THE BLOG

Selling Out America's Youth: An Open Letter to Alan Simpson

12/10/2012 05:27 pm ET | Updated Feb 09, 2013

Dear former Senator Alan Simpson,

I've seen you on television chatting up your debt reduction proposal with Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, Savannah Guthrie of the Today Show and Bob Schieffer of Face the Nation. And while you come across as a likable guy, your claim to be working on behalf of the next generation of young Americans is bogus. Here's why.

You see, your argument rests on a big myth: that in order to save Social Security and Medicare for the young, you have to cut our benefits. This couldn't be further from the truth. There are fairer ways to ensure that these pillars of American progress stand the test of time. One option includes making wealthy individuals pay more by lifting Social Security's cap on wages, currently set at $110,100.

Despite several members of Congress introducing legislation to this effect, you are not telling people about this solution. Is it because the Wall Street donors who are backing your multi-million dollar campaign to "fix the debt" by undermining the social safety net would be against increasing taxes on themselves? Sounds plausible.

You have also failed to point out that through cuts to Medicare and Social Security's earned benefits you would be making our children and grandchildren pay for a deficit created by the same irresponsible people who now want our youth to pick up the tab. A report by the nonpartisan National Academy of Social Insurance shows just how much today's children and grandchildren would be shortchanged if just one of the proposals in your plan were enacted.

Under your plan, today's 35-year-olds who earn a wage of $43,000 (in 2010 dollars) and retire at the age of 65 in 2040 would stand to lose $1,300 in Social Security retirement payments per year for the rest of their lives. If the 35-year-old lives until the age of 78, he or she would lose almost $17,000 in real money! Amazingly, you would stick it to your grandchildren even more. Your plan would cause a 5-year-old child today who retires at the age of 65 in the year 2070 to lose $2,627 per year for the rest of their lives. If this is what you call saving the programs for today's youth, then please let us drown.

Oh, that's right, many of us are already drowning. Which brings me to the other big myth you are pushing: that our young will be able to shoulder the cost of these cuts. Mr. Simpson, you forget that today's young are the children of the recession generation. They reside in households that have been burdened by debt, foreclosures, rising poverty rates and unemployment. This "lost generation" of young adults entering the workforce today face daunting obstacles to finding jobs, much less employment that provides adequate retirement benefits. Because of these factors, our youth will face a retirement catastrophe that will be made even worse if your plan was enacted.

You have also been asserting a third myth: that Social Security and Medicare are responsible for the deficit and debt. Again, you bend the truth. Your talking points are designed to make Americans forget that the reason why we are in this economic ditch is because of ill-conceived policy decisions that burdened our nation with unfunded tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations and unfunded wars abroad while also enabling the excesses of Wall Street that led to the twin housing and financial crises.

Sadly, in several of your recent media appearances you have found it necessary to disparage AARP and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, organizations that you falsely claim look out for the interests of the old at the expense of the young. For your information, I am 41 years old and I chair the board of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (and there are other younger board members as well). By working to protect and strengthen our social safety net, the National Committee serves not just retirees but the millions of children and working age adults who currently rely on these programs for survivor and disability benefits. While the memberships of the National Committee and AARP may be older, they are working hard to ensure that Social Security and Medicare are secure for future generations.

It is with a heavy heart that I have witnessed members of the media and prominent Republicans and Democrats buying into your tomfoolery. The Republican preference to "cut entitlement spending" without any revenue increases suggests that they are not only willing to have our kids pay for the debt but also subsidize the cost of additional tax breaks for wealthy individuals and companies. And shameful efforts by some Democrats to advocate for cuts you propose like the chained CPI, a reduction in the annual cost of living adjustments of government-paid benefits, would hurt not just retirees, but also current and future military veterans, the disabled and their families.

It is a sign of the degenerating values of some of our nation's leaders that they are willing to sell out young Americans for political convenience and economic advantage. Yet, I am hopeful that more responsible heads will prevail and point our nation towards fair debt reduction measures that, coupled with strategic investments that strengthen our economy, lead us towards long term and sustainable prosperity.

But in order to create space for these wise men and women, you and your co-conspirators must be stopped. For what you are selling is not generational protection but generational theft.

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is President of Global Policy Solutions, Board Chair of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and Co-Chair of the Commission to Modernize Social Security.