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Joan Wile

Joan Wile is the Founder of Grandmothers Against the War and the author of "Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace" (Citadel Press)

July 15th, 2010 7:29 PM

Gray Panthers Oppose Rep. Boehner's Proposal to Raise Age of Social Security Recipients

Lift Taxable Income Cap and Reduce War Spending Instead

On June 29, House Republican Leader John Boehner made news with his statement that the age for persons eligible for Social Security benefits should be raised from 65 to 70. "If you have substantial non-Social Security income while you're retired, why are we paying you at a time when we're broke?" the Congressman said.

Susan Murany, Executive Director of the Gray Panthers, states that her organization opposes such a move. "Instead of taking money from people who need it and raising the eligibility for Social Security benefits to age 70 to balance the budget on the backs of Social Security recipients – people who need it the most – changes could be made by eliminating the annual cap on taxable income, currently $106,800, and raise that cap so that wealthier people are paying more to Social Security," she suggests. According to Ezra Klein at WashingtonPost.com, June 2010, "Completely eliminating the cap without increasing benefits actually creates a long-term surplus, and eliminating the cap while increasing benefits comes close."

And although House Republican Leader Boehner feels that Americans have "substantial non-Social Security income in retirement," the data proves him wrong. According to Dean Baker and David Rosnick from the Monthly Review, "Since the vast majority of near-retirees will rely on Social Security for the vast majority of their income in retirement, cuts in Social Security imply large cuts in income for a population that is already not especially wealthy. (Median household income for people over age 65 is less than $30,000.)" According to the Social Security Administration in the year 2000, 40 percent of retirement income comes from Social Security with women especially dependent on Social Security.

Social Security Trustees assure that 100% of Social Security benefits can be paid up through the year 2041. The Congressional Budget Office projects that full benefits can be paid through 2049. The "baby boomers" (1946-1964) will have passed through Social Security by then and so will not increase the number of beneficiaries. Further provision was made for this foreseen increase of beneficiaries by the Greenspan Committee in 1983. Much has been made over the argument that a decreasing number of covered workers will be expected to support an increasing number of Social Security beneficiaries. However, the Social Security Administration reports that the worker/beneficiary ratio actually rose from a ratio of 3.2 in 1975 to that of 3.3 in 2006. Today, more women are in the workforce and worker productivity and wages have both risen.

Murany notes that the money that does come from Social Security goes back into the economy immediately because it is used to pay rent, buy food, provide transportation and other essentials of daily life and points out that Social Security has lower administrative costs than private pension and retirement plans.

The American people have overwhelmingly supported Social Security through taxation. It actually buffers costs to State and Local governments for support of retired and disabled persons. The Gray Panthers clearly oppose any and all efforts to reduce the effectiveness and reliability of the Program. In the past few months, the Gray Panthers have led actions and have demanded the truth be spoken about Social Security. Our members have given notice to their legislators that they are NOT to Balance the Bailout’s (or the Wars) on Their Backs.

The Gray Panthers see a definite connection between funding social programs for Americans (including Social Security) and the massive costs of fighting two wars. "Leaving Iraq completely and setting a firm date to get out of Afghanistan would save billions of dollars," observes Judy Lear, National Gray Panthers Chair. "We want the U.S. to stop building bases in other countries, and we want it to reduce our nuclear weapons and not replace them with other weapons of mass destruction. These measures would be cost effective and do a lot toward protecting Social Security benefits."

These proposals are in direct opposition to what Boehner laid out as the Republican world-view. In a remarkable interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Boehner explicitly called for cutting Social Security in order to pay for the war in Afghanistan. "Ensuring there's enough money to pay for the war will require reforming the country's entitlement system," Boehner said.

In a Statement on War to President Obama, the Gray Panthers declare:

"The Gray Panthers oppose war and advocate for a just, peaceful resolution of conflicts. We hope that you will seek to pursue peaceful alternatives to the war in Afghanistan and a re-building for the country by strengthening international cooperation with the United Nations. A de-escalation of troops would not only save lives, but would give our enemies less of a reason to fight. Afghanistan demands a political solution, not an escalation of violence. We are fighting a war we cannot win and request that our resources be used for job creation in the U.S. and on social needs here and in Afghanistan."

Gray Panthers is in fact a multi-generational group and as such, Social Security is of vital importance to all their membership, including its young members. In that context, it should be pointed out that Social Security benefits are not only available for retirees but also for spouses and children of deceased family members, people with disabilities, and spouses and children of people with disabilities.

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