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Take a look at AARP Executive Vice President John Rother’s strong response to criticism of Social Security by Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson:

Our nation will need smart and fair strategies to solve its long-term fiscal challenges. Unfortunately, Robert Samuelson’s latest attack on Social Security (“Why Social Security is welfare,” March 7) smacks more of a personal obsession than an attempt to explain the many factors causing our budget problems, and the many potential ways to address them. More troubling, it reflects a continuing lack of regard for the real circumstances of most older Americans in a world of rising prices and declining retirement security.

Social Security is not welfare, despite Samuelson’s attempt to concoct a new definition in support of his crusade. Social Security provides guaranteed, modest lifetime protection based on contributions for workers and their dependents, when wage income disappears due to retirement or personal tragedy.

For 75 years, the American public and leaders of both major parties have embraced Social Security as a moral contract. The trust fund symbolizes that contract. While the program needs to be strengthened for the long term, the good news is that there are many ways to do this. Polls show the public can support important steps to keep Social Security strong, including slightly higher payroll taxes. Further, any benefit changes can be phased in gradually, to protect older Americans and give younger people time to plan. A balanced approach with modest changes can keep Social Security financially stable for many decades.

Rising costs in the overall health care system are the major driver of projected deficits, not Social Security, a critical point that Samuelson omits. His call for shared sacrifice would be stronger if he pointed to tax preferences that benefit the truly well-off, instead of the one program that can be counted on to help middle class families – with an average benefit of only $14,000 per year.

Older Americans care deeply about the fiscal legacy they leave their children and grandchildren. A strong Social Security program should be central to that legacy.

John Rother
AARP Executive Vice President

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