Tales from the Trail

Standing room only at Social Security rally

March 28, 2011

Social Security rock stars? Senate Democrats held a rally that turned into almost a religious revival-type event on Capitol Hill where they were treated like rock stars by a standing-room only audience.

USA/The crowd, which included the old and disabled, embraced the  lawmakers with a prolonged ovation, cries of approval and shouts of “back off Social Security.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a battle with Republican House Speaker John Boehner over how to keep the government running when temporary funding ends April 8, gave fiery defense of the popular retirement program.

“Republicans have shown they couldn’t care less about those who have the least,” Reid said. “Their plan on Social Security is simple, and it’s this: end it. They use words like ‘privatize’ and ‘personalize.’ But they’re all code words for the same thing: ending Social Security as we know it.”

“Give ‘em hell, Harry!” one member of the crowd roared.

Reid stood with fellow Senate Democrats Tom Harkin, Al Franken and Richard Blumenthal and Bernie Sanders, an independent who routinely votes with Democrats.

Polls show Americans don’t support weakening Social Security to help control the $14 trillion federal debt.

Some Democrats are mulling options such as raising the retirement age as part of a broader plan to get a handle on the debt and deficits. Republicans tend to back that idea, among other politically unpopular proposals.

A plan to privatize the program failed under former President George W. Bush, but some Republicans want to revive the idea, including Republican Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

President Barack Obama has distanced himself from recommendations of his deficit-cutting panel, which won some bipartisan support for its proposal to gradually raise the program’s retirement age.

If Congress does nothing, in 2037 the trust fund will be exhausted and taxes will cover only about 78 percent of benefits.

Given lawmakers’ queasiness with touching this so-called “third rail of politics,” the doing-nothing option may be seen as a good bet — at least for the time being.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Capitol Hill, Nov. 16, 2010)

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