What are Republicans’ real intentions for Social Security?

Ronnie Shows Former Democratic Congressman
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The news that Social Security will face shortfalls in the near future is not good news for the federal program that millions of American seniors and disabled folks rely on to help make ends meet. Clearly something needs to be done to fix Social Security. My fear is that Republicans are going to try to gut Social Security under the cover of “reforming” the program by eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse.”

As proof, one needs to look no further than recent conservative attacks on the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) fund — a federal program that provides government assistance to those whose disabilities make them unhireable.

Just last week, The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece by a leading conservative, Howard Rich, criticizing the SSDI fund, which he describes as a bloated government program that is wrought with excess and wasteful spending. Rich argues that Congress should seriously consider reducing the size of the fund by billions of dollars.

Of course, there really are Americans unfairly taking advantage of SSDI benefits. As with any government program, there are always going to be people who abuse it. But most SSDI beneficiaries have legitimate disabilities and have earned the benefits they receive by working hard all their lives and contributing to Social Security.

To be clear, Republicans are not heartless conservatives who don’t care about the poor and downtrodden. Rather, many believe that it’s not the government’s place to step in and help people when they’re down on their luck. They’d prefer that religious and charitable organizations, not taxpayers, care for the poor and disabled. But the truth is that those organizations simply don’t have the means to take care of all the disabled Americans who receive benefits through the SSDI program. That’s why the program was created in the first place.

Something else to keep in mind: Reducing funding for the SSDI program will not eliminate the needs of those Americans too disabled to work. Rather, it will force states and communities to deal with these folks, since letting them suffer and languish is not an option for a society as wealthy as ours. In my home state of Mississippi, where the state budget is tight, this could spell disaster.

Lastly, I think voters should be aware that while reducing the national debt is critical, it cannot be done on the backs of the poor and middle class alone. Republicans must come to the table on tax increases and not simply say that we can balance the budget by eliminating waste and fraud from programs like SSDI. That is simply not true — the deficit is far too big.

The fact is that programs like SSDI have never been liked by conservatives. Americans must be vigilant and keep in mind that Republican suggestions to “reform” programs like SSDI are not all that different from the fox’s suggestions for improving the henhouse’s security.

Ronnie Shows is a former Democratic member of Congress and member of the Blue Dog Coalition. He represented Mississippi’s Fourth Congressional District between 1999 and 2003.