Cross posted at Ohio Watch, jScoop, and Daily Kos.

Yesterday [Saturday] Senators Reid (D-NV) and Dorgan (D-ND) came to Columbus, Ohio to set the record straight regarding Bush’s Social Security Bamboozlepalooza Tour.

More on the flip side.
The theme was “Strengthen Social Security – Don’t Privatize It.” There were about 150 people in attendance; the majority were over the age of 50, but there was also a good number of people under 35.  Although this was billed as a town hall, it wasn’t actually a “town hall” since no one was able to ask questions directly.  Instead attendants were instructed to write down their questions on one of the nicely printed cards and give them to a facilitator upon completion.

The panel included Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Former Senator John Glenn (D-OH), Columbus Ohio Mayor Mike Coleman, and citizens Marguarite Weible, Karen Cook, and Nancy Mathis.  

While we were waiting for the panel to come out, a video entitled “Social Security Under Threat” was played.  The video illustrated the following point:

  • Social Security is not only a retirement system.  It is an important family values program that supports disabled persons, widow(er)s and their children, and elderly people who have paid into the system.

After the video ended, I heard comments like “I didn’t know Social Security money could go to my children, if I died.” and “I didn’t realize Social Security was the sole source of income for so many disabled and elderly people.”

Next the facilitators chose members from the audience, including yours truly and Mr. Ticked Off Ohioan, to sit on stage behind the panel.  A few minutes later, Franklin county Commissioners Mary Jo Kilroy and Paula Brooks came out to introduce the panel.  After the introductions, John Glenn in explained how Reid and Dorgan are co-chairs of the Democratic Senate Policy Committee and that they sent the policy for the Democrats and handed it off to Senator Dorgan.

Highlights for Senator Dorgan’s part include:

  • Those who want to dismantle Social Security are those who will never need it.
  • Social Security remain fully solvent until George W. Bush is 106 years old, if we do nothing.  There are plenty of other crises like soaring prescription drug costs and soaring health care costs.
  • Bush wants to borrow 5 trillion dollars over 20 years, to divert money from Social Security to put into the stock market, cut benefits, and then hope everything turns out all right.
  • Bush has been crying wolf about Social Security since 1977.  This not about economics; it’s about philosophy.  Bush is against government social programs.
  • The Social Security are our benefits they belong to us, keep your hands off social security.

Citizen guest Marguarite Weible’s father died in 1965 without a pension after being laid off from his company after 29 years of service.  She was an 18 year old freshman in college at the time.  Marguarite was able to finish her college education due to survivor benefits she received.  Her mother got a job and worked until she was 70 yrs old.   Social Security was Marguarite’s mother’s sole source of income for 10 years until she died at 80 years old.  Marguarite is concerned about the private accounts since her husband’s retirement plan is dependent upon the stock market and has all ready lost a lot of money.  She is also concerned that funds diverted will reduce benefits and escalate borrowing creating an even more dangerous deficit level.  Reid is up next.

Highlights from Senator Reid’s part include:

  • Talking about growing up in Searchlight, NV and speaking about his grandmother’s independence from her 8 children due to her “old-aged pension” check from Social Security.
  • Telling the audience to try to find an insurance company that would pay out pension at a locked-in amount upon age 65, provide benefits to the surviving family members if death occurs before age 65, and provide fixed income stipend if the policy holder becomes disabled without exception.
  • Noted that Bush doesn’t talk about what Social Security actually does.  He never mentioned that 1/3rd of benefits goes to widows, orphans, and the disabled.
  • The President is wrong; he is against government social programs and even said so in late 1970s.  There’s even a recent White House memo [see third paragraph from the end] that says we can finally get rid of Social Security.

Citizen guest Karen Cook and her husband were the first generation to go to college from their blue collar factory workers families in Pennsylvania.  Her husband used the GI Bill he received from serving in Vietnam to get his undergrad in Chemistry and working in an iron factory with his father to earn money for graduate school.  Eventually he earned a PhD in Chemistry and won a job at a university.  This job enable Karen to begin work on an undergraduate degree.  After she stopping her pursuit of a  undergraduate degree to become a stay-at-home mom, Karen finally received her bachelors degree in 1989.  They moved to Columbus, Ohio where Karen’s husband was a university professor and Karen worked part-time in a Doctor’s office.  In 1991, Karen’s husband had a massive debilitating stroke (no language skills, limited movement on right side) at 43 despite having no risk factors.  With children ages 9 and 15 and with a mortgage payment, Karen had to find a full-time job in a hurry.  Luckily her husband qualified for Social Security disability within 6 months of his stroke.  Karen believe that her family would have been homeless if it were not for Social Security.  14 yrs later Karen’s husband regained some movement but still cannot return to work.  She often thinks about what would have happened if they had had a private personal account.  Karen believes the account would have been empty long ago.  She says Social Security is not perfect but should be preserved; everyone should have a safety net when they need it.

