Stop the Social Security Privateers

Republicans in Congress appear determined to overrule the public not only in the matter of the impeachment of Bill Clinton but also in efforts to privatize Social Security in order to "save" it.

While public attention is focused on the impeachment melodrama, Republicans continue their crusade to privatize Social Security, despite solemn pledges made during the past election campaign to save the popular retirement program. With Clinton in search of a legacy and the Republicans not in much of a mood to give him anything else, the privateers hope the President will come around to a compromise. Working people need to bolster the Democrats defending Social Security and let the privateers know that they tinker at their peril.

The privatization schemes would divert a portion of payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts that would be invested in stocks or other securities. Not only would this enrich securities dealers, but it also would begin driving the wedge between high-income contributors--who have the most to gain from privatization--and lower-income Social Security contributors, who do better under the current system.

Republicans have attracted some support from Democrats in the Senate, particularly Daniel Moynihan of New York, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and John Breaux of Louisiana. But most Democrats so far have resisted privatization, which would introduce risk into a system dedicated to providing a legally guaranteed core retirement income and would require deep cuts in benefits. The National Commission on Retirement Policy found that privatization would reduce guaranteed monthly benefits by 30% or more, raise the retirement age to 70 and cut disability payments. Clearly one of the reasons Democrats gained five seats in the House this past November was voter unease about leaving Republicans in charge of "reforming" Social Security.

As we have noted several times before, the gloom-and-doom forecasts for Social Security assume a level of economic growth in the next 75 years that is half the rate we have seen over the past 75 years. Even the Great Depression in the 1930s showed a greater growth rate than the moribund 1.8% the conservative actuaries plugged in to threaten Social Security with a potential shortfall 40 years down the road. A more realistic 2.4% growth rate would leave the fund flush with cash for the next 75 years and no "fix" needed.

However, even if you assume that moribund economic growth, the pundits in D.C. don't even admit that simply lifting the $68,400 limit on taxable wages not only would solve any problems, but it might allow us to give lower-income workers a payroll tax break. Maybe the bigshots don't talk about that solution because they all make well over $68,400, so that solution would come out of their pockets.

Let your member of Congress know that any reduction in Social Security benefits or extension of the retirement age--as most privatization plans assume--is unacceptable. Call them at 202-224-3121.
The betrayal of Social Security will not go down quietly. The New Century Alliance for Social Security is a progressive coalition to make sure the Third Rail of American politics shocks anybody who messes with it. Some 170 heads of citizen organizations have joined the fight, including John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, who said Social Security is labor's number one priority "and we have already begun mobilizing for what will be the most aggressive grass roots campaign in the history of the AFL-CIO" to protect it. Jesse Jackson noted after the general election that black and working-class voters had put Newt Gingrich on the midnight train back to Georgia and added, "there are a few available seats left" for politicians who want to mess with Social Security. Sharon Daly, vice president of social policy for Catholic Charities, noted this was the first time she and Patricia Ireland of the National Organization for Women had worked together. "And I think the Catholic Church will be very active in the debate over the future of Social Security," Daly added.

As for impeachment, we are not great fans of Bill Clinton and we don't enjoy defending his behavior, but the Republican inquisition into his personal life presents a far greater threat to the republic--and to progressives--than his attempt to cover up an affair that had nothing to do with his official duties. That inquisition, orchestrated among congressional leaders, "independent" counsel Ken Starr and the right-wing groups that financed Paula Jones' lawsuit that entrapped Clinton amounts to little more than the legal harassment of a sitting president in an attempt to force him out of office.

We do not believe that the President's statements in his deposition or to the grand jury amounted to the legal definition of perjury, but we think the federal court, after Clinton is out of office, is the proper venue to try that fact.

Both Clinton and the sanctimonious congressional majority have undermined confidence in government with their conduct in this case. At this writing the Republicans are grumbling because they had to hold off their impeachment vote until after Clinton is finished bombing Iraq. GOP leaders reportedly believe that voter anger at impeachment will cool well before the elections in 2000. We know enough Republicans disgusted with the impeachment obsession to believe that the impeachment vote will satisfy the hard liners in the GOP's right wing at the expense of the moderates, who will be up for grabs the next election. We agree with Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, who warned pro-impeachment members of Congress, "History will track you down and condemn you for your cravenness."

James P. Hoffa has a formidable challenge ahead of him as he takes over the presidency of the 1.4 million member International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The son of the legendary longtime labor boss defeated the relatively unknown reform candidate Tom Leedham of Portland, Ore., by 55 to 39 percent (a third candidate got 6%) in elections that concluded last month. Jim Hoffa, a 57-year-old lawyer, takes over a union that has been run by a federal overseer since 1989. He won on the strength of his late father's name, with the support of the union's old guard, many of whom were the ones who got the union in trouble and were stripped of power after Ron Carey was elected in 1991 on a pledge to reform the union. Unfortunately, Carey supporters were found to have illegally funneled union money into the campaign for Carey's re-election in 1996, when Carey narrowly won re-election. The election was nullified and Carey was barred from running again.

Hoffa promised to continue the fight against union corruption; protect members' democratic rights within the union; allow open debate and dissent; eliminate costly perks for international union officers and cap their salaries; balance the cash-strapped union's budget without a dues increase; and refuse to give money to anti-union politicians. He also promised to make UPS deliver the 10,000 new full time jobs the union won in last year's strike; organize Overnite Transportation; negotiate a good contract for Teamster carhaulers; take on Anheuser Busch to win job security provisions; and stop the trucking provisions of the NAFTA trade deal.

If he can do all that he will be a hero. We frankly don't trust the Junior Hoffa and we feel about his election the same way a friend of a recovering alcoholic feels when he sees his buddy heading for the bar again. Perhaps we would feel better about Hoffa's election if more than one-third of the membership had voted, but that may have been a protest of the upheaval of the past two years as much as anything. However, reformers, embodied in Teamsters for a Democratic Union, need to keep the heat on Hoffa to follow through on his pledges to continue the reforms.

Unions are entitled to run their own business as long as the rank and file is fairly represented. The function of government is to preserve those rights, as well as the long-neglected right to organize. That's why even non-union-members should be interested in what goes on with the Teamsters and other unions. -- Jim Cullen

Home Page

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 1999 The Progressive Populist