(This article is part of a joint publication between ThisCantBeHappening.net and Tarbell.org)
Watch out! Uncle Donald is coming for your and all your relatives’ Social Security and your Medicare!
The all-out attack on Social Security and Medicare, those two remaining standing edifices of the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, has begun in earnest with President Trump’s latest executive order calling for the postponement, until year’s end, of the payroll taxes by employees and employers that finance those critically important social programs.
Trump, in a public signing of his executive order, vowed, “If I’m re-elected,” to not just waive repayment of the deferred 6.2% FICA tax paid by both employers and employees to support Social Security benefits, and the 1.45% patrol tax paid by both employers and employees to support Medicaid, but to forgive it, meaning a loss of potentially billions of dollars for those programs. He went on to vow that if re-elected he would totally end the payroll tax — a totally unconstitutional move which, if allowed to occur, would destroy both programs.
Breaking update: As defenders and recipients of Social Security and Medicare benefits expressed alarm and outrage at Trump’s promise to eliminate the payroll tax for the two programs, the White House has sought to “walk back” the president’s threat, saying he “didn’t mean it.” But Nancy Altman, president of the organization Social Security Works, responded, “The White House is telling us not to believe our own eyes and ears.”
She added, “They are insisting that Trump did not mean what he said and ‘has no plans’ to defund Social Security.” She goes on to note that in his 2000 book “The America We Deserve,” Trump called for privatization of the system, and that since becoming president he has with each year’s proposed federal budget proposed cuts in Social Security.
Her advice: “The only prudent course for people who care about their earned Social Security is to defeat Trump this November.”
Unfortunately, many Americans have no idea what the FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) tax taken out of each paycheck actually is. They just look at their pay stub and see that the total earned for two weeks’ or a month’s work was reduced by 6.2 percent. They may understand that the second, smaller deduction of 1.45% goes to pay for Medicare, but since if they are not yet 65, and aren’t receiving Medicare health care benefits, they may not realize how important that deduction is.
Also unfortunate is that nowhere on their pay stub is it explained that one’s employer also paid an equal 6.2% FICA tax and 1.45% Medicare tax for each employee into those two federal trust funds.
In other words, like an old fashioned “defined benefit” pension or like most employer-sponsored 401K plans, every time an American worker has the FICA and Medicare tax deducted from a paycheck, the employer is required by law to match that amount as a “contribution” to those critically important funds that will pay for the worker’s retirement benefits and post-65 health care costs. Those two programs, of course, are also available to support workers who, for whatever reason, become disabled and cannot work, even before they reach age 62 (for Social Security) or 65 (for Medicare).
Since 63 million, or one-in-six of all Americans, receive benefits from Social Security (for one-in-five of those recipients who are married, and nearly half of those who live alone, that benefit covers at least 90% of their living expenses), and since 18% or close to one-in-five of all Americans, have their health care covered by Medicare, ending funding for these two programs would be catastrophic — especially for the nation’s elderly. It would also be catastrophic for those families with children who lost a working spouse, or for those non-working spouses, typically older women, who lose a working spouse and survive on the spouse’s Social Security benefit.
Social Security and Medicare are not just threads but are two central supporting cables orf the tattered “social safety net” in this dysfunctional American social system. Without them we will be living entirely in a Dickensian world of survival of the fittest, the elderly and disabled deprived of access to health care, as well as of funds for basic needs like food, rent, heat, electricity, a phone and transportation.
The irony here, which the mainstream corporate media are wholly missing or blotting out of their coverage of Trump’s latest executive order power-grab atrocity, is that in postponing or cancelling employee and employer FICA and Medicare payroll taxes, in the name of “stimulating” the economy, the only ones getting more money to spend will be those workers who are still employed and receiving a paycheck (people, in other words, who don’t need a bonus, because they’re still working) and their employers (who, if they’re still employing their workers, don’t need the extra money either). The people who need the stimulus money are the 30 million or more workers who have lost their jobs, and the 30 million more who didn’t have one even before the pandemic hit because of the uneven “recovery” of the economy from the last recession.
It’s the unemployed who need financial support and access to health care in this pandemic-induced depression, not the still employed! Talk about a “Doh!” moment!
Democrats, if they had even the flexible cartilaginous spines of a shark or ray, should decry this unconstitutional attack on Social Security and Medicare, calling what it is — an impeachable usurpation of Constitutional taxing authority — and should begin investigating it in the House immediately. (So far, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s most angry response was a quote from a Republican Senator, Ben Sasse of Nebraska!)
