Social Security reform

By Chellie Pingree | Oct 18, 2019

The Great Depression was a turning point for our country. $26 billion of wealth completely disappeared overnight; unemployment exceeded 25 percent; 10,000 banks failed. The volatility of American markets devastated the economic security of rich and poor families alike. People stood for hours in bread lines for a ration of food that they could no longer afford.

President Franklin Roosevelt proposed the New Deal to create a social safety net to mitigate human suffering if an economic downturn ever happened again. President Roosevelt’s Labor Secretary, Frances Perkins—a Mainer and the first woman to hold a Cabinet post—was the principal architect of the New Deal. She hatched the idea for Social Security, a program that still supports the well-being of elderly Americans and people with disabilities.

Under this innovative plan, workers contributed a small portion of their paychecks towards their future financial security. Since President Roosevelt signed Social Security into law on Aug. 14, 1935, tens of millions of people have received support from the program. As we speak, 344,482 Mainers are current Social Security beneficiaries. As the oldest state by population and home to many retirees, Social Security helps to ensure that Mainers can live without worry.

So much has changed in the more than 80 years since Social Security was established. Company pension plans are almost non-existent, skyrocketing tuition bills have put a dent in the ability of parents to save for retirement, and the mobility of our workforce creates roadblocks to building 401(k)s. The truth is that Social Security is no longer just one leg of a three-legged plan of savings, pensions, and Social Security. For too many, Social Security is the only plan for retirement, and we need it to evolve to address these changes.

I find it outrageous that the conversation about Social Security in Washington has often been about how to restrict benefits by either privatizing the Trust Fund, raising the retirement age, limiting cost-of-living adjustments, or reducing benefits. We have to change the conversation and focus on how to best expand Social Security to ensure that seniors and the disabled can live with dignity. That is why I joined the Expand Social Security Caucus, which supports policies to protect and expand Social Security and secure its long-term future in a fair and responsible manner.

I’m an original cosponsor of H.R. 860, the Social Security 2100 Act, which would include an immediate two percent raise in benefits, change the formula for Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA) to more accurately reflect the price increases that seniors face, and protect benefits from being subject to income taxes. For low-income beneficiaries, this bill would set a minimum benefit at 25 percent above the poverty line.

Social Security has long been a vital program for Mainers. We’re at a critical juncture for its long-term success, and it is our duty as elected officials to make sure it endures long into the future. I’m proud to represent Maine in the House, and I’ll fight against attacks on programs that support our seniors and people with disabilities. It has never been more important to fight for the issues that matter most.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Oct 19, 2019 17:53

“Stephen Moore (senior fellow at the Cato Institute, contributing editor of National Review and president of the Free Enterprise Fund) wrote, "Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state. If you can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare state." - How Can the Richest 1 Percent Be Winning This Brutal Class War Against 99% of Us?,

“Old people really aren’t living that much longer than they did when Social Security was originally established. And those who do live longer are primarily in the top half of income earners. Interestingly, the tax that funds Social Security is capped, which means that the lower income earners, who aren’t living as long, are effectively paying for the longer retirement years of the upper income earners. Only in America.”  -

“Proposing to cut an individual’s Social Security in exchange for other benefits is a new tactic in the ongoing Republican war on Social Security. Since the program is too popular for them to directly cut or privatize, they apparently are now testing a strategy of forcing people to choose between important economic needs. This involves treating Social Security like a piggy bank rather than the insurance that it is. "

Reagan spent every dime of the surplus Social Security revenue, which came in during his presidency, on general government operations. His successor, George H.W. Bush, used the surplus money as a giant slush fund, and both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush looted and spent all of the Social Security surplus revenue that flowed in during their presidencies. So we can’t blame the whole problem on Reagan. Reagan was the one who figured out a way to use Social Security money as general revenue, and his successors just followed his example.

The $2.7 trillion, which is alleged to be in the trust fund, was all spent for wars, tax cuts for the rich, and other government programs. If the money is repaid at some point in the future, we could say is was just “borrowed.” But no arrangements have been made to repay the money, and nobody in government is suggesting that the money should be repaid. So, if it is never repaid, the money will definitely have been stolen."
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Posted by: ROBERT W. KNAPP | Oct 19, 2019 14:07

One change that should be made is the spousal benefit. If I'm married for 10 years and divorce, then marry again for 10 years and divorce and remarry and die, all three of my wives will receive 100% of my monthly benefit. Wonder who came up with this waste of money.  Social Security is and was meant to be a safety net, not a retirement plan.   If I pay into an annuity, I get to deduct my cost when receiving distributions. But with SS benefits, I never recover my cost and pay tax on all distributions. Certainly not fair taxation.

Posted by: George Terrien | Oct 19, 2019 10:01

Thank you, Representative Pingree, and commenter Mr. Horvath, for expressing the truth on this issue so clearly.  Perhaps those with the most to lose have accumulated sufficient wisdom to persuade others who have supported the alternate universe of alternative facts,  We all need to understand the significance of what is being considered:  the theft of already-strained funds that had been intended for decades to alleviate the poverty of aging, and the commitment of resources needed to address those who have earned society's appreciation and support.

Who are we as a people and a nation if we will not take care of our elderly?  At the best, woefully shortsighted, and much worse, a culture of destitute values.

We can, and must, do much better.

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Oct 19, 2019 07:43

“Every pay period, starting with our first jobs, America’s workers contribute to Social Security. The program uses those funds to pay all benefits and related administrative costs. Social Security does not add even a penny to the deficit, as Republican President Ronald Reagan so clearly stated when he was president.

When Social Security runs a surplus, Social Security holds the funds in trust. Social Security currently has a $2.9 trillion accumulated surplus. In the guise of a so-called balanced budget amendment, 233 members of the House of Representatives just voted to pretend that the accumulated surplus does not exist.

Ninety-seven percent of Republicans just voted to steal those past contributions. They voted, in effect, to not pay back hardworking Americans when those funds will be needed to pay their earned benefits. (Ninety-six percent of Democrats voted to honor their commitment to the American people.)

That 233 politicians would vote to steal this money is shameful. It helps explain the low regard the American people have for Congress. Fortunately for Social Security beneficiaries, the amendment did not attain the two-thirds majority required to pass the House. But those who voted for it are now on the record in support of stealing the American people’s earned Social Security benefits.”

-Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works

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