Just got off a conference call with the Strengthen Social Security coalition, featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Also taking part: Charles Loveless, Director of Legislation, AFSCME; Ed Coyle, Executive Director, Alliance for Retired Americans; Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization for Women, Max Richtman, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Sarah Lane of MoveOn.org
Bernie was his usual feisty self.
"The American people are very clear. They understand that for the last 75 years, Social Security has paid out every nickel it was supposed to," he said. "It is incongruous that in a conversation about the $14.5 trillion deficit to be talking about Social Security, which has nothing to do with it."
"Elections matter. What candidates say when they’re running for president matters. Those (COLA changes) are not good policy options. The president made a promise to the American people and he should keep that promise."
Sanders said there are Americans trying to get by on "$12,000, $13,000 a year. This would mean $560 less a year at age 75 under current law. For somebody who is struggling, that is a heck of a lot of money." He called the present COLA "inadequate" due to the high cost of prescription drugs.
He called the proposal "absolutely wrong and going against what the American people want. People want higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, real shared sacrifice."
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said the White House is "making a mistake if they think they can deal away these programs, come waltzing up to the Senate and we’ll go along with what the President has dealt away."
He said those on Social Security - and their family members - have peace of mind knowing they have Social Security and Medicare to back them up. "The benefits flow widely throughout society on this," he said.
He ended with a dig: "I don’t know how strong a hand the White House has to have to play poker with these guys."
Rich Fiesta said he is "baffled that a program that has done nothing to increase the debt is being used in negotiations to reduce the debt. And Moveon's Sarah Lane pointed out that 76% of their membership says they would be "less likely to donate or volunteer for the president's reelection."
"The president must take these cuts off the table," she said. "The Republicans holding the country hostage."
I told Sen. Sanders that many progressives don't believe that this is happening, and say the original Washington Post story was based on rumors.
He sounded exasperated. "Look, during the State of the Union speech, the president was wishy-washy about cutting benefits. I think they’ve been tiptoeing around this issue before and now it’s here again.
"If it's a rumor, you'll notice they haven’t stamped out the rumor."
The senators both said the senate was not involved in any of these proposals (in what sounded like a slap at the White House last-minute deal making). Chuck Lawless pointed out that Social Security changes "have always been considered on their own, with no other issue."