Defending Social Security

By:  John Larson
Date: March 8, 2005
Location: Washington, DC


DEFENDING SOCIAL SECURITY -- (House of Representatives - March 08, 2005)

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman, and I commend the gentlewoman from Wisconsin for truly putting this together and taking the time to make sure that all of America gets to hear what has got to be a mosaic of concern all across this country, because, like the gentlewoman and myself, several others have conducted town hall meetings and forums and have received letters of concern from our constituents all across this great country of ours. It is quite compelling when you both read the mail and you listen to the citizens of this great country speak their minds.

I was particularly struck by a gentleman from Windsor, Connecticut, who wrote me and said: ``I would like to encourage you to oppose President Bush's Social Security personal accounts with every resource possible. I turned 54 this year, missing the cutoff for retaining my full promised benefit by 7 months. I am not a spend-thrift who has wasted his money over the years. In fact, I have placed at least 10 percent of my earnings in retirement savings plans since 1978. I fully fund my 401(k) and my Roth. But I have no pension, and my wife is not even eligible for a 401(k) or equivalent since she works for the Manchester School District as a tutor.

``Despite all my efforts to save, I will not have enough to retire on without the guarantee of Social Security. Why? Because I worked for five companies between 1984 and 2000 that all went out of business or left Connecticut: Heublein, Ames, Shawmut, Northeast Savings and International Paper. Each time I was forced to find another job, I lost a year of contribution to my 401(k) and another year of employer match, through no fault of my own. That adds up to quite a bit of savings that have been lost. I am putting one child through college and I have another yet to go. I have no more to save. I have always supported my family and paid my own way. I am relying on the Social Security system my employers and I have already contributed about $200,000 to, to live up to its promises. If the government of the United States can turn its back on its promises to its own citizens, of what value is it?

``Please, help me and every other person in my shoes.''

It is this kind of poignant response that we have heard from our citizens all across the country that screams out for this Congress to take action.

One little woman in my district, part of the golden girls, her name is Gracie Vigneau, stood up and said, I understand that there are three legs to this stool. I understand the importance, having lived through the Great Depression, having fought and persevered through the Second World War, having come home and rebuilt this Nation, but I always felt that we had this special contract, that guarantee from our government, that third leg of the stool, if you will, that was the Social Security guarantee. It provided the floor, the safety net from which nobody could fall through. That was the contract that came out of the, well, the Great Depression and its aftermath, and what it did to so many people and how it ruined their lives. Yet, today, we see the problems that exist both in pensions and personal savings, which are in far greater crisis than Social Security.''

And so she asks, ``Why would we place any element of risk in the program that is there for our guarantee?'' She said, ``I will be long gone.'' She said, ``I am concerned about my children and their children and their children's children.''

This has been the most successful program in the history of this country, and it has kept so many people out of the depths of poverty. Just last week we talked about the impact that this program has had on women and how they are disproportionately disadvantaged and how crippled they would become if the so-called Bush plan were ever to go into effect.

So I commend the gentlewoman. I have other things, other letters to read as well in this dialogue that we have here this evening, this important dialogue with the American public, that they have with us placed their trust, and where we have sworn to give our very best.

I know that we are joined by the gentleman from New Jersey, and I will yield back to the gentlewoman from Wisconsin so that she may recognize another outstanding member of this caucus.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Madam Speaker, I wanted to ask the leading Democrat on Social Security on the Committee on Ways and Means, the gentlewoman from Wisconsin (Ms. Baldwin) discussed very eloquently and poignantly, as the gentlewoman pointed out in her letters, the number of people outside of the retirement benefits, but survivors benefits and also those on disability, what are the statistics on that?

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Mr. LEVIN. About 30 percent of Social Security benefits go to those who are disabled and those who are family members. And the President said, if I might take another 30 seconds, that they would not be affected, the disabled. But that does not work out because what he has called a good blueprint provides for major benefits cut. And the plan, the second plan of the commission that is part of that good blueprint does affect the disabled. And if you were to have these massive cuts over time, especially hurting younger workers, for retirees and not for the disabled, it would mean deeper cuts yet for younger workers who are going to retire.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. So when the gentleman says the President's good blueprint will in fact weaken Social Security, that is exactly what it is doing?

