Tuesday, July 24, 2007

This Social Security Bill Needs To Be Gotten Out Of Committee

When my wife took a municipal government job, and my mother went to work for a public school district, neither of them had any idea that those career moves would cost each of them small fortunes in Social Security benefits.

Two of the most insidious things ever done to large numbers of Americans were done way back in 1977 and 1983. In '77, Congress passed the Government Pension Offset, which slashed the amount of Social Security benefits people receive when their spouses are on the Civil Service Retirement System. The cut was two-thirds of the amount of the government pension.

Then, in '83, there was the Windfall Elimination Provision. This directly cut Social Security benefits for CSRS retirees who mostly worked for government entities but also spent part of their working lives in the private sector, covered by Social Security.

And, this doesn't just affect those who worked for the federal government. These reductions also apply to those who worked for state and local governments, by formula.

"You will get something," one reads upon investigation of the Social Security Web site. Yep, we know how that is. It hurts worst the first time.

It's an old fight that needs to be won. In past skirmishes, it's been noted that public-service employees often don't make as much as their private-sector counterparts, and that this is a perverse disincentive to enter public service. Also, the victims are largely lower-income women -- people who were teachers, librarians, clerks, and so on. These are highly essential jobs, but in the public arena they tend to be undervalued.

And, you machos out there, and your spouses, are also affected by these provisions. Firefighters and police officers suffer reductions under this, too. (I don't mean to stereotype anyone -- I'm just noting that some vocations are predominantly male, or female.)

The bid this year is the proposed Social Security Fairness Act of 2007 (S. 2006, HR. 82). The bill is stuck in committee in both houses.

What is the argument against this legislation? This from govexec.com, from a previous skirmish in 2003:

Social Security Administrator Jo Anne Barnhart testified that repealing the two laws would be costly - $62.2 billion over the next 10 years - and while increasing the benefit to low-income pensioners, eliminating the two provisions would provide an unfair advantage to retirees who earned large incomes while employed.
"To modify the effects of the GPO or WEP, or to eliminate them entirely, would treat government workers more favorably than comparable workers in the private sector," Barnhart said.
Barnhart recommended that any modification of the two laws might be better considered when lawmakers take on comprehensive reform of the Social Security system.

Like that's going to happen anytime soon. But in the meantime, a serious wrong needs to be righted. Has this administration ever been concerned about overcompensating big earners? Most of the people who are being hurt by this are the ones figuring out how they're going to afford next month's mortgage payment.

In further rebuttal, I will cite something from the National Education Association: Approximately 300,000 individuals lose an average of $3,600 a year due to the GPO, an amount that can make the difference between self-sufficiency and poverty.

It goes beyond them. Millions of Americans are being hurt by the existing provisions. If you have ever taken the time to write your senator or representative, this is the right time, and the right issue. Let's get this out of committee and on the floor for votes.

(I am proud to report that one of the authors of this bill is U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas. Lloyd, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting, is one politician Texas can and should honor.)