Social Security, a program that has assisted millions of Americans since its inception, will turn 75 tomorrow, and on the eve of that anniversary, I thought we’d take a look at what Sen. Russ Feingold and his main Republican opponent, Ron Johnson, have to say about Social Security. First here’s a statement from Sen. Feingold:

“After 75 years, Social Security continues to be one of the most successful programs in our nation’s history. On this anniversary, Wisconsin is especially proud since three of the men who helped to create the program – Arthur Altmeyer, Edwin Witte and Wilbur Cohen – hailed from Wisconsin and were trained at the University of Wisconsin. Created when our nation faced devastating job losses and uncertainty, Social Security has given a measure of economic security to generations of American seniors. Today, 50 million Americans benefit from this landmark program, and retired workers know they can rely on a basic benefit for which they have worked.

“Our country now finds itself in another time of great economic uncertainty. While we should take steps to further strengthen the program, the recently released annual Social Security Trustees report shows that Social Security will remain solvent for decades to come. Despite that report, there are still many who want to slash Social Security benefits, privatize the program and put at risk the security our seniors deserve. I will do everything I can to stop that from happening. Social Security is in many ways a Wisconsin Idea, and I will continue my work to ensure it serves Americans well for generations to come.”

Recognizing Sen. Feingold’s strong support for Social Security, earlier today the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) announced its endorsement Sen. Feingold’s reelection campaign. Here’s an excerpt from the statement released by that organization in announcing its endorsement of Sen. Feingold’s reelection campaign:

“The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, on behalf of the millions of members and supporters, enthusiastically endorses your nomination and candidacy for re-election to the United States Senate.

Our nation needs your leadership, vision and determination to fight for working families and older Americans. You earned the endorsement of the National Committee because you understand and support the critical roles that Social Security and Medicare play in the retirement and health security of our nation’s older citizens and their families.”

In stark contrast to Sen. Feingold’s support of Social Security, Ron Johnson has referred to Social Security as a “ponzi scheme” [WisPolitics luncheon, 7/26/10] and he has also stated he supports privatizing Social Security and making the program vulnerable to fluctuations in the stock market, stating, “I’m certainly not opposed to taking a look at some privatization.” [Brookfield Chamber of Commerce, 6/21/10]

If Ron Johnson had his way and Social Security was privatized, over one million Wisconsinites who currently receive Social Security benefits would be at risk of seeing their benefits slashed – and ending up in poverty – based on fluctuations in the stock market. Simply put, Ron Johnson’s plan to privatize Social Security would leave millions of Americans -and far too many Wisconsinites – at risk of living in poverty during their golden years, and that’s simply unacceptable and irresponsible. While Ron Johnson may be able to enjoy his golden years in fine form thanks to the millions he made from marrying into the right family, many others won’t be so fortunate, and so the least those folks deserve is to know their Social Security is secure.

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17 Responses to Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson on Social Security

  1. forgotmyscreenname says:

    Why are you liberals always supporting some federal, one size fits all government program? I thought you are supposedly pro-choice.

    Johnson is right in that eventually the scheme known as the current program of social security is about to go bust. Note he said he’d favor looking at SOME privitization. Why not give everyone their own account and let them decide what to do with their own money that they (and their employers) pay in social security taxes? Or at least a portion of it. I’d be better off with that then when that one big pot of money runs dry.

    • Locke says:

      Because they’ve learned that if you distill the argument into “He’s gonna take away your social security” they gain votes from seniors & it helps win elections. You can’t fault a winning strategy (especially when honesty doesn’t mean anything). It’s simple math. I’ve written interactive retirement calculators for financial service reps. When running a plan on anyone under probably 35-40, and they ask about Social Security, the answer is always the same. “It won’t be around for me, run my numbers without any Social Security payments.” But young people don’t vote. Old people do. Reform plans that don’t do anything for anyone over 55 or even 50, are still pitched to retirees as, “it will take away your Social Security.

