Over the last few months I have written a couple of pieces, one aimed at Baby Boomers (my demographic cohort, as I’m 70), and one aimed at the Millennials (a group which includes both my kids, aged 26 and 35). Now I want to talk to those of you who are older than even myself — let’s call you the pre-Boomers — folks born before 1945 and all in your mid-70s to 80s and 90s (and maybe a few centenarians!).
I want to address you because polls keep reporting that a fair minority of you, if not a slight majority, are still enamored of your fellow pre-Boomer Joe Biden.
Let me just first ask you: Why in hell would you be supporting a guy who over the past 40 years has repeatedly conspired with Republicans in various efforts to whack away or chip away at Social Security benefits? And not just yours, but even more seriously, at the benefits that your kids and your grandkids and your great grandkids should be able to count on when you’re gone.
Let me give you some examples of Biden’s treachery. As the publication The Intercept reports, in an article I urge you to read (click here to see it), as early as 1984, Biden teamed up with arch-conservative Republican Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, to call for a freeze on federal spending. As part of that deal the two senators offered a plan, backed by business lobbyists who don’t like having to pay their share of the Social Security payroll tax, to include Social Security in the freeze. Since inflation, as you may recall, was raging at the time, had their plan passed your benefits today would be lower by all the inflation that occurred in the years that freeze would have been in effect, plus the add-on compounding of those benefits you would have missed over the decades. (Remember, every raise in benefits becomes the new base on which the next year’s inflation adjustment is made, and every non-adjustment for inflation represents lost money that continues to be lost in every future year you live).
By way of example, consider that In just the two years 1984 and 1985, the inflation rate in the US was 4.32% and 3.56%. Now if Biden and Grassley had gotten their way and their bill passed, so that Social Security’s benefit level was not adjusted for inflation at all for just those two years, benefits paid out in 1986 would have been 8.2% lower than inflation. That’s a loss of that amount of income for people on Social Security! Since the bill failed and there were upward cost-of-living adjustments made — which by a quirk of the September date when such readings are taken — meant the total increase in benefits over that period amounted to 4.4%. Had those adjustments — 3.1% in 1985 and 1.3% in 1986 — not been made, your benefits today would be not just 4.4% lower than they are now, but 4.4% lower times all the subsequent lower benefits that would have been paid since then, compounded!
If it’s a struggle for you to survive on Social Security now, you need to think how you’d be getting by on maybe 10-15% lower benefits had Biden gotten his way!
That’s your “Good old Joe.” But that was only one of his bright and right-wing ideas to whack Social Security benefits for the disabled and the elderly retired. There were plenty of others.
Biden was up for re-election in 1984, and after Reagan’s election, it was looking like a tough year to be running as a Democrat. So Biden caved. Here’s what he said, as quoted in the Intercept, on the floor of the Senate that year:
“So, when those of my friends in the Democratic and Republican Party say to me, ‘How do you expect me to vote for your proposal? Does it not freeze Social Security COLAs for one year? Are we not saying there will be no cost-of-living increases for one year?’ The answer to that is ‘Yes, that is what I am saying,’”
Is that a guy you want in the White House just at a time that the US is almost certain to be facing another recession and another bout of inflation? Some defender of Social Security!
But that’s not all Biden has tried to do. In 1995, he abandoned progressive Democrats and joined Republicans in passing the Balanced Budget amendment, which included cutting Social Security (even though Social Security as you well know is funded entirely from the payroll tax — FICA — not by the income tax, and has not contributed a dime to the national budget deficit).
Again, in 2007, just ahead of the Iowa Caucus, like today, Biden again called for “fixing Social Security.” His solution: Cuts in benefits. He explained at the time:
“The American people know we have to fix Social Security. They know we can’t grow our way to a solution. They know we’re going to have to make some tough decisions. They’re ready to make those decisions. They’re ready to step up. We have to be ready to straightforwardly tell them what we’re about to do.”
In 2014, Biden as vice president joined Barack Obama in proposing a “Grand Bargain” with Republican House Leader Paul Ryan and the Republicans in Congress. His plan this time? Raise the retirement age, but don’t be so straightforward about it. Instead, hide what you’re doing. Republican Sen. Rand Paul recalls asking his Senate colleague Biden, “Don’t we have to raise the age? Wouldn’t means-testing and raising the age solve the problem?” He says Biden replied, “Yes in private, but we will not say it in public.”
Biden again showed his willingness to deceive the public in order to cut Social Security in 2018, when he addressed the issue of the ground-breaking New Deal program’s funding at a Brookings Institution function. The Intercept writes that in his speech that day he said:
“Paul Ryan was correct when he did the tax code. What’s the first thing he decided we had to go after? Social Security and Medicare. Now, we need to do something about Social Security and Medicare.”
He followed up with a stage whisper saying, “That’s the only way you can find room to pay for it.”
Is this a guy you want to entrust with your and your kids’ and grandkids’ Social Security, the last remaining legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program?
So the question then is who should you vote for in your state’s Democratic primary if what you want is a candidate who will defend and improve the Social Security program? And the answer is clear: The current front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and a man who has never wavered in defending the program, defending benefits, and indeed calling instead for improved benefits to compensate for years of improperly low cost-of-living adjustments and for the corporate sector’s virtual elimination of true pensions, and often even of contributions to employees’ 401(k) accounts — a widespread phenomenon. That candidate is Sen. Bernie Sanders, the contender who at 78 is one of you, and one year Biden’s senior.
Sanders is calling for lifting the cap on income subject to the FICA payroll tax from the current paltry $132,900 and to have the wealthy pay the FICA tax on all income above $250,000 of income. He’s calling for a new CPI for Social Security that would designed to accurately reflect what the elderly actually spend their money on, which is primarily health care. The current index used for making inflation adjustments in Social Security benefits is not designed for the elderly at all, but rather for municipal working-age clerical workers, a situation which Sanders calls “criminal.” This year that index is raising your benefit check by only 1.6%, an amount that is supposedly accounting for the inflation you experienced in 2019. I don’t know about you, but I know my cost of living during 2019 soared a lot more than a lousy 1.6%. Just my oil bill for home heating and my gas bill for our two cars, not to mention repairs to those cars, and food costs, have risen much more than that amount. Meanwhile my health plan has doubled my co-pay for doctor visits, doubled the cost of urgent care and doubled the cost of an ER visit. Medicare Part B plans and Drug insurances and prices have also soared. That 1.6% adjustment is a bad joke!
There are a lot of reasons Sanders is far and away the best candidate in his race. But even focusing on this one crucial issue — defending and improving Social Security, on which some 70 million of us currently depend to survive — it’s clear that he is the best choice to knock out and replace Trump this November.
And don’t be fooled by the scare stories in the media — including the so-called liberal media like CNN and MSNBC — who claim Sanders can’t beat Trump. Sanders, who polls right up with Biden in some states, and is ahead of him in matchups in various swing states against Trump, is the one Democratic candidate who has the moxie, the programs, the consistent record, and the ability to talk to average working Americans of all races, sex and age that it will take to beat Trump.
If Social Security is important to you for yourself and your family, don’t be suckered by Biden just because he’s long in the tooth like the rest of us. So is Sanders, when it comes down to it. He’s one of you, four years too old to be a Boomer. But unlike Biden and the other leading candidates in the polls, he’s also with you — and if you look at his proposals like free public college, student debt relief for college grads, reducing the military budget and ending our endless wars, establishing a Canadian-style government-owned health insurance system (he calls it improved Medicare for All), seriously tackling climate change, taxing the rich and the corporations, breaking up the crooked mega-banks, etc., you’ll see he’s also with your kids and grandkids.