Robbing Grandma to Reward Wall Street

When I grew up in Texas, the dance we all learned was the Texas
two-step. But times have changed. The next big dance these days could
be called the Social Security double shuffle. A good number of senators
are waltzing to the music of the "let's cut Social Security" crowd by
trying to sell a solution to the deficit designed to hack apart the
government-guaranteed retirement plan we've had since the 1930s.

Led by Budget Committee members Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd
Gregg (R-NH), they're pushing a bipartisan Commission for Responsible
Fiscal Action to solve the country's red-ink problem. Sounds pretty
good on the surface. Who's not for responsible fiscal action? Trouble
is, this kind of commission subverts the democratic process. It uses a
fast-track approach that forces Congress into an up-or-down vote on its
recommendations. No debate, no amendments, no consulting with

Though such a commission is supposed to consider all options
for cutting the deficit, many see it as an attack on elders. "It is
clear from their press release that Senators Conrad and Gregg have
painted a big red target on Social Security and Medicare," Senator Max
Baucus (D-MT) warned. "That's what this commission is all about. It's a
big roll of the dice for Social Security and Medicare." Public interest
groups like the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, a coalition
of national not-for-profit organizations focused on the well-being of
America's 87 million older adults, oppose the idea too.

Women's groups are particularly outraged at the Senate penchant
for dancing with Wall Street fat cats. Whether we like it or not, women
are still the majority of low-wage workers in the United States. That
means they have less to contribute to the system, and lower returns
when they retire.

"The average Social Security recipient receives $13,860
annually, less if you are a woman. The fact that Senators Conrad and
Gregg think the way to fix budget shortfalls is to make seniors poorer
is shocking and laughable first, because Social Security doesn't
contribute in any way to the national deficit, and second, because
essentially Congress has allowed $150 billion in Wall Street bonuses,"
stated Ashley Carson, executive director of the Older Women's League.
"Robbing grandma to reward Wall Street fat cats is not sound

Women are far less likely than men to have a company-provided
pension, and when they do get one, it's most often based on a lifetime
of lower earnings. So women depend on Social Security more than men.
Women are also the majority of caretakers when a spouse dies and leaves
young children (who draw Social Security until they're 18). Many
single-parent families couldn't make it without this feature of Social
Security-but nobody's talking about what will happen to disability and
survivor payments if the system is shredded.

Widows would lose too-and women who get divorced. Social
Security now protects both groups with guaranteed benefits based on
spousal earnings, even if they tended home and hearth while hubby went
out to work. Without Social Security, an astonishing 59.2 percent of
elderly women would live in poverty.

Neither Wall Street, nor an unaccountable commission, brought
us to a national retirement system with guarantees we can't outlive,
payments that are indexed to inflation, and benefits that help the
middle and lower earners more than the rich. That came to us courtesy
of a forward-looking congressional leadership that created a system
which spends less than one percent of its revenue to administer the
largest benefit program in America.

And one more thing: Social Security isn't part of the deficit problem-it actually ran a $180 billion surplus last year.

Even if this commission is shot down this time around in the
Senate, it's bound to be back. Bad ideas have a way of doing that. Let
the Budget Committee barons shuffle across the floor with the big
gamblers on Wall Street if they want to. Just don't ask ordinary
people, particularly women, to pay the piper with reduced retirement

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