WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined 28 other senators in urging preservation of Social Security as Congress considers deficit-reduction packages this fall.
Social Security has played a critical role in reducing poverty among the elderly. Prior to the creation of Social Security 77 years ago, more than 50 percent of the nation’s seniors lived in poverty.
“We believe it would be a serious mistake to cut Social Security benefits for current or future beneficiaries as part of a deficit-reduction package,” the senators said in a Dear Colleague letter organized by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the founder of the Senate’s Defending Social Security Caucus.
In addition to Cantwell and Sanders, the following other senators signed the letter: Harry Reid (D-NV), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Al Franken (D-MN), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Carl Levin (D-MI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Joe Manchin (D-WV).
“Contrary to some claims, Social Security is not the cause of our nation’s deficit problem. Not only does the program operate independently, but it is prohibited from borrowing,” the senators wrote in the letter.
“Even though Social Security operates in a fiscally responsible manner, some still advocate deep benefit cuts and seem convinced that Social Security hands out lavish welfare checks. But Social Security is not welfare. Seniors earned their benefits by working and paying into the system,” the senators added.
Social Security has not contributed to deficits because it has a dedicated funding stream. Workers and employers each pay half of a 12.4 percent payroll tax on the first $110,100 (in 2012) of a worker's wages. The tax rate for employees was reduced to 4.2 percent in 2011 and 2012, but is scheduled to return to 6.2 percent in January.
On January 2, automatic, across-the-board budget cuts of 9.4 percent and 8.2 percent are scheduled to go into effect to defense and domestic programs, respectively. Social Security and other key mandatory programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program are exempt from sequestration. Yet as other deficit-reduction plans are debated this fall as an alternative to sequestration, the senators are urging that Social Security cuts be off the table.