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Labor Notes

Billionaire Launches Campaign to Slash Social Security

Why does a billionaire want to take away your Social Security benefits? on_no_you_dont.jpg

Peter Peterson is 84 years old. He's old enough to relax and enjoy the fruits of the years he was well paid for managing other rich people's money. Why is he spending his fortune to convince politicians they should ruin the average guy's retirement?

Today Peterson announced the next facet in his long campaign to hack Social Security, including a joke Presidential candidate named Hugh Jidette ("huge debt") and a website called Owe No. His aim is to convince Congress to raise the retirement age, cut Social Security's cost-of-living increases-and raise the payroll taxes we pay for Social Security and Medicare.

It wouldn't matter what one cranky octogenarian billionaire had to say if he weren't putting $6 million into ads, funding "expert" commissions, and spreading lies designed to panic the populace.

Maybe Peterson figures offense is better than defense-he's got a lot to defend. He made his fortune as a hedge fund manager-that is, moving money around-so he ought to be living in fear. Someone might get the idea he and his buddies would be good folks to tax. It's like Willie Sutton, the famous bank robber, once said. Asked why he robbed banks, Sutton replied, "Because that's where the money is."

Peterson and pals are the ones George Bush gifted with big tax breaks that are set to expire December 31. Although he says his top priority is reducing the deficit, Peterson doesn't want to cut that deficit by putting his own taxes back where they were in the 1990s.


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It's hard to get your head around how rich Peterson is, and how many rich people there are in this country. But here's how to put their money in perspective, in relation to Social Security. If Congress decides to extend those tax cuts, for households making $250,000 or more (the top 2 percent of earners), the money the Treasury will lose would be enough to put Social Security in the black for 75 years--and raise benefits by 2 percent.

First They Took Your House

Meanwhile, we have a big chunk of near-retirees today who have barely seen their wages rise at all during their working lifetimes, the last 30 years. They couldn't save a huge amount; what they saved they had in home equity. And that was wiped away by the financial shenanigans of Peter Peterson and his ilk. There are millions of potential retirees who will have next to nothing except Social Security if they're ever able to retire. It wasn't enough for Wall Street to rob us of our houses' worth and what we had in 401(k)s. Now they want to take Social Security too.

Like I said, I don't understand it. Is there no shuffleboard court where this man could spend his golden years?

A friend wrote to me today. He's working his butt off to keep Congress from raising the retirement age and cut back Medicare. He said:

My mother was an LPN in a nursing home. The last few years that she worked, her back and legs ached so much that she literally had to crawl up the stairs to her bedroom at night. If someone told her that she would have to work three more years before retirement because hedge fund managers don't want to pay the same percentage of their income towards Social Security as she did, she would tell you what to do.

A slew of organizations is organizing a Call-In Day to Congress November 30. That's the day before President Obama's deficit commission is set to release its recommendations for raising the retirement age. They're saying "Owe No You Don't"-the goal is to create a groundswell of outrage that will make the recommendations dead on arrival. Find out more at and see Labor Notes' package of fact sheets and info.

Jane Slaughter

Jane Slaughter started working with Labor Notes in 1979, eventually serving as editor and director. She is the author of Concessions and How To Beat Them and co-author, with Mike Parker, of Choosing Sides: Unions and the Team Concept and Working Smart: A Union Guide to Participation Programs and Reengineering. Her work has appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, and Monthly Review, among others. She covers Teamsters, auto, and the UE.

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