Citizen guest Nancy Mathis’s mother was a factory worker and her father was a truck driver.  When Nancy was 17 years old her mother killed in an auto accident.  Her father was left care for Nancy, her two teenaged brothers, and 5 year old bother.  Nancy says that Social Security survivor benefits saved her family.  Many years later Nancy’s husband had massive heart attack with a grim prognosis.  Two days after open heart surgery her husband had a massive stroke, which left him with extremely limited language skills.  After this tragedy Nancy’s family qualified for Social Security disability benefits and later survivor benefits after her husband’s death.  She thinks of Social Security as a helping hand when you need it the very most.  Nancy told the audience that something like her situation can happen at anytime; she also tell us not to cut off the arm of the helping hand.

Next was the question and answer period led by Mayor Mike Coleman.

Mayor Coleman: What happened to the money which the us government borrowed form Social Security?

Senator Reid:

You know one of the most worst performance I’ve seen in a long time was about two weeks ago when the President was in West Virginia.  He went there and he had someone bring out some file cabinets fulled fill of IOUs – what they were was IOUs or bonds that people bought, and he was trying to imply to the world that they weren’t no good that those IOUs of the United States were no good.  Now during the Clinton years Social Security, as you may or may not remember, during the Clinton years we were taking in more money than we were paying out.  During the Clinton years the debt was paid down by half a trillion dollars,  so there was not borrowing during the Clinton years for Social Security say that in the last four years at least and there has been over two years a lot of money borrowed from Social Security.  But remember the IOUs are of the United States; we can’t default on that no more than we can default on a saving bonds anyone buys and that was, I think, a cheap trick of the President to try to indicate that the fact that Social Security had not cash but IOUs of the federal government – well frankly the debt of the United States should be as good gold and it is as good as gold.  So even though the money isn’t in the trust fund it’s the security of the United States so people shouldn’t worry about that point.  Mayor.

[I thought Reid this answer could have simplified this answer by saying that just like banks don’t have all of the money for all of their customers on hand, the Federal Government doesn’t have all of the money for the Social Security Trust Fund.  Both cases require trust that the institutions involved are credible to fulfill your needs when it’s time for a withdrawal.]

Mayor Coleman:
What impact would privatization have many women who maybe in and out of the workforce in their lifetime?

Reid responds without a mic saying “Right here today we’ve heard,” while pointing to the women on the panel.

[I thought that Reid should have pointed out that women earn more money during the course of their working years, since they frequently enter and exit the workforce due to raising children; therefore women do not have as much as men in their Social Security accounts.  Placing money in the stock market instead of a Social Security account would probably lower the amount of money received upon retirement.]

Mayor Coleman:
What is the most effective way of making our opinions on social security preservation known?  No matter what the polls show the President just keeps pushing it, and I’m afraid he’ll wear down the opposition.  In other words how do people make their opinion known in order so to change the President’s mind?

Dorgan responds:

Well there are two ways for politicians to be effected – one is for them to see the light and the other is to feel the heat. [Lots of laughter.]  The light is often more difficult for politicians heat is very effective.  Part of heat it seems to me is the President proposes to take apart this system and the American people respond aggressively.  They respond by coming to a meeting like this; they respond in dozens of ways.  They respond to a pollster when a pollster says “How do you feel about this?” and America speaks with a voice to the President and says we don’t like this at all.  Park the 747 and stay in Washington and look directly in the eye of the trade problem, jobs moving overseas, look directly in the eye of the healthcare problem…  [Becomes inaudible due to thunderous applause.]

[I though Dorgan should have said harass your elected officials by calling and writing daily.]

Mayor Coleman: Is the President’s claim that minorities, specifically African Americans, would benefit more from privatization than the existing system?  Is this true or false? [This was the question I submitted :o)]

Senator Reid:

I hope you’re not looking at the sneer on my face.  He is trying to tell African Americans that they’d be better off with privatization because they don’t live as long. [Audible audience groans] That’s what he says.  You think it might be a good idea to find out why they’re not living longer and maybe do a little something about that?  65% of senior citizens who are African Americans depend on social security.  That should be all.

[Overall a good answer, but he could have pointed out that African American children receive more Social Security benefits in the form of survivor benefits and that this specific benefit would not be available under privatization.]

All in all I thought the Town Hall was a success.  I think that was plenty of excellent information for a person that didn’t know a thing about Social Security.  Kudos to Reid and Dorgan!!  I didn’t know that they were also travelling the country for Social Security.  This event was not well publicized at all, and I’m not sure why.  The local television stations were present, but I didn’t get a chance to see what they actually covered.  All I can say is keep a lookout; Senators Reid and Dorgan just might show up in your neck of the woods.

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