Elizabeth Warren showed again yesterday how she has become our country’s leading fighter for the middle class and those in poverty. In a passionate speech about Social Security, she tore apart the phony argument that greedy seniors were taking money away from our kids, and she showed why we should be increasing Social Security benefits right now, not cutting them. Warren laid out the facts about a pension system in tatters, that those retiring have less savings and wealth in their homes, and how the necessities of life- food, groceries, energy costs, health care- are running higher than the general inflation number, not lower. She took on the chained CPI cut that the President has proposed directly and took it apart point by point.
For those of us who come out of the ranks of middle class or poor, and whose families and friends still live there, Social Security is a life or death issue. This is how I described it in a piece I called First Loyalties when Obama and Boehner were talking about negotiating a “grand bargain” (a grand bargain for Wall Street, maybe- a grand swindle for the rest of us) in 2012:
When I was a young organizer for Iowa Citizen Action Network, we were doing a lot of work on utility rate hikes. I met an elderly woman, maybe late 70s, who was living on her Social Security check. As utility prices went through the roof, her cost of living increase in that check wasn't coming anywhere close to covering the costs she had. She was extremely worried, because as frugal as she was she couldn't figure out how to keep her heat on, pay her rent, and buy a few meager groceries. She thought the utilities might end up shutting her heat off. I suggested a social services agency she could go to, and that she might check with neighborhood churches to see if they had funds that could help. And I promised that I would do everything I could to fight for her.
I pushed hard on the local utility companies to try and shame them away from turning the heat off the dead of an Iowa winter, which didn't work very well because the utility companies had no shame. And my organization pushed in the legislature to get a bill passed that would prohibit utility shutoffs in the wintertime, which didn't pass the first year but did the second year we worked on it. But it didn't pass in time to save the woman I met. Reading the Cedar Rapids Gazette one day that winter, I saw that the woman I met had been found dead in her apartment of hypothermia after the utility company had turned off her heat.
When we got the bill passed in the next session, I thought of her. I was proud that no one would die in the coming years in Iowa because of having their heat turned off, but I was also mourning that we were too late to save her. And I vowed to keep my promise to her as long as I lived, that I would keep fighting for her and people like her.
It's 30 years later, but I still have promises to keep, as do all Democrats who claim to be on the side of the middle class and poor…
…here's the deal: I didn't get into politics to help the Democratic party. I came to the Democratic party because they more often wanted to help the people I cared about helping- the poor, the disabled, the middle class folks fighting for a decent life for them and their families…
My first loyalties are to my middle class family, who will depend heavily on Social Security because they mostly won't have lots of savings or generous pensions; to the kids I grew up with in a working class part of Lincoln, NE, who are getting ready to retire and mostly don't have those savings or pensions either; to the people like my late brother Kevin who have lived with serious disabilities, who may or may not be taken care of depending on what is negotiated away next; and to the poor people and seniors who I got to know as a young organizer, like the elderly woman I made a promise to that I would keep fighting for her…
Those of who have worked with lower and even middle income seniors know how much every dollar matters to them. These retirees are not greedy, and they are not living in luxury. In the years to come, most will not have pensions, many will have little to nothing in savings, and if they have homes they may not be worth nearly as much as they once were. What the facts, common sense, and compassion all call for is expanding Social Security benefits, not cutting them. This should be a core issue for all Democrats, not just the progressives like Elizabeth Warren. This is a fundamental values issue, not something to be traded away.
This is what Senator Warren lays out so perfectly in her speech, which is worth listening to in full. But even if you don’t have time to do that, at least take a look at this section of it, which I think summarizes perfectly how we should go forward on this issue: