Weve won on Social Security for now

President Bush acknowledged earlier this month that his main domestic goal of “saving” Social Security was going nowhere. Regarding his privatization scheme, he said, “There seems to be a diminished appetite in the short term, but I’m going to remind people that there are long-term issues that we must solve.”

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) quipped that if there is a diminished appetite for Bush’s overhaul, “it’s because people disliked that taste of what President Bush was proposing.”

In the grassroots action groups that have been key to this development, like the Coalition to Protect Social Security in northeast Ohio, participants generally agree that the plans of Bush and the congressional ultra-right to privatize Social Security are not likely to be introduced this year.

The defeat of the attempt to privatize Social Security is a tremendous victory, one that we should all celebrate and be proud of. Social Security privatization has been the top domestic goal of Bush and the ultra-right. This was to be their year to make sure there would be no 71st birthday celebration for the program. They had a proven strategy, which initially seemed to be working — create a crisis of funding, scare the hell out of people and rush a bill through Congress. It worked with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Patriot Act, and the Medicare Rx “Reform” Act. Why not with Social Security?

Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and morons fail. Even without a bill, the more the general population heard about the plan, the less they liked it, and the more Bush’s ratings fell. Many erstwhile supporters in Congress began to shy away from the scheme. Their survival instinct told them that messing with Social Security could end their careers

This victory was due to the great work done by millions of people and coalitions across the U.S. We, and our supporters in Congress, held firm in our common message, tactics and strategy. Hundreds of thousands of signatures were obtained on petitions and postcards, and delivered to our U.S. senators and uncommitted representatives, here in Ohio as well as in other states.

As a result, Ohio’s Republican Sens. Michael DeWine and George Voinovich and GOP Rep. Steve LaTourette wavered in their support of privatization. None felt Bush’s plan had any chance. While not rock-solid in their position, they were part of the change in climate that prevented privatization from going forward.

But, after 70 years of trying to get rid of our nation’s most successful social insurance program, the ultra-right has not given up. If a last-ditch attempt is made this year or new efforts are made in subsequent years, our coalition will remain on guard. So should every other coalition in other states. We should be prepared to fight every attempt to privatize in the future, and to get back into action quickly if there is any hint of an “end run” at the end of the year.

From the outset of our efforts, we have maintained that as long as privatization is still on the table there should be no discussion of alternative proposals by our side. And remarkably, that discipline was maintained in Congress and in the various coalitions. But, now that privatization appears to be off the legislative table (even if only temporarily), this may be an appropriate time to introduce measures to improve future funding for Social Security by raising or even eliminating the salary cap on incomes that are taxed for Social Security. Eliminating the cap, now at $90,000, would fund the program far into the future.

We agreed to speak with Ohio Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Dennis Kucinich, Sherrod Brown and Steve LaTourette about the possibilities for such a campaign. We are prepared to initiate this fight, but only if legislation were introduced in Congress. In other words, we want to assess whether there is political and mass sentiment for such a campaign now.

Whether we decide to move ahead on the cap issue or take up another issue, we will definitely seek to maintain the great connections and active cooperation we have established over the years. Here in our part of Ohio, most of the 300-plus organizations and 1,500 individuals in our orbit were involved in our successful campaign for a state Rx law two years ago. With this victory in protecting Social Security, we hope to continue to fight on the next issue.

John Gallo is coordinator of the Cleveland-area Coalition to Protect Social Security.