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Sense and Social Security

January/February 2005 IBEW Journal

Before he even lifted his right hand to take the oath of office for a second term, George W. Bush was letting it be known that Social Security would be his prime domestic issueor should we say target?

The president made it clear he would shoot a good part of his wad of political capital earned in his landslide two-point victory on Social Security "reform." Everyone knows that Social Security will need some tuning up in the future, but it is not in dire, immediate danger as the Administration will have us believe. Our members in every branch know there is a world of difference between effective maintenance and a complete overhaul. What we have is a system that has created a level of dignity and security for senior citizens previously unknown, and that can be there for future generations if intelligent steps are taken.

I would be willing to cut President W. some slack if I thought he had the best interests of working families at heart. But an initial examination of the numbers shows that the so-called reform is part of the same snake oil he has been selling since day oneworking people have too much and need to get by with less.

The centerpiece of the presidents effort is the concept of private accounts, that is, allowing workers to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into personal accounts. Each worker would have direct control over his or her account, much like a 401(k) plan and could direct investment as he or she saw fit. Sounds great, doesnt it?

Theres just one catch. Try as they might, the Bush administration just cant seem to juggle the numbers enough to hide the fact that almost everyone would come out with less money under this proposal, while at the same time taking on a lot more risk. The Economic Policy Institute recently reported that even the presidents own commission studying Social Security, which used very optimistic projections, found that the average benefits under a system that mixed private accounts with base guaranteed benefits would fall 7 percent short of benefits scheduled under current law by the year 2022 and 12 percent by 2042. Economists at Goldman Sachs, about as Wall Street establishment as you can get, estimate that by 2075, a medium-income, one-earner couple would receive $254 less in monthly benefits under the presidents proposed plan. Youd have to fill up a lot of piggybanks to make up that difference. Those projections might seem like a long way off, but remember that the president is talking about long-term doom for Social Security, so looking well ahead is fair game.

And then there is the issue of who is lining up behind the president on this one. On New Years Day, The Washington Post reported that "several GOP groups close to the White House are asking the same donors who helped reelect Bush to fund an extensive campaign to convince Americansand skeptical lawmakersthat Social Security is in crisis and that private accounts are the only cure." One right-wing activist was quoted as saying that the target for fundraising could be as high as $100 million. You can just see it now: ads on national television to tout the virtues of control over your private accounts; talking points faxed to every right-wing radio talk show wingnut so they can all parrot the same line; doom mongering about the current Social Security system broadcast 24/7 on Fox News Network.

The big money boys are not going to spend $100 million on a lark. The idea of getting their hands on part of your Social Security money must be causing them to fill their drool cups to overflowing. The only problem is, they want to feather their nests with our feathers.

On this issue, I would especially like to reach out to our brothers and sisters who supported Bushs re-election. If this is not what you had in mind when you voted for the guy, please write and tell him so, and send a copy to your senators and congressmen, and me too.

Jeremiah J. OConnor

International Secretary-Treasurer


"I WOULD BE WILLING TO CUT PRESIDENT W. SOME SLACK IF I THOUGHT he had the best interest of working families at heart."