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Treat Social Security the way President Roosevelt intended, as an insurance program not an entitlement

October 26, 2018
Op-Ed and Letters

This Op-Ed originally appeared in The Hill.

Newsflash to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-Ky.) - Social Security is not an entitlement. It is the insurance every working American has paid for.

Sen. McConnell is wrong when he calls these programs entitlements and blames them for the rising deficit. It’s the Republican tax agenda not Social Security that will add nearly $3 trillion to the deficit over the next decade – helping the super-rich buy private jets or giving heirs of the 5,500 wealthiest estates a $7 billion tax cut on their inheritance.

Sen. McConnell was clear, they plan to pay for these cuts by going after Social Security and Medicare. Over the years, Republicans have tried to privatize it, label it as a welfare or entitlement program, and make cuts to the benefits workers have earned. Americans do not regard the nation’s insurance program as a political football, but as an essential part of their well being.

I agree with Sen. McConnell, when the Democrats take control of the House, there will be an opportunity to fix Social Security in a non-partisan, straight-forward way. I credit President Trumpfor standing up to Republicans and recognizing that American citizens fully understand that these are the benefits they have paid for; not entitlements.

Still, Republicans in Congress insist on denigrating the contributions that American workers pay by calling Social Security an “entitlement.”

Social Security isn’t an entitlement; it is the insurance that Americans worker pay for. They see it on their paystubs: FICA stands for the Federal Insurance Contribution Act.

With 10,000 baby boomers a day becoming eligible for Social Security, now is the time to act. Whether you’re in a blue state or red, or live in an urban area or rural, Americans rely and understand that Social Security needs to be fixed. Social Security is the largest source of retirement income, and for 6 out of 10 seniors, it provides the majority of their income. For 1 out of every 3 seniors, Social Security provides 90 percent of more of their income. It is time for Congress to act in a responsible manner.

The last time Congress did anything meaningful to adjust Social Security was when Rep. Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.) was Speaker of the House and Ronald Reagan was president. They understood that this was an insurance problem that needed congressional attention to make it actuarily sound. That was 1983. Newsflash! Have any private insurance premiums not gone up since 1983? Of course they have and Congress needs to make the same commonsense adjustments.

That’s why we have launched the Expand Social Security Caucus, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and our co-chairs, with over 150 congressional members. We believe in the value of Social Security and we will fight – not just to protect – but to enhance and expand this essential insurance program.

The Social Security 2100 Act (H.R. 1902) is our commonsense solution forward to expand and protect Social Security. It has the support of 170+ Democratic members of Congress, and has many Republicans interested in it.

It will strengthen and improve Social Security for current and future generations; providing a 2 percent benefit bump, improving the cost-of-living adjustment, strengthening the minimum benefit, and allowing for tax relief for millions of working seniors. It doesn’t add a penny to the deficit and is fully paid for as confirmed by the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Chief Actuary.

Polling shows that the majority of Americans don’t mind paying into Social Security because it provides security and stability to millions of retired Americans, disabled individuals, children, and widowed spouses of deceased workers.

Proposals like the Social Security 2100 Act show that we can strengthen Social Security without cutting benefits or raising the retirement age.

Americans of all ages and across the political spectrum support Social Security, because they know it works and will be there for them when they need it. They deserve leaders in Congress who will fight for them – not gut their benefits after a lifetime of contributions.

They deserve to have Social Security treated like the insurance program it is, and not an entitlement.

Larson represents Connecticut’s 1st District and is ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security.