The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “OUR REVOLUTION: A Future to Believe In” by Bernie Sanders from Part Two: “An Agenda for a New America: How We Transform Our Country” from Chapter Nine: “Protecting Our Most Vulnerable” on page 411 and I quote: “PROTECTING SENIOR CITIZENS – When people become old, they often become frail and sick. They are unable to work and earn an income. In a civilized society, the older generation–the people who raised us–are entitled, and allowed, to live out their remaining years in dignity and security. For millions of seniors in our country today, that is most certainly not the case. We must change that.
Yet for decades, Republicans have tried to convince the American people that Social Security is in crisis. They say it’s going broke, that it won’t be there for our kids and grandchildren, that it’s a Ponzi scheme, that it is contributing to the deficit. All of that is nonsense.
Through good economic times and bad, Social Security has paid every nickel owed to every eligible American–on time and without delay. Today, 59 million seniors, people with disabilities, and children receive benefits from Social Security. Social Security is financially self-sufficient, funded by the payroll tax. Far from being broke, the Social Security retirement trust fund has a $2.8 trillion surplus. And not only hasn’t Social Security added a dime to the deficit, it is forbidden by law from doing so. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that the Republicans forgot to pay for added trillions to the deficit and national debt, but Social Security didn’t.
So why are Republicans always trying to undermine public trust in Social Security? For some, it’s ideological–they hate that Social Security is a government program that works very well and is extremely popular with the public. It threatens their bedrock philosophy that government can do no good. For others, privatization of Social Security would be a fantastic new opportunity for their friends and campaign contributors on Wall Street to make huge profits by gambling with the retirement savings of working people.
Despite what you may have heard on TV, Social Security is not in crisis and is not going broke. The Social Security retirement trust fund can pay full benefits to every single retiree for the next eighteen years, and three-quarters of benefits afterward. Why not longer? For one thing, wages for the vast majority of American workers are stagnating, making payroll tax receipts lower than they would be if wages were rising. If we had the same level of economic equality we had in 1983, the retirement trust fund would have another $1.1 trillion on hand–and another twenty more years of solvency. Yes, income inequality is a problem for Social Security, too.
Moreover, payroll taxes are only assessed on the first $118,500 of income. That means a Wall Street CEO who makes $20 million per year pays no more in payroll taxes than someone earing $118,500. That is an extremely regressive approach. America doesn’t have a problem with “greedy geezers,” to quote one Social Security adversary. It has a problem with the superrich not paying their fair share into the system.
About one out of five senior citizens today are trying to make ends meet on incomes of less than $13,000 a year. Frankly, I don’t know how they do it. And the truth is that many of them don’t do it. Many of them don’t take the medicine they should. Their homes are too cold. They don’t get the nutrition they should.
That is why we should “lift the cap” and apply the payroll tax to earned and investment income above $250,000. This would raise taxes only on the wealthiest 1.5 percent of Americans. In other words, 98.5 percent of the American people–including those earning between $118,500 and $250,000–would not see their payroll taxes go up by one dime.
Not only would this simple fix extend Social Security’s solvency until at least 2074, it would also provide enough new revenue to expand benefits for seniors making less than $16,000 by about $1,300 a year. I think this is a sensible, practible and fair approach. It asks those who have benefited most from years of tax cuts and who have the means to pay their fair share of payroll taxes.
Today the average Social Security benefit for retired workers is just $1,341 a month. More than one-third of senior citizens depend on Social Security for almost all of their income. During three out of the last six years, despite the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs, senior citizens and disabled veterans did not receive a cost-of-living adjustment to keep up with inflation. The number of hungry senior citizens is projected to go up by 50 percent by 2025, and many of them are already on waiting lists for the Meals on Wheels program, putting them at greater risk of congestive heart failure, depression, and asthma.
Our job must be to expand benefits, not cut them. Our job must be to strengthen Social Security, not weaken it.
STANDING WITH THE DISABLED – Moreover, let us not forget that Social Security is not just a retirement program. It is an insurance program that protects millions of Americans who become disabled or lose their parents at a young age. Incredibly, the only source of income for about 3 million persons with disabilities is a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefit that averages just $35 a day.
In 2015, a CDC report said a stunning 53 million Americans–one of every five adults in our country–has a disability. CDC director Tom Friedan said at the time, “We are all at risk of having a disability at some point in our lifetime.” Yet twenty-five years after the historic passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, we still have miles to go to make sure that everyone who has a disability in this country can live with dignity and respect.
Today, 28.5 percent of disabled Americans are living in poverty. About 6 million persons with disabilities have trouble finding adequate transportation, and half a million have reported that they do not leave their homes because of lack of transportation. Over 2.4 million Americans with disabilities pay more than half of their limited incomes on housing, and 43 percent of Americans living in homeless shelters have a disability. We have got to do a lot better than that.
For one thing, far too many Americans with disabilities are unable to get the Social Security disability benefits they have earned and deserve. And the average benefit that the 11 million Americans who do receive SSDI get is just $1,166 a month–hardly enough to survive on. Of course, that didn’t stop Republicans in Congress from trying to cut disability insurance benefits by 19 percent in 2015, which would have cut the average yearly benefit from $13, 980 to just $11,324.
Let’s be clear: These are our neighbors who are unable to work because of a disability. Many of them are paralyzed, many have had their legs amputated, and many of them woke up one day and found out that they had only a short time left to live because of a terminal illness. And the Republicans wanted to cut their already inadequate benefits by $2,656 a year. Fortunately, we won that battle, but it sickens me that we even had to wage the fight.
Of course, there are many other ways we fail people with disabilities, beginning with inadequate enforcement of civil rights laws to prevent discrimination in employment, public services, and public accommodations. But we also fail to provide sufficient funding for special education in our schools, and for meaningful job training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. And there are a host of heath care-related issues that we must address, including the dearth of long-term home care options. Clearly, we have a long way to go in terms of being a society that values the contributions of the 53 million people in this country living with disabilities.
