Well-heeled politicians in D.C. of both major parties spent months trying to terrify everyone about the new plague — government debt and deficits. On July 6, after decades of GOP drooling over Social Security and Medicare funds, the nation’s Democrat president declared his readiness to put these key social programs on the chopping block.
On Aug. 2, lawmakers made a deal to raise the debt ceiling at the last minute. They appointed a Super Committee of themselves with astonishing power to write legislation to slash social services and protect the rich.
Then the president made a grand speech to Congress and the nation on Sept. 8 to propose the “American Jobs Act.” His answer to the U.S.’s unrelieved joblessness? Tax incentives to private sector employers supposedly to create jobs (paid by reducing funding for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid). But with no mention of any public works programs.
They must be hoping that working people will just stand aside and watch their vital social safety net go down the drain, and jobs disappear forever. But disgust with Wall Street’s politicians and intense demands for truthful information are flooding the air waves, town halls, editorial pages and blogosphere. Here are some basic facts, and a few of the lies they refute.
What is Social Security? A federally-administered insurance program won in 1935 during the Great Depression, after huge strike waves and public unrest. Seventy percent of Social Security funds go to retirees, 15 percent to disabled workers under 65, and 15 percent to survivors and dependents of deceased workers. As the Unemployed League of the 1930s said, “It’s not enough to live on, and just too much to die on.” But without it, nearly 50 percent of elders over 65 would be impoverished.
The money for Social Security comes solely from payroll taxes on wage income. So it’s a working-class program that pays for itself and does not contribute to government debt. On the books, it has a $2.6 trillion surplus. But the government has “borrowed” that reserve to pay for other things — like wars, and Bush’s $2.8 trillion tax cuts for the rich. So Congress and president don’t want to pay the loan back.
In 2010, the total number of dollars flowing into Social Security from payroll taxes was $781.1 billion. That includes over $7 billion a year from undocumented immigrant workers who cannot ever collect Social Security. Wall Street banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies and investment firms have long licked their chops at the prospect of privatizing all this dough. And now Obama’s jobs act calls for cutting Social Security payroll taxes (already done in 2010 and 2011). It should cut our income taxes instead!
What are Medicare and Medicaid? These are the two main federal healthcare programs. They came into existence in 1965 as a result of the civil rights and anti-war movements, and labor strikes of the tumultuous ’60s.
Medicare pays for hospital and medical care for people over 65 and some disabled people. If you can afford it, private supplemental insurance can be purchased for better medical coverage and prescription drugs.
Medicaid is overseen by the federal government, but managed by state governments, and paid for by both. It pays for minimal healthcare needs of 60 million poor people in the United States, under the age of 65 and mentally or physically unable to work. They need medical treatment and drugs, homecare help, wheelchairs and prostheses for spinal cord injuries, and more. Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal last May included cutting Medicaid by 35 percent!
None of these public programs are profitable for private business. Hence, capitalists are opposed to them, and Congress and the Executive Office are proudly pro-capitalist. All of them have benefited from hefty campaign contributions from big business, especially the banking and finance industry.
What’s to be done? The politicians’ job is to come up with a budget plan by Nov. 23 that cuts government spending by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, and does not increase taxes on the wealthy or touch bloated military spending. The Super Committee’s legislation will go to Congress for up-or-down votes by Dec. 23, with almost no debate and no amendments permitted. For certain, it will diminish the welfare of the majority of people in the country.
The working class has a pretty straightforward task. Spread the true facts, militantly defend social and healthcare services, build the struggle to dump capitalism once and for all. And while we’re at it, demand immediate solutions such as taxing big business and ending the wars.
Send feedback to Monica Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.