Mr. LEVIN. It would not only weaken it; but one last point, it would in the end shrivel it next to nothing and mean its demise because of the cuts in benefits and what is called the claw-back which would be an offset against your Social Security of what is in your private accounts and that would be for younger workers, about 70 percent of what was left in your Social Security benefits. So in the end the younger worker in most cases would end up less in both, end up with less in both than if Social Security had not been destroyed. And the Social Security part of it would be so small that it would no longer be sustainable. And that is why this privatization by diversion of Social Security monies is essentially a path to the dismantling of Social Security.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Has the administration now admitted that that will not in any way, shape, manner or form close the gap that exists?

Mr. LEVIN. The privatization proposal does nothing to address the shortfall and, indeed, makes it worse.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. I thank the gentleman for clarifying that.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from Wisconsin again for her diligence and hard work in this effort and deeply appreciate the opportunity to be here this evening.

I honestly believe that Congress should do more of this. I hope that people all across this country are listening to these heartfelt responses from our constituents, and in so many ways, they are often more eloquent than any Member of the United States Congress because their needs and concerns are so heartfelt and real, and this is what I think makes this such a special evening for this Special Order.

I would just like to read one more letter that I have, with the gentlewoman's permission, and this is from a woman in Newington in my district who writes, I am very concerned about what Mr. Bush is doing to the country. I have been working for 37 years, and I have been at my current position for 28 years. From day one, I was told that I would be given a pension at the end of my tenure. Over the years, the company has changed hands and, in fact, changed leaders. Now, the pension has been changed to a cash balance. Because of this change, I will be getting about one-quarter of what I would have been getting in my pension, and now, Mr. Bush claims that under his privatization plan, Social Security benefits would go up. Yet the Congressional Budget Office says Bush's privatization plan will cut benefits by 45 percent or more for seniors. The Bush plan will reduce benefits for all seniors, even those who choose not to invest in private accounts. I am too old to build up a substantial plan and account. Have we not been traumatized enough under this man? I do not want you to vote on this plan or make such a drastic change to the system. If the politicians put a lock on it, like Mr. Gore wanted to, we most likely would not be in this situation. Mr. Bush should stop spending the money. We have the money for Iraq but not for our seniors in this country. I am asking you, please, not to vote for this.

She, like so many others we have heard tonight, I think speaks to what is their concern. Some of our colleagues on the other side have said that these are fear tactics. Hardly.

Grace Vignean again points out that we were a strong generation that persevered through the Great Depression, a Second World War, the Korean and Vietnam Wars. We raised families, rebuilt these countries. We do not scare easy. What we want is the truth. What we need, I think, is for all of us to come together with an understanding, and it is my sincere hope that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are listening, as well as the President.

President Roosevelt said it best. He said he was concerned that they had become frozen in the ice of their own indifference. Frozen in the ice of their own indifference towards collapsing pensions and shriveled up savings that, for the most part, have to go for the care of your health. Indifference to the 45 million people in this country that are uninsured, indifference to the women and minorities whose drops off in benefits will be so dramatic.

That is why the voices of these citizens need to be heard and why this Congress needs to act in a responsible and bipartisan manner in order to continue to strengthen and preserve the most successful social program and governmental program in the history of this country.

Again, I thank the gentlewoman for providing us the opportunity to discuss these letters and the concern of our constituents.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Madam Speaker, if the gentlewoman would yield, on that point, we heard the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Levin) discuss that earlier, that even the President's so-called privatization plan does nothing to close the gap or the shortfalls that potentially exist in Social Security if we do not act on a bipartisan basis.

So to the gentleman's point, this is all about ideology and politics and not substantively about doing what is in the best interest of the American public. I think that is what has citizens so outraged, that this seems to be from the very get-go, from whether you go back to Hoover and Landon and Friedman and Stockman, who said we must starve the beast, that beast being Social Security, that is what has American citizens outraged at this proposal. That is what has them writing thousands of letters to each and every one of us because of their deep-seated concern of where this administration is taking us, to a ``me'' society versus ``us.''

The gentleman said it very eloquently and passionately, and again, I want to thank the gentlewoman for arranging this dialogue and these letters which I hope we continue to come to the floor and discuss.

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