President Obama's Fiscal Commission -- charged with developing a bipartisan plan to stabilize the soaring national debt -- holds a public hearing June 30. Since Commissioner Alan Simpson, former Republican Senator from Wyoming recently became an instant You-Tube star with his tawdry rant against seniors, Social Security defenders have been on high alert about what's going on in the closed door meetings.
Simpson - nearly 80 himself - maintained that the founders of the program never expected anyone to actually live to 65 and collect. "People just died - Social Security was never [for] retirement," he instructed.
The program has always been an easy target for deficit hawks and budget cutters because it's so big -- the government's largest expenditure, just ahead of the Pentagon. But setting up a target isn't as easy as actually hitting it. George W. Bush found that out when he proposed privatizing the system so we could all invest in the likes of Enron, Lehman Brothers, General Motors, and Goldman Sachs. Thanks to a massive campaign by progressive interest groups, that proposal was shot down. But like Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street, the Nightmare of Cutting Social Security never dies -- it just returns in a new form every few years.
Tea-Partiers, egged on by Sarah Palin, were fond of claiming during the health care debate last summer that government "death panels" were going to off our grannies, even though it was an outright lie. Now that we have a much more serious and credible threat to the well-being of our elderly poor population (majority female) in the form of Fiscal Commission rumblings about cutting Social Security, Palin & company are strangely silent.
Not so the progressive groups that want to preserve the program. Ashley Carson, Executive Director of the Older Women's League and member of the Social Security Works coalition, points out that those same grannies the TPs have apparently forgotten about are the ones that will suffer the most if the program is cut.
Heidi Hartmann, President of the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, agrees. "Raising the retirement age and other ways of cutting benefits would all have a devastating effect on older women, many of whom live alone and depend mainly or entirely on Social Security."
The numbers bear this out. Women depend on Social Security more than men, and without it, close to 60% of elderly women would live in poverty. One reason is that women are far less likely than men to have a company-provided pension, and when they do get one it's most often based on a lifetime of lower earnings. So much for Simpson's "greedy geezers." Even younger women would suffer if the program is cut, since they are the majority of caretakers when a spouse dies and leaves young children, who draw Social Security until they're eighteen.
Simpson may have embarrassed some of less flamboyant members of the Fiscal Commission with his outburst, but it remains to be seen whether in their hearts they believe he's right. We'll know on June 30 - Is granny in the crosshairs once again?
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