CARING FOR OUR VETERANS – While serious people can have legitimate differences of opinion about when our country should go to war, there should never be a debate as to whether we fulfill the promises made to the men and women who served this country in the military. As a nation, we have a moral obligation to provide the best-quality care to those who have put their lives on the line to defend us. But we have often fallen short of the obligation.
What we can never forget is that the cost of war is more than the 6,800 service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost of war is more than the hundreds of billions we spend on planes, aircraft carriers, and enormously expensive weapons systems.
The cost of war includes taking care of the men and women we sent off to fight the war, including the hundreds of thousands of veterans with amputations, loss of eyesight, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury. It includes caring for the spouses and children who have to rebuild their lives after the loss of a loved one. It includes veterans who are having difficulty keeping jobs in order to pay their bills, their high divorce rates, and the terrible tragedy of veterans committing suicide.
The bottom line is that if we are going to send people off to battle, we must do everything we can to make them whole when they return. If we can’t do that, we shouldn’t be sending them into war in the first place. That’s the sacred contract we have with the people who put their lives on the line to defend us. And that is why as the former chairman and a current member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I consider it one of my highest priorities in Congress to ensure that our veterans receive the care and benefits they have earned.
Amid reports of unacceptable wait times at a number of VA medical facilities, many Republicans wanted to denigrate the VA and its employees, and use the very real problems in the system as an excuse to privatize VA health care. Many Americans don’t realize this, but the VA operates the largest integrated health care system in the nation, treating nearly 6.5 million patients each year. And according to veterans’ service organizations, which represent millions of veterans, and the many veterans with whom I have spoken over the years, the quality of care provided by the VA is strong. It needs to be better, but most veterans have a high regard for the VA health care they receive.
So, instead of undermining the system, I spearheaded a bipartisan effort to pass the most comprehensive veterans legislation in decades to increase the accountability within the VA and ensure that all veterans have access to timely health care. We strengthened the health system by authorizing twenty-seven new medical facilities and by providing $5 billion to hire more doctors and nurses to care for the surging number of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We provided incentives to attract young doctors to the VA, and made it easier for some veterans to see private doctors to go to community health centers. We expanded VA educational benefits and improved care for veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military. That is how we honor our veterans–not by paying them lip service and shuttering the VA, but by strengthening the services and care they receive.
But more work remains to be done. Much more. We must improve and streamline the VA disability claims process. We must make comprehensive dental care available at all VA medical centers, and expand caregiver provisions. The number of veterans battling mental health disorders continues to rise, and the number of veterans who commit suicide remains unacceptably high. Some twenty-two veterans take their own lives each and every day. We must make sure that all veterans have the mental health care they need.
We must expand the VA Caregivers Program to provide home care to veterans who need intensive attention. And we must fully undo the cuts to military pensions that were insisted upon by Republicans in the last budget deal.
Lastly, we must end the travesty of veterans’ homelessness. While significant gains have been made over the past six years, the fact that on any given night there are some 50,000 homeless veterans on the street is a national disgrace.
The sad truth is that war is an extremely expensive proposition–in terms of human life, human suffering, and financial cost. Taking care of veterans is a cost of war. And it is a cost that we can no longer shirk. It’s that simple.”
(THIS CHAPTER [NINE: “PROTECTING OUR MOST VULNERABLE”] IS SO ELOQUENTLY WRITTEN BY BERNIE SANDERS DESCRIBING ISSUES SUCH AS SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE WHICH SPEAKER PAUL RYAN WANTS TO ELIMINATE MEDICARE AND PRIVATIZE SOCIAL SECURITY. ADD WHAT DONALD TRUMP WANTS TO DO BY GETTING RID OF OBAMACARE AND WHAT, IF ANYTHING, HE’S GOING TO DO TO REPLACE IT? AT SOME POINT, THE DEMOCRATS ARE GOING TO HAVE TO FILIBUSTER THE REPUBLICANS. NOW ADD THE PROBLEM OF VETERANS AFFAIRS WHERE BERNIE SITS ON THE VETERANS’ AFFAIRS COMMITTEE, HE KNOWS THE ISSUES. SINCE, DONALD TRUMP SAID HE’S GOING TO TREAT THE VETERAS FAR BETTER THAN THEY HAVE BEEN TREATED, THEN LET’S HOLD HIM TO TH EPROMISE BECAUSE AS A VETERAN MYSELF, I KNOW THE VA DOES NEED IMPROVEMENT PARTICULARLY UP IN TOMAH, WISCONSIN. NOW ALL OF THESE ISSUES ARE TAKING PLACE AROUND CHRISTMAS TIME AND LAST NIGHT, NOVEMBER 30, 2016, I SAW A WONDERFUL TWO-HOUR MOVIE ON NBC TELEVISION TITLED “DOLLY PARTON’S CHRISTMAS OF MANY COLORS: CIRCLE OF LOVE” WHICH DESCRIBED SOME OF THE CONDITIONS THE POOR PEOPLE LIVE LIKE IN PARTS OF OUR COUNTRY. NOW SINCE DONALD TRUMP TAKES OVER AS PRESDIENT ON JANUARY 20, 2017, LET’S HOLD HIM TO SOME OF THESE PROMISES HE HAS MADE THAT’S HE’S PRESIDENT OF ALL THE PEOPLE. UP TO NOW, IN MANY OF HIS CHOICES AND STATEMENTS, I FIND THIS HARD TO BELIEVE ALONG WITH SEN BERNIE SANDERS.
LaVern Isely, Progressive, Overtaxed, independent Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen Member and USAF Veteran