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Pam Gulleson, Published August 22 2012

Letter: Social Security matters

Last week was the 77th anniversary of the passage of Social Security, and as I traveled across North Dakota visiting with seniors, I was reminded how important this program has been to the lives of our senior citizens. We talked about what Social Security has meant for their lives – providing important economic security in their retirement years.

In Fargo, I met Mary. She worked two and sometimes three jobs at a time to make ends meet. It was hard work. Now in her retirement years, Social Security has made all the difference, and while the payouts each month are modest, averaging $1,097 per month, they matter.

Social Security has provided Mary and about 120,000 North Dakotans the peace of mind of knowing that they’ll be able to live a quality life earned after a lifetime of work. It’s clear that it benefits our entire society. The numbers back me up on this. Fifty years ago, about a third of seniors lived in poverty. Today, we’ve cut that number by two-thirds – 11 percent of seniors live in poverty.

My opponent, Kevin Cramer, did not mark the anniversary of Social Security in any way, but the reaction from him and his friends was swift. My opponent accused me of “pitting children against their great-grandparents.” A right-wing talk-show host even compared my support of Social Security to Hitler’s “big lies.” The incivility of the comments were shocking, even in today’s harsh political climate.

It’s clear that this is part of a coordinated effort to distract from the fact that my opponent continues to advocate for privatizing the system, making it very vulnerable to the rise and fall of the stock market and other economic swings.

Make no mistake about it, I believe that we’ll need to make some serious decisions to sustain and strengthen Social Security long term, and I discussed these ideas with seniors at these meetings. I am prepared to take this input to Congress and be part of the discussions.

Every worker should be encouraged to contribute to personal savings and participate in retirement plans at work, which is just smart planning. But following the recent collapse of the stock market and its negative impact on retirement plans, I am more convinced than ever that privatization of Social Security is simply not the answer. These benefits, earned from a life of hard work, need to be protected from the high risk of market swings.

Common-sense reforms together with bipartisan action from Congress will keep Social Security solvent and ensure that there is enough money in the program’s trust fund to maintain benefits well past 2037. We must overcome the partisan bickering to come together in a bipartisan way, as Congress did under President Ronald Reagan, and make some reforms to stabilize the program in the long term. The current pattern of disrespect, inaction and stalemate just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Gulleson is the North Dakota Democratic-NPL candidate for U.S. House of Representatives.