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Social Security Act became law 77 years ago

August 14, 2012 - UNITED STATES

The United States government plans to resume the sale of deep sea exploration leases in the Gulf of Mexico on Dec 14. The sale is the first since the massive offshore Gulf spill in 2010. The oil industry is railing against the planned doubled price for the leases and the regulations on leaseholders. And September could see approval of drilling off the US east coast. The oil industry argument that drilling means jobs and economic benefits finds sympathetic ears in difficult economic times.

President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law on 14 Aug 1935. The Act created provisions for general welfare, with a social insurance program establishing a national old-age pension system through employer and employee contributions. The 77th anniversary falls in a period of particular vulnerability for the system. The country is trying to balance its books against a backdrop of electioneering for the Nov 2012 presidential and legislative vote. Talk of privatizing Social Security could return. In the lead-up to the campaign, the fiscal ultra-conservatives in the Republican Party have had the loudest voice. If they prevail in November, winning the presidency and a significant number of legislative seats, the 77-year-old Social Security system might not see its 78th birthday in anything like its present form. As part of their 2012 budget blueprint, Republicans in the US House of Representatives proposed to cut benefits, which they refer to as 'entitlements,'; for future enrollees in both Medicare and Social Security. Much of the fight in Aug 2011 over raising the debt limit centered on cuts to the programs. Democrats, mainly, adopted a "hands off" position. Public opinion polls showed at the time that the idea of cuts to the programs is very unpopular, which means conservatives could tone down their hostility to Social Security during campaigning for the election. In his anti-government book "Fed Up," Texas governor Rick Perry called the Social Security System 'a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal.'; Instead of 'a retirement system that is no longer set up like an illegal Ponzi scheme,'; he wrote, he would prefer a system that 'will allow individuals to own and control their own retirement.'; In the August article about the Perry's book, The Wall Street Journal pointed out that the governor has toned down the rhetoric since he declared himself a presidential candidate. Perry's individual ownership of retirement echoes arguments for privatizing the system that were particularly popular during the 2000-2008 presidency of George W. Bush. When Bush tried to partially privatize the system, he failed. If cuts and raising the retirement age become a "no-go" area for conservative candidates, privatization schemes might make a comeback as a way to preserve the present benefits and hold the eligibility age at 65. The system came into being on the tail of the Great Depression in the United States, which started with the crash of the stock market in 1929 and period of extreme privation for Americans that followed. Millions of people were unemployed, banks and businesses failed and the majority of the elderly in America lived in dependency. These circumstances led to many calls for change. Echoing sentiment heard in the conservative camp during the post-2007 economic downturn, many Depression-era politicians and leading public figures saw the dire times as another dip in the economic cycle that would right itself without government intervention. (WRITTEN Aug 2011)

Social Security System history (SSA)

George W. Bush Reveals His Biggest Failure Was Not Privatizing Social Security (Huffington Post 22 Oct 2010)

Perry Is Suddenly Less &lsquoFed Up' Over Social Security (WSJ 18 Aug 2011)

Republican supercommittee member vows no cuts to entitlement benefits (The Hill 18 Aug 2011)

Date written/update: 2012-08-14