Presumptive Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden should be declaring his absolute support for the preservation and indeed improvement and expansion of both programs: Social Security and Medicare. Social Security, since its founding, was never intended to serve as the sole support of retired workers, who were expected to also be receiving pensions from their employers. Medicare, was established in 1965 at a time when health care was considerably cheaper in real dollars and has been chipped away at and increasingly privatized by its enemies in both parties to where people today on Medicare spend more on their health care as a percentage of income that their forebears were paying before the program was founded. Both need to be reworked and better funded to meet today’s needs, but in the meantime the support that is provided cannot be cut.
Unfortunately Biden, throughout his entire political career as a politician from the corporate state of Delaware, has been part of a bi-partisan cabal of politicians who have sought to undermine Social Security and Medicare, labeling them derisively “entitlements” and trying to either privatize the programs or make them need-based — in effect turning them from universal benefits into massive welfare programs. That, of course, is the surest way to ensure both programs’ rapid demise.
Perhaps in his senescence Biden will channel the better angels of both FDR and LBJ and will, during whatever campaigning he does from his basement in the last 12 weeks before the Nov. 3 election and going forward should he defeat Trump and become the next president, make both shoring up and expanding Social Security expanded and improved Medicare-for-All, a reality.
But that assumes that those who will be Biden’s handlers — largely a coterie of holdovers from the neo-liberal administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — will allow that to happen.
Since that seems unlikely though, it becomes critical that all Americans who care about the survival of Social Security and Medicare organize a spirited defense of those programs.
It’s not just the survival of those two programs that is at issue; it’s all of our own survival that’s at stake.
Kill off Social Security and Medicare and we will soon see millions of our elderly living in cardboard boxes and pushing their worldly belongings around in banged-up shopping carts. America would start resembling India, Bangladesh, Brazil and other places where poverty is ubiquitous, brutal and inescapable.
The battle to save Social Security and Medicare cannot be left to the complicit Democrats in Congress who, lavished with campaign cash (legal bribes) from the banking and investment and health care industries, have allowed the attacks on those programs to go on — even, like Biden participating in them in many cases — for decades. Rather, it will take all of us bringing our demand for a rejection of Trump’s treacherous executive defunding order, and for a firm commitment to bolster and expand both programs by all those seeking our votes. It will also require our taking to the streets both now, and after the election, whoever wins, to insure that these programs are protected and made more generous and expansive in their coverage.
It doesn’t have to be that way. All Americans need to recognize the importance of these programs to our neighbors, our relatives, to our children and to ourselves. That means that younger workers, who today are being deluged with scare stories from the right warning that Social Security is “going bust” and “won’t be there” for them when they reach retirement age, Younger workers also need to remember that even if they can somehow save enough to fund their retirement years (good luck with that!), their parents and grandparents, who paid into Social Security and Medicare over their entire working lives, will need those programs to survive. If the programs are killed off as President Trump has announced his intention of doing, keeping those older relatives alive and healthy will fall entirely on children and grandchildren, as it did before the establishment of those programs nearly a century ago.
Older people already receiving or close to receiving these programs’ benefits, cannot just think about preserving their benefits, but about keeping these programs healthy and available to their progeny for generations to come.
Remember, Roosevelt launched Social Security in the depths of what at that time was the worst economic collapse in the nation’s history. If that could be done then, we should be able to make it work better now in another period of serious economic and political crisis.
According to the Gallup Organization, 75 percent of Americans say that they don’t want Social Security benefits to be touched for any reason.
As for Medicare, not only is it one of the most popular public programs in the country, but according to a recent Harris poll, 69 percent of Americans, a number that inevitably includes not just Democrats and independents, but Republicans as well, support expanding the easy to use program to include all Americans, and not just the elderly and disabled as it stands now.
That’s an astonishingly powerful base upon which to build a political movement. And those numbers would be much higher if less well educated and less well informed Americans (the ones who back in the Tea Party movement days were carrying signs saying, “Keep your government hands off of my Medicare!”) were educated about the nature, operation and funding of both programs.
So let’s get this movement rolling! The attack has been launched. The militant movement of opposition to that attack now needs to be launched too. This is not a time for signing internet petitions. It’s time for organizing mass marches on Washington and all our major cities.
Sure it’s a pandemic, but by maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, and taking basic precautions involving transportation to the nearest rallies, we can do this!