Behind the shock and awe of Alan Simpson's hate-filled letter to the California chapter of my organization -- he recently wrote that members of the Alliance for Retired Americans were "a wretched group of seniors" and "greedy geezers" -- lies a cautionary tale for workers and retirees: Beware of politicians looking for political cover to cut Social Security.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Social Security's death have been greatly exaggerated.
The little-known truth is that the Social Security Trust Fund has a $2.7 trillion surplus, enough to fully pay all benefits through 2033 and a vast majority through 2086. Mitt Romney and Alan Simpson and others spread these popular myths of gloom and doom to deflect attention away from a major cause of our deficits: unneeded tax breaks for the rich and big corporations.
The December 2010 recommendations of a fiscal commission co-chaired by Simpson continue to greatly influence the Social Security debate. Mitt Romney and GOP congressional leaders want to lower Social Security benefits and raise the retirement age to as high as 70. Romney, like George W. Bush before him, wants to privatize Social Security, putting seniors at risk while Wall Street profits from gambling Social Security savings on the stock market. A more responsible approach is one by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) to significantly strengthen the Social Security Trust Fund by removing a loophole that allows upper-income Americans to avoid paying their fair share in Social Security payroll taxes.
In the debate over Social Security's future, what often gets forgotten is that the average senior on Social Security must get by on just a little over $1000 each month. This stands in stark contrast to the lifestyle of Social Security critics like Simpson and Romney. Simpson, who became a business lobbyist after leaving the Senate, receives a $43,000 annual federal pension. Romney makes more by 6:00 a.m. on January 1 than many retirees do for the entire year. Both of them show a cold insensitivity to the daily needs of struggling seniors.
As a retiree, I am particularly upset by Simpson's repeated portrayal of seniors as selfish. Today's seniors raised children and grandchildren, built strong neighborhoods, and sacrificed for our nation to preserve its freedoms for future generations. Retirees who are fortunate to have economic security and good health want the same for their children and grandchildren when they reach this age.
Before Social Security, many people worked until the day they died. We have come a long way in this country, but we cannot let politicians like Alan Simpson and Mitt Romney turn back the clock on our progress.
Barbara J. Easterling is president of the Alliance for Retired Americans. She was previously the secretary-treasurer of the Communications Workers of America. For more information, visit www.retiredamericans.org or call 1-800-333-7212.