Letter to the Editor

The Republican leadership has agreed to a deal to keep the government operating, raise the debt limit, and ensure that all Social Security benefits continue to be paid in full and on time beyond 2016. When hostage takers release their hostages, we are, of course, relieved that the hostages are no longer in harm’s way, but this is nothing to celebrate. That the ransom isn’t steeper is also not something to celebrate.

The deal does include some good provisions: Medicare beneficiaries will not experience the drastically large premium increases that were set to take effect next year. It also closes a loophole that was introduced in the law relatively recently that allows wealthier Americans to game the system by claiming extra benefits inconsistent with the goals of the program.

But there is a diversion of Social Security resources towards virtually nonexistent fraud. This focus on fraud is a distraction from Social Security’s one real shortcoming: its benefits are too low, and an overwhelming majority of Americans know it. Congress should follow the will of the people by expanding those modest but vital benefits and restore the program to long-range actuarial balance by requiring the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share.

The fraud prevention provisions will require workers with disabilities to wait longer to receive their earned benefits and may prevent some from receiving their earned benefits completely. And in a year when there will be no cost-of-living adjustment, people relying on Social Security benefits will be stretched thin already. That is wrong. And though there are positives in this deal, Social Security legislation, as a matter of principle, should always go through regular order, in the light of day. If that were done, Social Security would be expanded.

That’s why we can’t rest on our laurels. We need to keep pressure on Washington and in the media to expand, not cut, Social Security benefits.

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