When Republicans campaigned for the midterm elections they promised to address the budget deficit, create jobs, and control government spending. They have done nothing to create jobs and little to address spending cuts. They have been talking about cutting entitlement programs like Social Security with plans to raise the retirement age and cut benefits. On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner said he had made a mistake last June when he said raising the retirement age was a means of cutting Social Security benefits, and that he said it because, “I think having the conversation about how big the problem is is the first step,” and “once the American people understand how big the problem is, then you can begin to outline an array of possible solutions.”
There are many solutions to fixing Social Security, but Republicans are not prepared to address the real problems with the program. Before Republicans even start tinkering with Social Security, they have to stop calling it an entitlement program. Every working American pays in to Social Security for their working lives except for a very small segment of the population that are allowed to have private retirement plans. The individuals who do participate in private plans lost an average of 60% of their investment during the stock market crash in 2008.
Republicans propose privatizing Social Security to give workers’ retirement savings to Wall Street investors so when the next market crash happens, every working American will lose their retirement with no hope or guarantee of recouping their losses. Republicans could care less how many Americans lose everything because they receive excellent pensions for their Congressional service. Many people who contributed to private retirement plans will end up working into their 80s because of Wall Street investors’ malfeasance, and apparently, Republicans would rather give the money to investors than provide a decent retirement for Americans. There are other, more reasonable solutions for fixing Social Security than giving Wall Street investors control over peoples’ retirement income, but Republicans are not prepared to consider other options.
One option is to raise the cap on Social Security wages. Now, every American contributes the same amount up to $106,000; after that amount, the percentage decreases dramatically. If the percentage was the same for the worker making $40,000 as the executive making $1.2 million per year, the fund would be fine for decades. There is $2.6 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund now, and if nothing changes the program will remain solvent until 2037; so there is reason to raise the wage limit for the future fiscal health of the program. Republicans are not going to raise the cap any more than they are going to raise taxes on the wealthy or corporations.
Republicans can also stop giving tax breaks to companies that outsource manufacturing jobs for two reasons. First, Americans need jobs, and second, if manufacturing jobs come back to America, the workforce will start filling the Social Security coffers again and the future of the program will be secure for future generations of retirees.
If manufacturing jobs do return, workers will have to make more than minimum wage or else the program will not be as robust as it has been in the past. There are Republican legislators who want to abolish the minimum wage as unconstitutional to help corporations make more profits. It often appears that Republicans are deliberately trying to sabotage the program so they can find a reason to privatize it or abolish it altogether. When the program was first implemented and for several years after, Republicans tried to repeal the Social Security Administration just like they are trying to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act. Social Security has maintained itself for decades and Republicans want to get their greedy hands on the money to hand it over to Wall Street.
Last year was the first year that Social Security paid out more than it collected, and lower wages and lost jobs were a contributing factor. Another factor is that baby boomers are retiring in record numbers and without a workforce to contribute to the program, some measures must be taken or the program will run out of money after 2037. Social Security only works when each generation contributes to support current retirees, and privatizing it or raising the retirement age will not fix the problem.
John Boehner did not change his tune about raising the retirement age because he got a sudden case of altruism, but because older Americans vote and they vote in large numbers. They also have lived long enough to have seen the stock market tank and are unwilling to support privatizing Social Security. All Americans have witnessed corporations and big businesses ship jobs out of the country with the blessing and assistance from the Republican Party, so when they hear the program is in trouble (which it is not), they know that good paying jobs will replenish and strengthen the program.
Boehner knows that Americans will not support the options Republicans are proposing to make Social Security solvent, but he is not looking at the options that will strengthen the program and help working Americans now. The only options Republicans talk about are raising the retirement age, cutting benefits, and privatizing the system. No Republicans have addressed increasing the cap on wages or ending tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs because neither benefits the wealthiest Americans. Republicans made the problem worse in the lame duck Congress by insisting that Social Security tax be lowered for a year resulting in lost revenue for the program.
Republicans will not have to do anything to fix Social Security if they stop giving preferential treatment to the rich and corporations. If they eliminate the cap on wages so every American pays the same percentage to Social Security, the program will remain solvent. If they eliminate tax breaks for corporations that ship good paying jobs overseas, the program will remain solvent. However, Republicans will have to make a major philosophical adjustment and begin looking out for the interests of working-class Americans instead of the wealthy and corporations. Since they will never make that policy shift, Americans will languish in poverty now, and in their retirement years. That is acceptable to Republicans though, because their donors keep them happy now and the government will give them fat pensions when they leave office. Living, working and retiring in this country was once called the American dream; under Republican policies, it is becoming a nightmare; depending on one’s income level.