By Senator Bernie Sanders
Some of you may have heard that, unlike his last year’s budget, President Obama will NOT be proposing cuts in Social Security through a so-called “chained CPI” in his FY 2015 budget. This is not only a huge victory for seniors and working families, it is an enormously impressive victory for grass-roots progressive politics. It means that, in all likelihood, we have successfully beaten back an unprecedented effort to make major cuts to the most important safety net program in the country.
Think back to where we were three years ago on this issue. At that time, virtually every Republican in Congress was pushing “entitlement reform.” Sadly, a number of Democrats and the President held a similar position. Further, with much of the effort being organized by powerful billionaires like Pete Peterson, the Koch brothers and others, the mainstream media had largely bought into the line that Social Security was “going bankrupt,” and that cuts were needed.
How did we win this victory? Our strategy was simple. We did it the old fashioned way by educating and organizing.
In the Senate we formed the Defending Social Security Caucus, which made it clear that Social Security was not going broke, has $2.7 trillion in its trust fund and can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible person for the next 19 years. We also pointed out that Social Security has not contributed to the deficit because it is independently funded by the FICA payroll tax. Lastly, we made it clear that the proposed cuts were not mere “tweaks,” but that millions of senior citizens, disabled veterans, and people with disabilities were going to be seriously hurt by reducing their COLAs. Our progressive allies in the House did exactly the same thing.
Perhaps most importantly, however, was the role played by grass-roots organizations. A massive coalition representing millions of Americans came together including senior groups, unions, veterans’ organizations, women’s groups, civil rights groups, disability organizations and others. Petitions were signed, calls to Congress were made, emails were sent and demonstrations and rallies were held. In essence, grass-roots America made an offer that members of Congress could not afford to refuse. We told them we knew what was going on and there would be a political price to pay if they ignored us. And they didn’t.
The political lesson to be learned here is pretty simple. If people stand together, and are prepared to build strong grass-roots coalitions, there is very little that cannot be accomplished. Last week, we won a major victory in preventing large cuts which would have caused devastating financial problems for some of the most vulnerable people in our country.
Now, as we think into the future, we must not simply be reactive, we must be pro-active. In the midst of an obscene level of income and wealth inequality, we must develop and fight for an agenda which expands the middle class and improves the lives of those most in need. Among other areas, we should be working to expand Social Security, create millions of new jobs, raise the minimum wage, extend long-term unemployment benefits, reverse global warming, make college affordable, develop a progressive tax system and create a health care system which guarantees health care for all.
The truth is that while the Koch brothers and their right-wing allies have virtually unlimited sums of money at their disposal, there are real limits to what they can do if we confront them intelligently. On issue after issue, the vast majority of Americans agree with our views — not right-wing extremism.
Our job is to educate and mobilize them. We have just won a major victory, and we can do it again and again.
Thanks for all your efforts.