Congressman Elijah Cummings

On August 14, I joined Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin and her colleagues at the Social Security Administration to celebrate the 80th anniversary of that historic day in 1935 when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935 into law.

From its beginning in 1935, Social Security has been a covenant between our nation and each of us — as well as an inter-generational covenant that binds us together, young and older, healthy and disabled.

From the beginning — and to this day — the Social Security system has been built upon a solemn promise to every American.  If we work hard, we will not be left alone to face the dangers of old age, disability, poverty, or the loss of our spouse or parent.

Today, our national commitment to Social Security is as important as ever.  We must assure that our Social Security Trust Funds (Old Age Retirement and Disability) remain solvent for years to come.

The last 30 years have not been so good for tens of millions of working Americans.  More than one-half of our working families have no private pension coverage — and more than one-third have little or no retirement savings.

Today, we confront two funding challenges, one immediate and the other longer-term.

The Social Security Retirement Fund remains strong, although relatively modest long-term actions should be undertaken now to assure continued solvency for the foreseeable future.

The more immediate concern is that, without prompt, corrective action by the Congress, in 2016 disability benefits that are currently being paid to about 11 million disabled workers and their dependents will either be delayed or will be reduced across-the-board by 20 percent.

There is a simple, common-sense action to meet this short-term challenge – one that has been proposed by President Obama and is supported by many of Social Security’s strongest allies.  Unfortunately, my colleagues across the aisle have politicized the funding debate and made it very difficult to address reform in a real way.

On the first day of this Congress, House Republicans passed a rule that effectively blocks the transfers of funds between retirement and disability, unless those transfers can be balanced by new revenues or benefit cuts — and, since my Republican colleagues have expressed adamant opposition to new revenues, disability benefit cuts are a very real possibility.

We Democrats are working hard to overcome that obstacle.  I am an original co-sponsor of the One Social Security Act (H.R. 3150), sponsored by my colleague from California, Rep. Xavier Becerra, that would merge the two funds – one for retirement and survivor benefits and one for disability – into one fund.

Our proposed legislation would avoid the need for future rebalancing of funds, a bureaucratic process that often gets mired in larger political debates.  Its implementation would have only a very modest impact (perhaps, one year) on Social Security’s longer-term projected solvency.

Beyond what amounts to a short-term accounting reform, the Congress also must act to assure Social Security’s longer-term solvency.  A combination of demographic and economic forces makes constructive reform imperative.

A huge segment of our population is moving forward toward retirement age, and we expect to live longer than did past generations.  Meanwhile, both technology and the export of American jobs overseas are limiting the number of American workers paying into social insurance as well as limiting the wages upon which Social Security contributions are based.

Our Social Security formulas and caps are outdated.  Furthermore, our children are leaving school mired in debt.  If we do not take care of Social Security today, we are further burdening them with our care.

So, I agree with other leaders from both parties that the Congress must take action to “preserve Social Security” for the younger generations and generations of Americans yet to be born.

This is why I have joined with Representative Rick Larson and 66 of my House colleagues to sponsor the Social Security 2100 Act (H.R. 1391).

Our bill would improve benefits with a modest increase across the board, update the cost of living calculation through a more accurate formula, create a new special minimum benefit, and provide a tax cut for over 10 million beneficiaries.

The bill is fully paid for and would keep the system solvent beyond the next 75 years by requiring those with wages over $400,000 to pay Social Security taxes like everyone else, and by asking workers to contribute on average the equivalent of just 50 cents more per week.

The American People will soon have hard, spin-proof evidence as to which of their elected representatives (and candidates) are truly committed to “saving Social Security.”

As our national debates about preserving Social Security for the future proceed — in the Congress and in the upcoming Presidential Campaigns — it is up to all of us to stand up for those who have stood up for us. 

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives