We’re the grandsons of Social Security’s founders. Here’s why it’s worth saving | Opinion

Social Security is a critical lifeline for millions of Pennsylvanians. It should be strengthened and protected for the future

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By Henry Scott Wallace, James Roosevelt, Jr., and Tomlin Perkins Coggeshal

Republican Mehmet Oz rightly observed in his sole Senate debate with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman that Social Security is something which American workers have “paid into” their entire working lives and which should be protected.

But Pennsylvanians need to know that Republican leaders have entirely opposite views if Oz wins and they take over the Senate in the Nov. 8 midterm election. 

What are national Republican party leaders proposing? U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who leads the Republicans’ Senate campaign committee, wants to end the guarantee of Social Security and Medicare.

He proposes to sunset both programs after five years, in a sweeping plan railing against “socialism” and extolling privatization. Social Security and Medicare, as well as the payroll tax which funds them, would continue only if Congress could agree on how to renew them. Congress would have complete discretion to cut them, privatize them, turn them into unearned welfare, or let them “go bankrupt.”

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This debate means a lot to us. Our grandfathers – President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Vice President Henry A. Wallace – together with Labor Secretary Francis Perkins, created Social Security, on which Medicare’s funding was modeled. Wallace helped Perkins design Social Security.

FDR said the payroll tax was key to the success of Social Security: It gives workers “a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.” 

Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was equally blunt. There may be “a tiny splinter group” of politicians who want to mess with Social Security, he wrote, but “their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

In a radio interview, Oz cited Scott as one of his greatest role models in the Senate, and praised his “game plan” and “vision”, which he found “very clear eyed.” 

The head of the Republican National Committee has given Scott’s plan her official endorsement, praising it for being “full of actual solutions.” 

None of Pennsylvania’s Republican members of Congress have condemned it. Even the most “moderate” of them, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, has sponsored a constitutional amendment which would force cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and proudly touts an award he received from a phony Koch-funded “astroturf” group devoted to privatizing Social Security.

This is dangerous nonsense. Ever since Social Security’s birth, Republicans have decried it as “socialism.” But it is the opposite; it is an earned, paid-into social insurance policy, which has become the most popular federal program ever, enjoying near-universal support among Americans of all ages and political parties. 

Three million Pennsylvanians receive Social Security benefits.

More than a fifth of all Pennsylvanians are on Medicare. Every single active worker in the Commonwealth pays into both programs out of every single paycheck – the 6.2 percent “FICA” payroll tax, which is matched by another 6.2 percent from their employer. Countless other younger Pennsylvanians have their financial burdens eased when Social Security and Medicare benefits go to an older family member. 

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So the obvious question is not how to betray Social Security’s promise, but how to improve it. The simplest solution comes from the little-known fact that the richer you are, the less payroll tax you pay. Earned income above $147,000 per year is completely exempt. Eliminate this cap and make rich people pay the same rate as everybody else. Use the added revenues to improve benefits and services, and strengthen long-term solvency.

We’ve just celebrated the 87th birthday of FDR signing Social Security into law. It touches the life of every working American, and has saved millions from the “poorhouse.” For generations, it has stood as proof that the government can and must be a force for good in the lives of ordinary Americans. That is a promise that we, in the spirit of our New Deal ancestors, believe is worth not only preserving, but strengthening.. 

Henry Scott Wallace, of  Doylestown, Bucks County, is the grandson of Henry A. Wallace, FDR’s vice president and secretary of Agriculture and Commerce, and ran for Congress in 2018 in Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District.  district. James Roosevelt, Jr., the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, is a former associate commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall is the grandson of Frances Perkins, FDR’s labor secretary, and founder of the Frances Perkins Center.

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.