Retirees in Illinois will be watching tomorrow’s State of the Union address and paying particular attention to indications of President Obama’s commitment to Social Security, said Barbara Franklin, president of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans .
Franklin is one of 30 state alliance leaders who recently signed a letter to Obama calling on him to “renew the nation’s commitment” to Social Security (pdf ).
“We’d like to see the president speak up for strengthening Social Security,” Franklin said.
“It’s probably the most successful federal program, it’s funded by employees and employers, and it hasn’t contributed one dime to the deficit,” she said.
The Social Security trust fund currently has a $2.6 trillion surplus and is fully funded through 2037.
Seniors were “put on notice” when Obama formed a fiscal responsibility commission – saying “everything is on the table” — and appointed co-chairs known for their advocacy of Social Security cuts, which the commission ended up endorsing, Franklin said.
Obama has remained neutral on the plan, but Senator Richard Durbin’s vote for the proposal was viewed as representing the administration’s wishes. Durbin spoke up specifically in favor of raising the retirement age.
Last month Robert Kuttner wrote in Politico  that administration officials were urging Obama to endorse the commission’s plan in the State of the Union address, but the New York Times  now reports that such an action is unlikely.
At Huffington Post  last week Kuttner said “progressives…can take some credit for warning [Obama] off Social Security cuts.”
Polls showing opposition  to Social Security cuts across the political spectrum – with 70 percent opposed to raising the retirement age — may have had some effect.
But in recent weeks two “centrist” think tanks with ties to the administration have released reports calling for Social Security cuts. The Third Way,  the old outfit of Bill Daley, the new chief of staff, issued a “solvency plan” which calls for $2 in benefits reductions for every $1 in additional revenue. It calls for raising the retirement age and reducing cost of living adjustments.
The Center for American Progress  has called for reducing COLA and making benefits more “progressive” – which means reducing benefits for people who earned $55,000 a year and up.
And Republicans can also be expected to press for cuts.
“I’m not sure Washington truly understand what it means to live on $325 or $400 a month,” as some Social Security recipients do, Franklin said. “Most retirees are relying on their Social Security, and they simply cannot take any benefits cuts.”
Many seniors “don’t really understand what these [proposals] are,” but if they start moving, “there’s going to be a huge uproar in this country from seniors,” she said. “For so many seniors, this is their income.”
She questioned the practicality of a “hardship exemption” from higher retirement ages for workers in physically demanding trades, noting that it now takes two years to get approval for Social Security disability benefits.
Franklin would like to see Obama reject his commission’s proposals. She’d like to see him reiterate the position he took as a presidential candidate, when he opposed benefits cuts, opposed raising the retirement age, and argued that lifting the cap on incomes subject to the payroll tax would solve Social Security’s long-term problems.
“If you do that, you have enough money into the next century,” she said.
The Campaign for America’s Future  has helpfully provided a short video of Obama’s earlier statements: