Defending Social Security

Date: March 8, 2005
Location: Washington, DC

DEFENDING SOCIAL SECURITY -- (House of Representatives - March 08, 2005)


Mr. HOLT. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from Wisconsin and the gentleman from Connecticut for arranging this discussion.

Madam Speaker, America is all abuzz about this discussion on Social Security, and that is because it is recognized from coast to coast, from every little village to every city, as very important. It is recognized, I would say, as one of the great accomplishments of America in the past century.

One of my constituents wrote me saying, "Representative Holt, please remind the Members of the House of Representatives how important Social Security has become for American families."

And she tells an important story that brings up a part of Social Security that we sometimes forget. The discussion often concerns retirement. But she tells the story of how her mother was widowed, and she and her two brothers were left without their father when he died in 1931. This was before Social Security was passed. "We had to return," she said, "to my mother's family home where we were reminded constantly how fortunate we were that we were from a family willing to take us in." She grew up feeling like a charity case.

But the story goes on. A couple of decades later, when her brother died young at age 38, his five children received Social Security survivor benefits until they were able to care for themselves. They stayed in their own home, went to the same school and never had to feel like charity cases.

Social Security survivor benefits, just as Social Security retirement benefits, bring with them not just money but dignity. This story, I think, highlights one of the important aspects of Social Security.

Another constituent wrote to me and said, "The President claims that placing Social Security savings into mutual funds will yield a positive result. Mutual funds still have risk. They go up and down. I have lost capital in several mutual funds. The average person is not an investment sophisticate."

Another resident of Central New Jersey writes to his representative, "It is bad enough that corporate America is trying to take away employee retirement and benefits. Now the President is talking about taking away Social Security."
Madam Speaker, they see this as taking it away something that they have earned, something they are entitled to.

Anyway, he says, "I don't want to save Social Security just for my generation, but for all generations. I believe it is the best and most needed program the government ever came up with. I believe Senator Dole said it best when he headed a committee a couple of decades ago dealing with Social Security. When large corporations or even the State of California wanted to drop out, the Senator said, Social Security is not a tax; it is a Federal retirement plan that everyone has to be in for it to work."

I am sure my colleague from Wisconsin has had a similar situation, has had similar experiences. When I go before a group of Social Security recipients, I ask: Is there anyone here ashamed to take Social Security? And they all chuckle and say, of course not, because we have earned it, because Social Security is for everyone. And everyone knows that it is for everyone. It is not for the ones who are clever in the market. It is not for the ones who are welfare cases. It is an earned benefit that brings with it dignity in the non-wage-earning years, those years of retirement or years after the family breadwinner has died or those years when disability makes it impossible to earn wages. It brings income and dignity in all of those cases. And like my colleague, I have heard it now from thousands, and I am not exaggerating, of my constituents.

I thank the gentlewoman for arranging this discussion.


Mr. HOLT. Madam Speaker, the gentlewoman from Wisconsin raises this approach of fear tactics, and of course, it leads to the question, well, why? Why does the President, why do some of our colleagues, why are people trying to change this program that our constituents tell us over and over again has meant the difference between dignity and destitution for them? Why do they want to change a program that works so well?

The spokesman from the White House and the President himself have said that privatization is not likely to help the finances of Social Security, but then they have gone on to say, well, even if it does not, it is the right thing to do. Then we have these youngsters at some of the President's road shows around the country chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Social Security has got to go."

We begin to understand what this is about. It is to overturn a program that they find ideologically unacceptable.

Leslie from Milltown, New Jersey, says, I think we have evidence that the motivation of these politicians for proposing individualized private accounts is driven by ideology, not by a real concern for strengthening and preserving Social Security.

That ideology I think is best summed up with the phrase, you are on your own. You are on your own and you will do well in the market. You are smarter than the market and you will be fine.

Let me tell my colleagues, my constituents say over and over again, we have tried private accounts. Before 1935 you were entitled to invest as much as you wanted in private accounts to prepare for your retirement, and you know what, a majority of the elderly lived below the poverty line. That is why we have Social Security. It is a program that is, I think, one of the most successful we have had in America.

Let me just finish by saying we have had testimonials from so many of our constituents. Let me give a personal one.
My father died when I was six, without insurance, without a pension. My sister and mother and I received Social Security survivor benefits. She was teaching at a junior college on a small teacher's salary. That made an enormous difference.

When I talk about Pat from Lincroft who said Social Security for her brother's children brought dignity, whereas when her father had died before Social Security came into place, they had to live as charity cases, I know what she is talking about.

Social Security binds this country together in a way that no other program that has come out of this body has, and we should not throw it out just because of some ideological whim which is what is happening right now. That is why the country is so upset, why we are getting so much mail.