The following op-ed appeared in the Oakland Tribune on February 25, 2005.
Straight Talk on Social Security
By: Barbara Lee
There is something fundamentally dishonest about the debate that is going on in our country about Social Security. Listening to all the recent talk about looming threats and higher returns, it would be easy to get the impression that protecting the future solvency of Social Security and privatizing the program to create private accounts are more or less the same thing. Sadly, that couldn't be further from the truth. You cannot extend Social Security's guaranteed benefit to future generations by converting it into a risky investment scheme.
Social Security is by far the most successful anti-poverty program our government has ever created. Without it, 48 percent of seniors would live in poverty. Social Security's remarkable success is based on the simple principle that workers contribute to the system and earn a guaranteed, defined benefit that is paid to them when they retire or if they become disabled, or to dependent family members in the event that they should die.
People are rightly concerned that we take appropriate steps to insure that Social Security's guaranteed benefit is extended to future generations.
Unfortunately, that is not what the president wants to do.
All the talk of crisis is just a smokescreen. The president's proposal would actually make the solvency issue worse and turn a guaranteed benefit into a guaranteed gamble.
People should understand that the centerpiece of what the president has proposed, diverting funds from payroll taxes to create private accounts, does nothing to address his so-called "crisis." In fact, by diverting $2 trillion from the Trust Fund over the first decade to pay for these accounts, it actually makes matters much worse.
The president's proposal would undermine retirement security for all Americans by cutting Social Security's guaranteed benefit by almost 50 percent.
The president's commission on Social Security has recommended cutting benefits to disabled workers to pay for private accounts. Disabled workers would have no access to their private accounts prior to retirement, and because their careers were cut short, would reach retirement with virtually nothing in those accounts.
The proposed benefit cuts are especially hard on minorities and women.
Because minorities are more likely to become disabled or die young, cuts in disability and survivor benefits would have a devastating impact on minority communities, particularly on children.
Without Social Security, 53 percent of all senior women would live in poverty. Because women, on average, have lower salaries and longer life spans than men, under the president's proposal they would have to make smaller private accounts last longer.
It is hard to justify these kinds of cuts knowing that the creation of private accounts would divert almost $1 trillion in transaction fees into the pockets of big corporate interests on Wall Street.
It is time for an honest national debate about the future of Social Security. Social Security faces a challenge, not a crisis. A crisis is what the millions of people who benefit from Social Security will face if the president succeeds in his campaign to privatize this vital American safety net.
I am eager to hear the views and concerns of my constituents. That is why I will be hosting a Town Hall meeting on Social Security on Saturday, Feb. 26 at the Castro Valley Public Library at 3:00 p.m.
Rep. Barbara Lee represents the Ninth Congressional District.