from Connecticut. During her tenure in Congress, Kennelly was the ranking Democratic member on the Social Security subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee.
"Remember one thing. Privatization of Social Security is not restructuring of Social Security, it is the dismantling of Social Security," Kennelly said.
"Bush never has believed in Social Security. When he ran for Congress, and lost, he said then that Social Security should be privatized," she said. "Bush is long on rhetoric and short on details when it comes to his plan to establish private accounts."
KENNELLY ALSO took a swipe at Bush's plan to spread democracy throughout the world. "You are very fortunate to have Jim Moran as your congressman. He and I served on the board of The Center for Democracy when I was in Congress. The goal of that body was to spread democracy throughout the world. Bush's idea is not new," she said.
"The Social Security Trust Fund is operating at a surplus. And that surplus is going to grow over the next decade. We'll have nearly $5 trillion in the fund by 2018," Moran said.
"We will be able to pay out benefits until 2052 and after that, for the next 40 years, those benefits will still be at 73 percent of today's level. The real crisis is in the federal budget deficit, not in Social Security," he said.
"When today's younger generation retires the interest alone on that deficit will be $12 trillion per year. That will only leave enough money in the federal budget for social security, Medicare and defense. There won't be enough for anything else," Moran said.
"And, the Bush plan for privatizing Social Security makes that deficit even worse. It will add another $6 trillion," he said.
"The real crisis today is in Medicare not Social Security. Medicare is going to be bankrupt. It is in real trouble. But, instead, we (the Congress) are focusing on Social Security," Moran said.
"The budget we got today only cut domestic programs. They only account for six percent of the total budget. But in Bush's budget they account for 100 percent of the reductions," he said.
KENNELLY NOTED that the nonprofit organization she serves, which has four million members, is "a nonpartisan group. We have members from both parties and they are all concerned about the proposal to privatize Social Security. My mandate from my members is to stop this proposal," she said.
"Even the Social Security Trust Fund trustees agree that we have a surplus through 2018. And, the shortfall until 2042 would only be approximately 25 percent of today's benefits," Kennelly said.
"Bush's plan will cut benefits by 50 percent for future generations. And, these cuts are mandatory for everyone. That even includes the disabled and survivors," she said.
"Social Security, traditionally, protects all the people from the hazards and accidents of life. Is it equal throughout society? No. It is a social safety net for everyone. There are those that benefit more than others and those that benefit less," Kennelly said.
She cited her own husband. "He went to work at age 14. He put himself through college and law school. But he died at age 64. He never collected a cent. But, another member of the family that was only in the workplace for three years lived to be 93 and benefitted all those years," Kennelly said.
"We are being asked to give up a very successful program for a pig in a poke. Social Security is much more than a retirement program. It is a disability program and an insurance program. There are many people, when the pay check stops the only thing left is Social Security," she said.
KENNELLY POINTED OUT two primary myths being circulated by Bush's advocates of privatizing Social Security. "The first myth we have to debunk is that Social Security is going broke. And the second is that these private accounts will be voluntary. I would call this anything but voluntary. It's more like a shotgun wedding," she said.
"The only way you can make sure your private account will benefit your heirs is if you can arrange to die when you're about 60," Kennelly said. "Every single penny you put into the private account is deducted from the guaranteed benefits," Moran added.
During the question and answer period there were those that expressed agreement with the Bush plan and challenged Moran and Kennelly to come up with an alternative. One attendee asked, "When will the Democratic Party present a viable alternative instead of just criticizing?"
Moran's answer was, "When we had a Democratic President in the White House we did have a plan to put Social Security in a surplus position. It was done by balancing the budget and reducing the national debt. Reducing that debt is the best way to protect the system."
Moran also went back to the need to save Medicare. "We will find a way to save Medicare. We do have a total healthcare crisis. And today's budget (sent to Capital Hill by Bush) made another $60 billion cut in medicaid," Moran said.
Making the point that privatization of Social Security would have its greatest negative impact on women, Moran said, "One third of single elderly women only have their Social Security check for income. This isn't so much actual politics as it is ideology."
He also cited the need to live up to the commitment to provide for those that fought in World War II. "They have been referred to as the greatest generation and we owe them the life we enjoy today. If it had not been for their sacrifices we would be living in a very different world today," he said.
Other points against privatizing Social Security presented to the audience included:
* 38 percent of Social Security benefits are paid to disabled workers, dependent children and survivors. Of the 47 million Americans collecting Social Security almost 18 million are not retired workers.
* Upon retirement, most privatization proposals require individuals to use the account funds to purchase annuity plus life insurance that can be paid out to survivors.
* Women represent 58 percent of all ages of Social Security beneficiaries and women live an average of four to seven years longer than men.
* Social Security has a cost-of-living adjustment to help keep up with inflation.
* Women are less likely to have an employer pension benefit than men. For those that do have a pension plan, the average private pension benefit for women is less than one half of the amount for men.
* The value of the life insurance provided to survivors through Social Security is over $400,000.
KENNELLY'S POSITION was summed up in an article to The Hartford Courant on Sept. 30, 2004. She wrote, "Social Security is about to be sold off to the highest bidder. Wall Street can barely wait to get its hands on the $940 billion in fees that it will collect if Social Security is converted ....
"Privatizers promise ownership of accounts and big investment returns. What they fail to mention are the costs — increased retirement risks, dramatic cuts in Social Security benefits and a multitrillion-dollar increase in federal borrowing.
"There is no free lunch in privatizing Social Security. Diverting money out of Social Security will create an even larger solvency problem ... Woe be to the person that retires in a falling market.
"The debate has finally begun. Private plans will dismantle Social Security. The alternative is making the difficult but reasonable choices that address the solvency of Social Security and keep a tried and true safety net for all Americans intact."