No Straight Talk in Bush's Speech

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney on President Bush's State of the Union Address


When the president talks to America about something as serious as working families' retirement security, we need to hear sound facts and straight talk.

But that's not what we heard from President Bush in last night's State of the Union address. He didn't say that working people would end up with lower benefits under Social Security privatization. He didn't talk about the high price working families would pay for privatization-in benefit cuts, new government debt and potential Enron-ization of America's most successful family protection program. Here's what we didn't hear: With private pensions and public employee retirement plans under attack, working families need more retirement security, not less. But privatizing Social Security would make retirement less secure by cutting guaranteed benefits by 30 percent for even for those who do not choose privatized accounts. For workers who do choose to have privatized accounts, the government would take back 50 cents for every $1 in an account-on top of the 30 percent cut in guaranteed benefits. For the average worker who lives 20 years beyond retirement, that's a $152,000 cut in guaranteed benefits. Privatization would push many more seniors into poverty. Privatization would hurt the economy and explode the deficit, passing on $2 trillion in debt to our children during the first decade alone. Most of that money would be borrowed from foreign bankers in China and Japan. Privatization would open Social Security up to corruption, waste and Enron-ization because politicians would hand-pick which Wall Street investment companies could make billions off our privatized accounts. Decisions about Americans' retirement security should be based on what's best for average people, not tied to politicians' wealthy friends or companies that have political influence. We must strengthen Social Security-but we must take the time to do it right so we help rather than hurt younger workers as well as those nearing retirement. We should be talking about commonsense fixes for Social Security rather than slashing benefits. And we can help working families build private pensions and savings on top of guaranteed Social Security.

Americans deserve the Social Security benefits we have paid for-we will not accept a privatization plan that makes retirement less secure. And we will not accept the notion that keeping our elderly out of poverty is not 'fiscally sustainable' while tax breaks for millionaires are.

Last night President Bush may have been fuzzy about his plans for Social Security – but he made it clear that when he talks about fiscal discipline, he means disciplining working families and America's most vulnerable-the children, the poor and people with disabilities-to create and preserve policies that benefit the very rich. He made it clear that when he talks about an 'ownership' society, he really means a 'you're on your own-ership' society. Count on the budget he proposes next week to make this even clearer.

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