    • Do you really think you would have done better with your own money, given the stock market disasters of the past couple years? What would we do with all the retirees who lost everything to Bernie Madoff? Or in the tech sector collapse of 2000? Or the bank implosion of 2008? Social Security was meant to be a safety net to keep our elders from starving in the streets in the event of another stock market crash. Politicians who tell voters that they would do better “keeping their own money” and privatizing social security are much like the con artists who sell get-rich-quick schemes to the elderly.

      • Locke says:

        What you don’t seem to understand is that the stock market is not the only investment source for such strategies – sound investment practices for such a program, just like for individuals involves diversification: a mix of stock, bonds, mutual funds and more important than ever, exposure to foreign markets because of their generally greater growth potential different risk elements. I’d throw in hedge type investments as well – of course the words hedge funds have been vilified to the point I’ll probably get clobbered for merely mentioning it.

        Social Security was meant to be a safety net to keep our elders from starving in the streets in the event of another stock market crash.

        Sure. And if it were still focused on doing that, most of us wouldn’t have a problem. It would be a tiny fraction of the size it currently is and solvency wouldn’t be an issue. But what it has become is an enormous entitlement program that purports to be a retirement plan for all, not just those facing poverty. And worse, it actually this expansion has actually caused a large number of people to do nothing to fund their own retirement since “Social Security will take care of me.”

        But it’s all so much easier to just say, “Privatize = Bad.” I guess when you really have no understanding of investments and the time tested fundamentals, then it shouldn’t be surprising.

  2. Steve T. says:

    Break out of your echo chamber shell and learn a few things Zack! It makes you look so foolish!

    A Ponzi scheme is an investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors.

    From the CATO Insitute. Ever hear of them?

    Why is Social Security often called a Ponzi scheme?
    May 11, 1999
    Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant, started the first such scheme in Boston in 1916. He convinced some people to allow him to invest their money, but he never made any real investments. He just took the money from later investors and gave it to the earlier investors, paying them a handsome profit on what they originally paid in. He then used the early investors as advertisements to get more investors, using their money to pay a profit to previous investors, and so on.

    To keep paying a profit to previous investors, Ponzi had to continue to find more and more new investors. Eventually, he couldn’t expand the number of new investors fast enough and the system collapsed. Because he never made any real investments, he had no funds to pay back the newer investors. They lost all the money they “invested” with Ponzi.

    Ponzi was convicted of fraud and sent to prison for two years. When he came out, he returned to Italy, where he became a top economic adviser to Benito Mussolini.

    Just like Ponzi’s plan, Social Security does not make any real investments — it just takes money from later “investors,” or taxpayers, to pay benefits to earlier, now retired, taxpayers. Like Ponzi, Social Security will not be able to recruit new “investors” fast enough to continue paying promised benefits to previous investors. Because each year there are fewer young workers relative to the number of retirees, Social Security will eventually collapse, just like Ponzi’s scheme.

  3. Who, me? says:

    But hasn’t a lot of the SS money also been drained by politicians who essentially stole it to fund other things?

    • Zach says:

      Yeah, there’s definitely some truth to that. It’s much like politicos raiding the state’s transportation fund to use the money for other things. If SS funds were put into a “lock box” like former VP Al Gore suggested, I’m betting we’d have at least a few more years of solvency in the program.

  4. Steve T. says:

    The thing is even with a lock box, they still have the key!

    Zack, do you see how it is like a Ponzi scheme now?

    • Zach says:

      Steve, who does or doesn’t control the key can be legislated.

    • Social security is not a Ponzi scheme, because it is backed by the U.S. government, who are obligated to pay the benefits. A Ponzi scheme is destined to collapse in the end, because the con artist must flee prosecution (and angry dupes) before the funds run out. Social security will not collapse. It will eventually be made solvent, probably with a combination of an increase in taxes and a reduction in benefits (through a raised retirement age and/or means testing). Telling voters that social security is a Ponzi scheme implies that it will be allowed to collapse, and they will have nothing to retire on. Ron Johnson wants to convince voters to end social security, so that employers like him will no longer have to pay FICA taxes. He doesn’t give a damn if his employees’ retirements will be underfunded, or if their private retirement accounts collapse in the next stock market crash. Johnson is a social darwinist.

      • Zach says:

        Jill pretty much summed up what I would have said in response. SS is not a Ponzi scheme, and I have no doubt that when elected officials get serious about SS reform, they’ll find the solutions necessary to make it solvent.

      • Locke says:

        So despite the same structure (paying the current returns from future contributions) it’s not the same because it’s the government? It all reminds me of the Doritios ads. Crunch all you want, well make more. We’re the government. Spend all you want – we’ll make more money.

        Ron Johnson wants to convince voters to end social security, so that employers like him will no longer have to pay FICA taxes. He doesn’t give a damn if his employees’ retirements will be underfunded, or if their private retirement accounts collapse in the next stock market crash. Johnson is a social darwinist.

        Oh bull crap. Care to provide any shred of support for those claims, that Johnson doesn’t care about his employees? I didn’t think so. You’ve identified a few of the ways to help make the program solvent again: Reduction of benefits (Oh my God, you’re going to end social security as we know it!!!)), and increase taxes. The problem is, with anything other than a substantial reduction in benefits, the additional taxation to fund it is significant. What many of us want to see is to use investment returns to help make up some of the difference. The portion that serves as insurance would remain unchanged (though ultimately that should be fixed as well, but that’s another discussion), but the retirement portion would be brought into the 21st century. We want to see choice added to the mix – and if you’re extremely risk adverse, then you can select an option that reflects that – keeping everything in high quality bonds. History says you’ll barely beat inflation, but that’s your choice. Meanwhile those more comfortable with a higher risk can select a more appropriate portfolio for them. The difference is the bulk of the money is yours (again exception the insurance portion).

        This is not an anarchist, evil we want all your money approach to screw over everyone else. It is a financially prudent solution to a problem we’re facing, and we believe in trying to find the best way to help people, just like you. If you disagree with this solution, that’s fine. But don’t be an ass & attribute our motivations to malice & make boogey-men of everyone you disagree with.

  5. Julie says:

    There is no SS Trust Fund per say, all the employer/employee contributions go directly into the treasury. We don’t have money sitting in a safe deposit box collecting interest. The rep. would love to phase out the entire program, calling it a Ponzi scheme, anything for the rich. Most politicians are millionaires who represent other millionaires. They could buy anything in their heart’s desire, most are well past retirement, yet it’s the “power” rush over us that drives them.

  6. paule hansen says:

    Locke: Johnson like all Republicans wants to put Grover Norquists plan to work. He wants to “starve the beast.” That means starve government. He wants us to put our retirement plans into the stock market. This may sound great if you have a short attention span. Yes, the seniors should be concerned about any Republican who buys into this.

    Our economy is in a semi-mess thanks to the Republicans. Do two wars ring a bell. Feingold was against them. Johnson would be a me too Republican when Limbaug gives him his marching orders. I wonder if he thinks that Obama is a Muslim and that he was not born in this country. If so, then let him clear the air and say what he thinks. The puppet masters at 1130 on your radio dial have spoken. Ron, what do you have to say on the matter.

    • Locke says:

      Johnson like all Republicans wants to put Grover Norquists plan to work.

      When you can’t get past the first sentence in a post without lying, you’re not worth my time.

  7. AJT says:

    Maybe “safety net” is too difficult a concept for righties. Social security was set up to keep the elderly out of abject povety. It is there as money you CAN’T lose. If you want to invest any of the rest of your money feel free, take a risk. Social security is to make sure ALL elderly Americans have money coming in even if there is a colapse, or if they did not make enough to invest during there working years. You selfish righties feel no obligation to give back to a country that has allowed you to have good lives. You are ingrates. Go find a country with a weak government and little or no taxes, I believe they are all in the 3rd world.

    • Locke says:

      What a wonderful, well-reasoned argument. There is just no better way to convince others than to vilify those who disagree with you and stereotype them. Best of all, there’s just no way anyone can respond to such a stunning display of intelligence and open-minded thinking.

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