Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Debate: Jason Thigpen vs Paul Ryan

The other day a friend in southeast Wisconsin sent me a reply to a letter he had written to his congressman about Social Security. His congressman is Paul Ryan. It happened just around the time Jason Thigpen had switched parties and decided to run for Congress as a Democrat instead of as a Republican-- primarily because he realized his values weren't compatible with the current bent of the GOP and fit much better with the Democratic Party. Jason's in eastern North Carolina but Ryan is such an icon of what passes for Republican thought on the budget that I asked him if he'd mind responding to Ryan's points. Here then is a former Republican analyzing his old party's basic economic agenda. And below that is Ryan's original letter. If you'd like to help Jason's grassroots campaign, he can use some net roots live here on his ActBlue page.

Fact Over Fiction: Jason Thigpen responds to letter by Paul Ryan addressing constituent concerns over Social Security reform

When first reading Paul Ryan’s response to a constituent inquiry regarding concerns for Social Security reform I felt compelled to respond with more clarity by offering more substance over form. At best I believe more facts are deserved before anyone could render a decision on a matter as important as Social Security.

Like many career politicians, Ryan has offered a slanted perspective on this issue benefiting the special interest groups who continue to support his lifelong campaign efforts against social programs, that he and his fellow multi-millionaire career politician buddies will never use themselves.

So, let’s dispel several myths Congressman Ryan would have you believe:

1.     Social Security is not an entitlement program. Rather, it’s an earned income benefit.
2.     Social Security, according to law, does not contribute to the federal deficit.
3.     Social Security is not in danger. In fact, it has a surplus of over $2.7 Trillion.

Ryan’s proposal to cut Social Security in 2012 was unpopular, where Americans overwhelmingly agreed that making such drastic cuts to programs certain to have dire consequences for all middle and working-class Americans isn’t an acceptable solution. One should ask who is lobbying Congressman Ryan to disregard the needs of his constituents for his own personal and political ambitions. Perhaps the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is assisting him with an onslaught of pre-drafted legislative bills in an attempt to undermine the very process of what representative government should truly be. They can best accomplish this by privatizing Social Security and Medicare, getting rid of minimum wages, the privatization of education, and promote fossil fuel expansion endeavors while destroying environmental regulations.

Trying to leverage such terms as “chained CPI” (chained Consumer Price Index) in hopes of endearing support from folks unaware it’s merely a ploy to reduce what many surmise of the cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) as being "too generous." COLAs are the annual increases, based on inflation, recipients of Social Security are supposed to receive even though COLAs have been virtually non-existent in recent years.

Even worse, I find it personally offensive Congressman Ryan would push forth legislation that would not only take away from our seniors, but would also cut the VA benefits from over 3 million veterans. He had no issue voting for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in-site. While he was fighting calories on his P90X workout routine, I was fighting in a war on terror while serving the US Army in Iraq along with nearly 3 million other service-members whom have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. For this career politician to sit here at home pushing an agenda to keep us at war, while also systematically seeking to disparage those who have sacrificed so much to ensure the continued freedoms of our American way of life, is beyond repugnant. It’s shameful. I’d ask him, and any other elected leader sharing his views, to please come with me and truly visit some of the families and service-members who’ve lost so much in order to preserve his freedom to ravage their sorrows with such policies. I’d ask him to explain his proposal to the children of these great men and women.

But there’s no need to worry because there are viable solutions to remedy future concerns for Social Security but it’s not popular to the corporations that have no heartbeat but according to the Supreme Court, are people too.

I believe the three best solutions for resolving concerns over the future solvency of Social Security are:

1.     Congress should keep their hands off Social Security. How about a jobs bill?
2.     Raising the federal minimum wage by a modest amount, whereby more funds are paid into Social Security.
3.     Increase the cap on taxable income for Social Security from 83% to 90%, as it was during President Reagan’s administration, for incomes up to $200,000.

These are practical and reasonable solutions for addressing the future concerns of Social Security. I don't personally believe any cuts to Social Security are acceptable. My sincere hope is that we can work together to ensure Congress addresses the issues and concerns regarding Social Security for all Americans, especially those most affected by it as well as those whom have sacrificed so much for it.

And now the Ryan letter:

Thank you for contacting me regarding efforts to reform Social Security. I appreciate you taking the time to let me know your views on this important issue.

You raised some interesting and insightful points regarding Social Security. As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, one of my top priorities is to preserve the Social Security safety net and to make sure the program remains solvent for future generations. This critical program provides financial support for more than 54 million beneficiaries. However, the risk to Social Security, driven by demographic changes, is nearer at hand than most acknowledge.

One of the primary looming financial pressures facing Social Security is the aging of the American society. The "Baby Boom" generation has already started to collect their Social Security retirement benefits. As a result, there are fewer workers to support each retiree than when Social Security was created. Increasing life expectancy and the approaching retirement of more "Baby Boomers" continues to put increasing pressure on Social Security each year. Over the next several years, the number of retirees is expected to grow more rapidly than the number of individuals whose taxes will pay for future benefits. Unfortunately, Social Security faces a $9.6 trillion deficit over the next 75 years.

Social Security must be reformed to prevent severe cuts in future benefits. According to the 2013 Social Security Trustees Report, beneficiaries will face a painful 23 percent benefit cut in 2033 when the Trust Funds are exhausted.  At that time, even those who are currently on Social Security-- those now 62 and older-- may experience indiscriminate cuts in benefits at a time when they are increasingly reliant on the program.

There is a bipartisan path forward on Social Security—one that requires all parties first to acknowledge the fiscal realities of this critical program. The budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2014 that my colleagues on the House Budget Committee and I have put forward,   The Path to   Prosperity , addresses the challenges Social Security is facing and serves as a blueprint for American renewal.

This budget strengthens Social Security by establishing a requirement that policymakers come to the table and enact common-sense reforms to keep the program solvent for current beneficiaries and makes it stronger for future generations. It would build upon President Obama's Fiscal Commission, calling on action to solve the pressing problems Social Security faces by requiring the President to put forward specific ideas on fixing Social Security. It also puts the onus on Congress to offer legislation to ensure the sustainable solvency of this critical program. Both parties must work together to chart a path forward on common-sense reforms, and this budget provides the nation's leaders with the tools to get there.

The problems facing the future of Social Security are real, and the numbers do not lie. We cannot demonize those who offer solutions if we seriously intend to tackle the inevitable solvency of Social Security. Ultimately, we cannot kick the can down the road and let another generation of retirees struggle because Congress failed to act. By addressing these issues now, we can ensure that each individual is given the resources to save for their future in the manor which they see fit. This fiscal crisis is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem. It is an American problem, and it cannot be solved exclusively using the political ideology of either party. I welcome the long overdue debate regarding how we will leave the next generation with a better America.

I am hopeful that Congress will address the issue of Social Security reform and have a serious discussion on the problems associated with our entitlement programs. If you would like to learn more about the specific reforms proposed by The Path to Prosperity, I would encourage you to visit: