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Defending Social Security

Location: Washington, DC

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

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Gohmert). Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 4, 2005, the gentlewoman from Wisconsin (Ms. Baldwin) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the minority leader.

Ms. BALDWIN. Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to draw attention to some of the hundreds of letters that I receive every week from constituents who are outraged or frightened by the President's plan to privatize Social Security. Americans of all ages know that the President's private accounts are a risky change that will do nothing to alleviate Social Security's long-term financial pressures. As more details of this plan trickle out of the White House, Americans are not communicating a mandate; they are expressing outrage and fear.

Social Security is the single most successful anti-poverty program in our country's and government's history. I intend to do all that I can to make sure that this program survives this current attack, and I know that millions of Americans are joining in this effort.

I hear from those that I have the honor of representing in Wisconsin's Second Congressional District every day. They write to tell me about their profound concern with this plan, and they also write to tell me about the profound difference that Social Security has made in their lives. They write to share their fears about how privatization could jeopardize their retirement. They write to express frustration that our President has proposed a scheme that would dismantle Social Security, not strengthen it for future generations.

I have come to the floor tonight to share portions of these letters that I receive on a daily basis, and I hope that those who seek to privatize and to dismantle Social Security are listening this evening. I will also be joined by colleagues tonight who wish to share the words and stories of the constituents that they represent with the American public.

I would like to start this evening with excerpts from a few letters concerning the general importance of the Social Security program.

Ann, from Madison, writes: "I am appalled at the changes suggested for Social Security. If you have known anyone living on it entirely, the monthly amount cannot be cut at all without leaving the retiree or the disabled person in utter poverty. Private plans have been tried and failed in a number of other countries. You only have to look at the last several years to see what could happen to someone reaching retirement age in the wrong time or period. If the administration wants to experiment, let the government do it and take the risks. If this fails, are we really going to let that frail, 80-year-old for whom work is no longer an option, starve sitting on the curb?"

Mary, also from Madison, writes: "I stand behind you in your fight against privatization of Social Security. I do not believe that privatization is a good idea at all. From everything I have learned about this issue, Social Security privatization would reduce benefits because of increased overhead costs and would also transfer the risk from the government to the individual. Also that move is likely to reduce benefits."

Mary continues: "I am 31 years old, so I am a person who supposedly would be helped by the privatization of Social Security. But I don't believe it. And even if I were personally helped, I do not believe the financial risk to my fellow Americans that they would incur is worth any possible benefit I would receive."

Doug writes: "Among many other things that concern me deeply in regards to the Bush administration, it is this whole Social Security business that is going on. Inherent in the definition of the name 'security' and the principle of Social Security is the fact that it is secure and guaranteed. That fundamental right, that we pay in, that we will get out, is essential to the whole idea of the plan and the system. I think it would set a very bad precedent if that whole idea were struck down."

Marcie, from Madison, writes: "I find the changes Bush proposes for Social Security to be very scary at best. There is already an ever-growing gap between the haves and the have-nots in this country, and this will only make the situation worse. The haves already know about investing or can afford to hire someone to advise them. How many of the have-nots know much about investing or have the time or the ability to learn? If the changes go through, I hope they will at least change the name. There will be no social, all citizens contributing to the well-being of others in our society, and no security. There will no longer be a safety net for those retiring and those who are disabled."

And Marcie brings up a very important point: "Seniors are not the only people who rely on Social Security benefits. People receiving survivor benefits and disability benefits make up 31 percent of the Social Security program. Social Security is insurance, a safety net that we can all expect to benefit from when we retire, but it is also an insurance or safety net that you could benefit from before you retire. None of us aspire to benefit from the survivor or disability portions of Social Security, but they are there for all of us, just in case we need them."

Before I read some additional letter excerpts from those who have received Social Security for disability or as survivors, I would like to yield to my colleague who I thank for helping to co-organize this evening's Special Order on Social Security, my friend, the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Larson).


Ms. BALDWIN. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman for his words and also for the spotlight he has put on the words of his constituents.

I was mentioning, as the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Holt) just did, about the 31 percent of all Social Security beneficiaries who are not retirees but are, in fact, disabled workers or survivors. I would like to have my colleagues hear from some additional constituents of mine who fit in that category and are advocating in that manner.

Martha from Madison writes, "I can speak to the power of Social Security professionally as well as personally. I work for an agency that assists adults with developmental disabilities. For these individuals, much, if not all, of their livelihood comes from monthly Social Security checks. Few of us could live on $58.77 a month. Their lifestyle is not extravagant, but it is possible. More personally, my family has seen the effects of Social Security."

