ELN Statement on the Safety Net

ELN Statement on the Safety Net

A gigantic hoax is being perpetrated on the American people. The hoax is that in the foreseeable future Social Security and Medicare will go bust unless drastic cuts in benefits are adopted. The goal is to ensure that the working class and low income people pay through the nose if these two programs are to be made salvageable. Either that or privatize them.

The propaganda mills are working overtime to soften popular opposition to the measures that are already being put in place and the more Draconian ones projected to be enacted after the November elections.

While it is frequently claimed that there is a fundamental difference between the two major political parties over cutting benefits, the reality is that there is basic agreement between them on the need to do so. The differences come over how much and how soon.

To be sure, the Republicans are virtually unanimous in pushing for cuts. But the Democrats, with some dissenters to be sure, are in accord. President Obama has made clear that be believes “entitlements” must be cut. And when he addressed the Associated Press on April 3, he said, “I’ve got some of the most liberal Democrats in Congress who were prepared to make significant changes to entitlements that go against their political interests, and who said they were willing to do it.” Also, all six Democratic Party members of the ill-fated “Super Committee” announced their support for cuts, and were strongly criticized for having done so by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and many others.

This headline in the April 24, 2012 Wall Street Journal warns “Stress Rises on Social Security — Report Says Program Will Exhaust Reserves Three Years Earlier Than Expected.”

The article goes on to warn: “Social Security, which pays retirement and disability benefits to 56 million Americans, will exhaust its reserves by 2033, three years sooner than previously estimated, a new government report said Monday.

“The forecast raises pressure on the White House and Congress to tackle the entitlement program, which many politicians fear changing because of potential voter backlash.”

The article declared that Social Security will exhaust its reserves by 2033 and “the Medicare fund that pays for hospital benefits would be exhausted in 2024.”

But here’s the rub: None of the politicians pushing for cuts advocate ending the cap that permits those who receive more than $106,000 a year in income to stop paying the Social Security tax for the rest of the year. They could be taking in $100 million or more over the year but only be paying the tax on the first $106,000. Getting rid of this cap would, in itself, go a very long way in solving the Social Security “crisis.” We say, “ZAP THE CAP!”

Meanwhile the bipartisan drive in Congress to cut urgently needed safety net programs continues unabated and the movement to stop it in its track has yet to materialize.

The latest example of this is the measures Congress passed as a way to pay for the payroll tax reduction. As part of this deal, certain other issues were addressed, namely funding the continuation of unemployment compensation and paying doctors who treat Medicare patients.

Here is what Congress did:

  • Cut the maximum number of weeks unemployment compensation would be available from 99 to 63 in “average” unemployed states and 73 in high-unemployed states.
  • Cut $15 billion in pension benefits for government workers.
  • Cut $21 billion from health care spending, including $5 billion from the disease prevention fund.

The Obama administration hailed the deal, claiming that it proves that the two major parties can work together if only they put their minds to it. The media proclaimed what happened as a big victory for the administration.

But the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) denounced the legislation in the strongest terms. Political Action Committee and Issue Mobilization Director Bob Nicklas declared:
“We need to fight back because they smell blood. They’re coming after us. We’re not in a battle; we’re in a war. And we can’t win a war by being polite.” (emphasis in the original)

And AFGE president John Gage added: “I am outraged that lawmakers are willing to pay for this extension in unemployment insurance by forcing new federal workers to pay substantially more for their retirement. Going after the pay and benefits of working-class men and women does nothing to create new jobs in this country. We continue to pay massive subsidies to oil companies and bail out the banks that started this recession with their shady lending practices that caused millions of Americans to lose their homes. Explain to me how that makes any sense.”  

It makes no sense and what is needed to drive that point home is a mass mobilization of the working class and its allies. Otherwise the forces hell-bent on cutting safety net programs will likely have their way every time. If we in labor let individual unions like AFGE and the Treasury Workers take severe hits without all-out solidarity campaigns in their defense and without hitting the streets in Washington and elsewhere, then unions will continue to be picked off one by one.  

Last August Congress passed legislation providing for $600 billion in cuts across the board (with only a few exceptions) to nearly alldomestic programs effective January 1, 2013 if the Super Committee failed to propose anything to deal with the debt and deficit problems.

The National Education Association has warned about the devastating consequences of this bill to federal education programs for K-12 students if the cuts take effect in 2013 — “cuts such as haven’t been seen since the Reagan administration.” These include more than $1 billion in cuts to Title 1 grants to disadvantaged school districts, $900 million in cuts to special education programs, and $589 million in cuts to Head Start programs (which serve mostly low-income families).

The fight to cut the safety net programs will continue relentlessly. Any time any kind of spending proposal comes before Congress, the bipartisan coalition will again swing into action to decide which section of the working class will be forced to pay for it, while the millionaires and billionaires continue on their merry way with no sacrifice whatever. That is, unless the mass movement intervenes and prevents such travesties.

The Emergency Labor Network has long urged building the broadest possible united front in support of the demands: “No Cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Other Human Services Programs! Protect and Expand the Safety Net!” These demands reflect the will of the vast majority of the American people and the need now is to demonstrate that majority’s sentiment where it can make the difference: in the streets.

We also urge adoption of resolutions by unions, seniors and retirees groups, and community organizations embodying the above demands and encourage the organizing of forums, town meetings, letters to the editor, using the social media, and utilizing other means to convey those messages to the widest possible audience.

Consider what it would mean if the labor movement had its own independent political party, which would be fighting to implement its platform to  continue and expand the safety net programs, ensure retirement security, protect good paying pensions that workers can rely on which are not subject to cancellation by corporate mergers or courts, and provide quality health care for all. 

Isn’t it time for those of us in the labor movement to engage in a serious discussion on political independence from the two major corporate parties? And how, together, we can establish a party which is accountable to us and puts people over profits?

Issued by the Emergency Labor Network (ELN)

For more information write emergencylabor@aol.com or P.O. Box 21004, Cleveland, OH 44121 or call 216-736-4715 or visit our website at www.laborfightback.org. Donations gratefully accepted. Please make checks payable to ELN and mail to above P.O. Box.

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