Stop the Social Security Privateers
Republicans in Congress appear determined to overrule the public not only
in the matter of the impeachment of Bill Clinton but also in efforts to
privatize Social Security in order to "save" it.
While public attention is focused on the impeachment melodrama, Republicans
continue their crusade to privatize Social Security, despite solemn pledges
made during the past election campaign to save the popular retirement program.
With Clinton in search of a legacy and the Republicans not in much of a
mood to give him anything else, the privateers hope the President will come
around to a compromise. Working people need to bolster the Democrats defending
Social Security and let the privateers know that they tinker at their peril.
The privatization schemes would divert a portion of payroll taxes into personal
retirement accounts that would be invested in stocks or other securities.
Not only would this enrich securities dealers, but it also would begin driving
the wedge between high-income contributors--who have the most to gain from
privatization--and lower-income Social Security contributors, who do better
under the current system.
Republicans have attracted some support from Democrats in the Senate, particularly
Daniel Moynihan of New York, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and John Breaux of Louisiana.
But most Democrats so far have resisted privatization, which would introduce
risk into a system dedicated to providing a legally guaranteed core retirement
income and would require deep cuts in benefits. The National Commission
on Retirement Policy found that privatization would reduce guaranteed monthly
benefits by 30% or more, raise the retirement age to 70 and cut disability
payments. Clearly one of the reasons Democrats gained five seats in the
House this past November was voter unease about leaving Republicans in charge
of "reforming" Social Security.
As we have noted several times before, the gloom-and-doom forecasts for
Social Security assume a level of economic growth in the next 75 years that
is half the rate we have seen over the past 75 years. Even the Great Depression
in the 1930s showed a greater growth rate than the moribund 1.8% the conservative
actuaries plugged in to threaten Social Security with a potential shortfall
40 years down the road. A more realistic 2.4% growth rate would leave the
fund flush with cash for the next 75 years and no "fix" needed.
However, even if you assume that moribund economic growth, the pundits in
D.C. don't even admit that simply lifting the $68,400 limit on taxable wages
not only would solve any problems, but it might allow us to give lower-income
workers a payroll tax break. Maybe the bigshots don't talk about that solution
because they all make well over $68,400, so that solution would come out
of their pockets.
Let your member of Congress know that any reduction in Social Security benefits
or extension of the retirement age--as most privatization plans assume--is
unacceptable. Call them at 202-224-3121.
The betrayal of Social Security will not go down quietly. The New Century
Alliance for Social Security is a progressive coalition to make sure the
Third Rail of American politics shocks anybody who messes with it. Some
170 heads of citizen organizations have joined the fight, including John
Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, who said Social Security is labor's number
one priority "and we have already begun mobilizing for what will be
the most aggressive grass roots campaign in the history of the AFL-CIO"
to protect it. Jesse Jackson noted after the general election that black
and working-class voters had put Newt Gingrich on the midnight train back
to Georgia and added, "there are a few available seats left" for
politicians who want to mess with Social Security. Sharon Daly, vice president
of social policy for Catholic Charities, noted this was the first time she
and Patricia Ireland of the National Organization for Women had worked together.
"And I think the Catholic Church will be very active in the debate
over the future of Social Security," Daly added.
As for impeachment, we are not great fans of Bill Clinton and we don't enjoy
defending his behavior, but the Republican inquisition into his personal
life presents a far greater threat to the republic--and to progressives--than
his attempt to cover up an affair that had nothing to do with his official
duties. That inquisition, orchestrated among congressional leaders, "independent"
counsel Ken Starr and the right-wing groups that financed Paula Jones' lawsuit
that entrapped Clinton amounts to little more than the legal harassment
of a sitting president in an attempt to force him out of office.
We do not believe that the President's statements in his deposition or to
the grand jury amounted to the legal definition of perjury, but we think
the federal court, after Clinton is out of office, is the proper venue to
try that fact.
Both Clinton and the sanctimonious congressional majority have undermined
confidence in government with their conduct in this case. At this writing
the Republicans are grumbling because they had to hold off their impeachment
vote until after Clinton is finished bombing Iraq. GOP leaders reportedly
believe that voter anger at impeachment will cool well before the elections
in 2000. We know enough Republicans disgusted with the impeachment obsession
to believe that the impeachment vote will satisfy the hard liners in the
GOP's right wing at the expense of the moderates, who will be up for grabs
the next election. We agree with Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, who warned
pro-impeachment members of Congress, "History will track you down and
condemn you for your cravenness."
James P. Hoffa has a formidable challenge ahead of him as he takes over
the presidency of the 1.4 million member International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The son of the legendary longtime labor boss defeated the relatively unknown
reform candidate Tom Leedham of Portland, Ore., by 55 to 39 percent (a third
candidate got 6%) in elections that concluded last month. Jim Hoffa, a 57-year-old
lawyer, takes over a union that has been run by a federal overseer since
1989. He won on the strength of his late father's name, with the support
of the union's old guard, many of whom were the ones who got the union in
trouble and were stripped of power after Ron Carey was elected in 1991 on
a pledge to reform the union. Unfortunately, Carey supporters were found
to have illegally funneled union money into the campaign for Carey's re-election
in 1996, when Carey narrowly won re-election. The election was nullified
and Carey was barred from running again.
Hoffa promised to continue the fight against union corruption; protect members'
democratic rights within the union; allow open debate and dissent; eliminate
costly perks for international union officers and cap their salaries; balance
the cash-strapped union's budget without a dues increase; and refuse to
give money to anti-union politicians. He also promised to make UPS deliver
the 10,000 new full time jobs the union won in last year's strike; organize
Overnite Transportation; negotiate a good contract for Teamster carhaulers;
take on Anheuser Busch to win job security provisions; and stop the trucking
provisions of the NAFTA trade deal.
If he can do all that he will be a hero. We frankly don't trust the Junior
Hoffa and we feel about his election the same way a friend of a recovering
alcoholic feels when he sees his buddy heading for the bar again. Perhaps
we would feel better about Hoffa's election if more than one-third of the
membership had voted, but that may have been a protest of the upheaval of
the past two years as much as anything. However, reformers, embodied in
Teamsters for a Democratic Union, need to keep the heat on Hoffa to follow
through on his pledges to continue the reforms.
Unions are entitled to run their own business as long as the rank and file
is fairly represented. The function of government is to preserve those rights,
as well as the long-neglected right to organize. That's why even non-union-members
should be interested in what goes on with the Teamsters and other unions.
-- Jim Cullen
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