In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the policy Donald Trump is fixated on has nothing to do with ramping up testing, getting protective equipment to workers, or sending resources to nursing homes where tens of thousands of seniors are dying of COVID-19. Instead, he’s obsessed with cutting payroll taxes, Social Security’s dedicated revenue.
Now, Trump’s economic advisers and his unqualified son-in-law Jared Kushner have another way to undermine Social Security: The so-called “Eagle Plan,” which would be more aptly named the Work ’Til You Die Plan. It would give people $10,000, but only if they agreed to sign away a portion of their future Social Security benefits. This plan asks desperate families, terrified of going without food or being thrown out of their homes, to sacrifice their retirement.
Plans like this one betray a willful refusal to understand the nature of Social Security, which is insurance, not a piggy bank. It replaces wages lost when a worker retires, becomes disabled, or dies leaving dependents. Workers earn these benefits with every paycheck.
Turning Social Security from guaranteed insurance into a private account is a longstanding goal of Wall Street billionaires. Right now, Wall Street gets no money from Social Security. But if it were converted into hundreds of millions of private accounts, Wall Street would reap huge profits.
President George W. Bush infamously attempted to convert Social Security into a piggy bank for Wall Street, and was resoundingly rebuked by the American people in the 2006 midterm elections. Given this unpopularity, proponents of privatization are using sneaky backdoor tactics instead.
Back in 2018, Ivanka Trump released a parental leave plan with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). They referred to this proposal as “paid leave,” but it actually asked parents to fund their own leave by forgoing future Social Security benefits. The plan was developed by the Independent Women’s Forum, a Koch Brothers-funded think tank whose president eagerly anticipated that it would be a first step toward privatizing Social Security.
The so-called “Eagle Plan” is strikingly similar to Ivanka’s fake paid leave plan, but even more cruel in the choice it would foist upon people in the middle of a pandemic. With over 32 million people newly unemployed, families across the country are in desperate need of income. Thanks to the Trump administration’s utter failure to manage the pandemic by implementing a widespread testing and tracing program, that desperation isn’t going away any time soon.
Yet the United States remains the wealthiest country in the history of the world. Congress just gave corporations a $4.5 trillion bailout. We can easily afford to both send families the income they need and expand their future Social Security benefits. Congressional Democrats are proposing to do just that by sending everyone in America $2,000 every month for the duration of the coronavirus crisis, while also expanding Social Security.
As long as Democrats stand united against Kushner’s terrible plan, it is a political gift to them. Workers across the country are already facing a retirement income crisis, and the pandemic is only making it worse. Voters overwhelmingly want to expand, not cut, Social Security’s modest benefits. The Trump administration’s attempts to undermine Social Security, whether through payroll tax cuts or through the “Eagle Plan” scheme, will be punished in November, as they should be.
Fortunately, the Democratic Party is on record in support of expanding, not cutting and certainly not privatizing, Social Security. During the Democratic primary, Joe Biden faced scrutiny for his past openness to cuts to Social Security. That said, as the presumptive Democratic nominee, he’s done the right thing by fighting to expand Social Security benefits to address the nation’s looming retirement income crisis. He’s also come out for an immediate across-the-board increase in response to the pandemic.
Seniors and people with disabilities are hit hardest by COVID-19. Democrats in both the House and the Senate have released plans to increase Social Security benefits in response to the crisis. Congress should ignore the monstrous “Eagle Plan,” and pass those instead.
Alex Lawson is the executive director of Social Security Works, a non-profit advocacy group that supports expanding benefits to address America’s growing retirement security crisis. Lawson has appeared on numerous TV and radio outlets and is a frequent guest host of The Thom Hartmann Program, one of the top progressive radio shows in the country.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.