Martha writes, "My husband became unable to work just as he was entering the prime of his life. How would
a privatized plan secure my family as we raise our three children? How would a privatized plan continue to address my family's needs over the next 40 years as we age and retire? My greatest fear is that those who are most removed from poverty are in the decision-making positions. It is perhaps too easy for the President and those like him to assume that all Americans have the means to weather life's most unexpected storms."

Kathy from McFarland, Wisconsin, wrote, "I lost my daughter in July. She was 31 and left two children, ages 12 and 8. It is Social Security that is providing a safety net for my grandchildren. My daughter paid for this. My husband and I paid for this. And my son, who served in Iraq, paid for this."

Stephanie from Madison writes, "I am writing to encourage you to reject President Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security. When my father died in 1958, my sister and I were 9 and 15 years old. My mother had never graduated from high school, so she was only able to get low-paying jobs. If it hadn't been for our survivor benefits, I don't know what we would have done. As it was, my mom's budget was very tight. People need to realize that Social Security isn't just for seniors; it also pays out survivor benefits as well as disability benefits. All of us are simply one accident or disease away from needing Social Security."

Before proceeding to other letters from my constituents, I would like to yield time to my distinguished colleague from the State of Michigan, a leader on this issue, a champion on this issue on the Committee on Ways and Means, to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Levin).


Ms. BALDWIN. I thank the gentleman for his tireless leadership on protecting our Social Security system and amplifying the voices of your constituents' very powerful letters. I would like to yield to my distinguished colleague from the State of California (Ms. Watson).


Ms. BALDWIN. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman for sharing with America the powerful words and stories of those who she proudly represents.

I am now delighted to yield to one of our new colleagues who we are so proud has joined us from the State of Missouri. We know that this gentleman has been home in his district listening to his constituents actively providing them an opportunity to speak to him and tonight to America through him. I am honored to recognize the gentleman from Missouri (Mr. Carnahan).


Ms. BALDWIN. Madam Speaker, I thank the Congressman and I am very pleased that he brought up the issue of the risk that Social Security would be subject to if these private accounts were allowed to occur, and I have just a couple of letters on that point too that I wish to share.

Jack from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, writes me, "Tammy, thanks for your hard work to keep the promise of Social Security. This privatization plan is about the dumbest thing that Bush has come up with besides the war in Iraq. We have a privatization deal now via IRAs, and let me tell you, my wife and I lost over half of our investment in our IRA accounts after 2000. The only people that will make money in this deal are the brokers."

Another one here, Cheryl, from Madison, writes, "I have deep concerns with President Bush's proposal. By privatizing a portion of Social Security, you have added an element of risk. Some people may come out ahead, others may not. The safety net is gone. For many people Social Security will only be a small part of their retirement. These people can invest their disposable income in the many options available, IRAs, 401(k)s, et cetera. Those that are not as well off and are not able to put much away on their own should be able to count on a known amount from Social Security."

Before continuing, I would like to yield to the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Larson ), my colleague, who is a member of the Committee on Ways and Means and has really tackled this threat to Social Security with great vigor, and I appreciate his organizing this evening's Special Order with me.


Ms. BALDWIN. Madam Speaker, the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Larson) mentioned the fear tactics that are being used.

The President, in advocating for his privatization, has made the case or attempted to that Social Security faces an impending crisis, and I just want to let the administration know I think the American public sees through this fear tactic, this scare tactic.

I just want to read one quick letter on that point from Robert from Madison in my district. As he writes, "Bush has in recent weeks been repeatedly inflating the significance of 2018 and 2042, especially the early date, so as to imply that Social Security is in imminent danger of bankruptcy and must be overhauled very soon. The sheer urgency of Bush's tone is unsettlingly consistent with his demonstrated tendency to conjure up a crisis where none exists, as he did during the run-up to the war with Iraq.

"The overblown nature of Bush's alarms over Social Security is reflected in the Social Security trustee's estimate that, even if nothing drastic is done between now and 2042, Social Security will still be able to pay retirees" almost 75 percent "of the promised amount" and "this timeline hardly suggests any crisis that necessitates pounding away at a need to overhaul Social Security" or dismantle it "now."

I would like to yield to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Holt), my colleague.


Ms. BALDWIN. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman for his comments, and I would like to thank all of my colleagues who joined me here tonight in giving voice to these very real, very human stories. These are real letters from real people, and privatization would have a real and ultimately negative effect on their lives.

I know that those who seek to dismantle the Social Security System must receive similar letters, and I sincerely hope that they pause and consider what Social Security means to Americans. It is not an arbitrary government program. Social Security is a support system, it is an insurance program, and, in many instances, Social Security is the difference between a comfortable life and a life of poverty. We must do all that we can to protect this vital safety net, this lifeline.

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