Alex Lawson is communications director for the advocacy group Social Security Works. He is the keynote speaker at the NYSUT Retiree Contiguous ED 51-53 meeting this month.
Q: What is the mission of Social Security Works?
A: To protect and improve the economic status of disadvantaged and at-risk populations, and, in so doing, to promote social justice for current and future generations of children as well as young, middle-aged and older adults. Our primary goals for the next round of Social Security legislation are that it:
protects and improves the economic security of disadvantaged and at-risk populations;
safeguards the economic security of those dependent, now or in the future, on Social Security; and
maintains Social Security as a vehicle of social justice.
Q: What is the role of the federal commission that is currently looking at Social Security?
A: The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform was formed by Executive Order on Feb. 18. One of the commission’s tasks is to determine how to significantly reduce the federal budget deficit by 2015.
The commission will vote on the approval of a final report containing a set of recommendations no later than Dec 1. The final report requires the approval of at least 14 of the 18 members. If the commission issues a report, it will be put on a fast-track vote in the U.S. Senate and if passed, would be voted on by the House.
Immediately after the commission was created, the tone was set with the appointment of former Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. These two picks sent a clear message: Social Security is on the chopping block.
After their appointments as co-chairs, Simpson and Bowles began a PR blitz to soften up the public to the idea of gutting Social Security.
Q: Given the complicated political landscape, how do you think the fight to protect Social Security is shaping up?
A: Rep. Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, recently called for members of Congress to preempt the fiscal commission and oppose any recommendations that cut benefits, raise the retirement age or privatize the program.
To further this goal, Rep. Grijalva joined with Rep. John Conyers and Rep. Dan Maffei and sent a sign-on letter to colleagues urging them to join in protecting Social Security.
At the same time, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has drafted a resolution opposing raising the retirement age and is actively seeking co-sponsors.
Activities like these show there are members of Congress who will stand with the 85 percent of Americans who oppose cutting Social Security benefits.
Q: What should union families do in the coming months to have a strong voice in this fight?
A: Call your elected officials and tell them to keep their hands off Social Security. Tell them to sign on to the letter being circulated by Rep. Grijalva and to support the resolution by Rep. Giffords. Check out where your elected officials stand at www.handsoffsocialsecurity.org and visit www.strengthensocialsecurity.org to stay informed.