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Minorities will be the biggest casualties of Social Security battle

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 7/12/2011, 2:17 p.m.

Minorities will be the biggest casualties of Social Security battle

President Barack Obama is well aware of the devastating impact that any cuts in Social Security would have, either through direct benefit slashes or a formula change.

 In a ringing statement in 2008, then Democratic presidential candidate Obama flatly said that more than two-thirds of Social Security recipients rely on Social Security for more than half of their monthly income.

But Obama also gave a guarded hint that Social Security might not be the sacred cow that prior Democratic and even Republican presidents have regarded it as. He repeatedly said that his concern was with the long term “solvency” of Social Security. He did not spell out exactly what “solvency” meant or what steps he would take to ensure that solvency. It was apparent that Obama even then believed that Social Security was in some danger and that some steps had to be taken to shore it up.

Obama, though, left the matter there. However, three years later that is no longer the case. With the GOP breathing down his neck to cut a deal to slash and burn programs that have profound effects on health, education and infrastructure spending, nothing is out of bounds and that obviously includes Social Security.

In a review of the positions on Social Security of the top three Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Obama in 2008, a summary question was “Does he or she pledge to not cut Social Security benefits?” The answer for Clinton and Edwards was an unequivocal “yes.” Obama’s answer was “no.”

That “no” has now ignited alarm and anger among House Democrats at the report that Obama had put the “tweak” of Social Security on the bargaining table to get a budget deal with the GOP. It has stirred even greater panic and alarm among those who need and depend on Social Security the most and those are minorities.

There is good reason for their anger; in fact, several good reasons. Social Security has been the jewel in the crown of the Democratic Party’s domestic program since FDR put pen to paper in August 1935 and signed the Social Security Act into law.

No Democratic president, and only one Republican president, has dared to even breathe a hint that Social Security should be changed. George W. Bush tried it with his scheme to privatize part of the program and that failed miserably.

The success of Social Security has rested on two major pillars. It provides a financial lifeline for millions of seniors, and the sick and disabled. Despite the GOP’s con job that it is an entitlement program that must be cut, it isn’t and never has been. It is self-supporting, has not added a nickel to the national debt, and has provided a major boost to the economy by pumping up spending.

The Social Security “tweak” that Obama reportedly put on the table would change the inflation measure that determines whether recipients get a cost of living boost or not. But the bigger reason for the Democrats’ panic and horror at the thought of this or any other change to Social Security is that it would spell even greater destitution for minorities.