Jeanette Strong: Social Security and our future

“Social Security and Medicare, if you qualify, you just get it no matter what the cost… We ought to turn everything into discretionary spending so it's all evaluated.” Sen. Ron. Johnson, R-Wis, Aug. 2

On Aug. 14, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. The idea of a government-managed pension plan was not new; several states, including Nevada, had tried creating such a program, with mixed results. It took the hardships of the Great Depression to finally provide the impetus to get the concept established as a federal program.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most families lived in multi-generational households, where younger members cared for older members. When the population became more urbanized during the Industrial Revolution, it became harder for working members of families to support non-working members. Millions of older people were thrown into poverty. Various solutions were tried, with little success.

In 1934, Edwin Witte, a political scientist known as the “Father of Social Security,” was selected by Roosevelt to develop a federal pension plan. He and his team created a program that would be funded by contributions from workers themselves.

When Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, older Americans were guaranteed, for the first time, a regular income that lifted millions out of poverty. Since the program doesn’t depend on federal revenue, Roosevelt said, “No damn politician can ever scrap my Social Security program.”

However, ever since Social Security came into existence, Republicans have been trying to dismantle it. Here are some of their objections.

“It will discourage and defeat the American trait of thrift. It will go a long way toward destroying American initiative and courage.” Sen. Daniel Hastings, R-Del., Jan. 1, 1935

“Never in the history of the world has any measure been brought in here so insidiously designed so as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers, and to prevent any possibility of the employers providing work for the people.” Rep. John Taber, R-N.Y., April 19, 1935

“This is the largest tax bill in history. And to call it ‘social security’ is a fraud on the workingman…. I am not exaggerating the folly of this legislation. The saving it forces on our workers is a cruel hoax.” Alf Landon, 1936 Republican nominee for president, Sept. 26, 1936

These attacks have never stopped, but now Republicans aren’t even pretending they support a program that is overwhelmingly popular with Americans. Sen. Johnson has proposed turning Social Security and Medicare into discretionary spending programs, with budgets voted on every year.

“What we ought to be doing is we ought to turn everything into discretionary spending so it’s all evaluated so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken, that are going to be going bankrupt. As long as things are on automatic pilot, we just continue to pile up debt.” (Washington Post, Aug. 3)

What this means is that every year, Congress would have to vote to reauthorize Social Security. With our polarized politics, does anyone think Congress could come together to make sure Social Security is protected every year?

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., has a similar idea. In his “Plan to Rescue America,” page 19, he writes, “All federal legislation sunsets in five years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” This means that every five years, the entire Social Security program and all its benefits, including Medicare, would have to be reauthorized by Congress or the whole program, including Medicare, would disappear. (Fox Business, Feb. 22)

It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that if Social Security and Medicare have to be reauthorized every year or every five years, the “security” aspect of the programs would be destroyed.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., summed up the problem on Aug. 3. “The junior senator from Wisconsin wants to put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block. He has argued that the benefits which millions of Americans rely on every day shouldn’t be guaranteed, but should be subject to partisan infighting here in Washington. He would like to revoke the guarantee of Medicare and Social Security and make them discretionary. Well, you know what happens when we make things discretionary around here? All too often they get cut, or even eliminated. We don’t want to do that.” (Washington Post, Aug. 3)

Democrats want to protect Social Security and Medicare. Republicans want to abolish these programs. It shouldn’t be hard to recognize which party actually cares about Americans. Not hard at all.

Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at


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