Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed supports cutting pensions for public employees. He’s been vocal about that. But his appearance today on NBC’s “Meet the Press” raises the question: Does he also support slashing Social Security?
He acknowledged that some cuts are inevitable and said he only wanted the Obama administration to let him and other leaders know how those cuts will play out and he’ll do what he needs to do. That sounds like cutting Social Security is fine with him.
Republicans and Tea Party members have criticized the budget as not cutting enough government spending and Reed’s fellow panelists pointed to the hefty tax dollars put into what are traditionally called “entitlements”—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Reed didn’t comment on the attempt to cut Social Security specifically, but he also didn’t speak up to disagree. So, does he support cutting pensions and Social Security?
For the most part he stuck with what he knows: Politics. He pointed out that Obama will do well in the 2012 presidential election if unemployment drops to 8 percent, which would, he said show that the president had made the right decisions regarding bailing out the American automobile industry. Bailing out Detroit’s moguls was okay, but meeting the obligations one has to workers making $40,000 a year is not?
The show’s host, David Gregory, pointed out that Reed has “cut the city’s employee pensions in terms of vesting”—Reed pushed the vesting period from 10 years to 15 with support from the police union and others. The union support for the longer vesting period came as a compromise in hopes of protecting the pensions from cuts and also acknowledged that the 10 year period was encouraging attrition.
But Reed made it clear that he’s not done.
“We did what we could legally,” Reed said of the past year’s attempts at slashing the city employees’ retirement funds and added that he will try again this year.
Reed wants to cut pensions. His remarks today make it clear that he is not opposed to cutting Social Security if that’s what Washington wants.
This is not ethical or practical. Pensions require that employees sacrifice part of their paychecks for their retirement, and when they are hired they take a job with certain explicit expectations of how their pension contributions will be treated—to what extent they will be matched and about how much will be paid out upon retirement. The pension agreement is a binding contract between a worker and an employer.
Ironically, what most people may not realize is that the push to slash or even abolish pensions and Social Security may give way to something that puts the taxpayers on the hook for payments that are in no way tied to work, something like “guaranteed minimum income” or some other universal safety net that everyone gets regardless of whether they’ve worked for it.
It’s not too far-fetched a notion. Americans will not allow the elderly to starve to death. We will not stand by while those who have given their lives to work suffer in poverty. With Social Security and pensions under attack from a government so low on ideas for better budgeting that it has to raid the cupboards of millions of Old Mother Hubbards, something will have to be offered as an alternative. What will it be?
Social Security has become a convenient punching bag for those wealthy enough to live off their 401Ks or those who managed to retire before companies began trashing their retirement plans. But whatever replaces it will look a lot like it because Social Security is not the problem. In an American economy that works as it should, new groups of workers pay into the Social Security system so as the economy grows so does the safety net.
We need to focus on slashing the red tape around jobs creation, lightening the burden on small businesses and even, yes, legalizing illegal workers so they can pay into the system, thereby deepening the pockets of Social Security. They are already doing the work, let’s grow up and beyond racist arguments and tax them for it. We could even tax them at a higher rate through a work visa program.
In the meantime, there is no question that Washington needs to decrease our tax burden. As a single mom who has always worked for less than the national median income, it is puzzling to me that I have always had to scrape up thousands of dollars at tax time while wealthier folks actually get money back. I am paying them. There are those who will chime in that my money pays for public services. Well, I’m not on the dole. I don’t get Medicaid, Medicare or anything else, and yet I pay my share. If I do, then why don’t they? SR