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Last week, former President George W. Bush emerged from his Texas mansion to declare that the biggest failure of his presidency was not privatizing Social Security. President Bush should take a good look around because he failed at a number of things, but failing to gut one of America’s most effective programs was, in fact, a huge success for the American people. Nevertheless, Bush’s dream of putting our retirement benefits into the reckless hands of Wall Street hasn’t died, and Republicans have made it clear that privatizing Social Security and Medicare is among their top priorities.
Republicans aren’t resurrecting Bush’s plan verbatim; instead, they’ve dressed up Bush’s privatization policies in new clothing, hoping the American people simply won’t notice. If Republicans take control of the House next week, self-described Republican “young gun” Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is poised to take over the Budget Committee in the next Congress. Ryan recently made his plan for privatization evident when he released his “Roadmap for America’s Future” which, among other senseless policies, includes plans to privatize Social Security and to turn Medicare into a voucher system in which seniors would be forced to fend for themselves on the private insurance market. The vouchers wouldn’t keep pace with health care costs, leaving millions of older Americans vulnerable to having no health coverage at all. Yet, despite its dismantling of America’s most fundamental safety net, nearly 80 percent of House Republicans voted in favor of Ryan’s Medicare plan. Republicans may not be campaigning on privatizing these popular programs, but it’s clear they’re committed to restarting the failed efforts of the Bush Administration to destroy them.
Following Ryan’s “Roadmap” is bound to lead Americans down the road to insecurity, anxiety, and possibly financial ruin. The American people have become like the voice in a GPS system, repeatedly telling Republicans to make a U turn when it comes to privatization, but Republicans have pushed the mute button on the public’s wishes and are speeding ahead. Imagine what seniors would be facing today if Bush had succeeded in privatizing Social Security. So many Americans have watched as the value of their private retirement accounts have been decimated by the whims of Wall Street. What would happen if their Social Security benefits were vulnerable to the same recklessness and chicanery? What would that mean for the millions who are scraping to get by, worrying about how to put food on the table, or perhaps facing foreclosure on their home? Americans who rely on their Social Security benefits can’t wait for the markets to slowly rebound; for them, the retirement they worked so hard to achieve would turn into nothing more than an illusion.
For 75 years, Social Security has been one our country’s greatest successes. Not only has it kept millions of seniors and children out of poverty, but no matter which way the market winds blow, no one loses a penny of their guaranteed benefits – benefits that older Americans have earned over a lifetime of hard work and dedication. Medicare, too, has protected seniors from the financial terror of medical crisis for more than 50 years, but Republicans insist that profit-driven insurance companies will be better keepers of America’s promise to care for its elders. These are the same insurance companies that until recently were charging a woman higher premiums simply because she is a woman, refusing to cover children with asthma, and dropping cancer patients’ coverage because the cancer victims were not a profitable investment.
Americans face a choice as they head to the polls next Tuesday, and that choice is crystal clear: Democrats have worked tirelessly and fruitfully to bring our country back from the brink of financial ruin and to protect these most critical programs. We’ve made great strides in fixing our broken health care system, we’ve strengthened Medicare by extending its solvency for 12 years, and we’re phasing out the Medicare prescription drug ‘donut hole.’ The Republicans want to drag us backward, endangering older Americans and giving still more power to the Wall Street brokers who brought us to the brink of collapse. Voters need to ask themselves if they want a Congress that will put Wall Street and insurance companies in charge of America’s safety net, or do they want a Congress that, time and time again, has stood up for the working people, the children, and the elders of America?