Let’s ensure a good future for all

Newton B. Jones, International President

IN HIS FIRST TERM, President Bush’s number one priority was lowering taxes. He succeeded to a degree that still amazes many observers. Though his tax cuts primarily benefited the wealthiest Americans and created our nation’s largest budget deficits in history, they sailed through Congress.

The tax cuts of 2001-2004 shifted more of the tax burden to middle-class working families and saddled our children and grandchildren with trillions of dollars of government debt.

In his second term, the president has set his sights on privatizing Social Security. If he is as successful over the next four years as he was in his first four, future generations of American workers can expect not only to begin shouldering an unfair share of the national debt, they can expect to lose a significant portion of the Social Security benefits that current law guarantees them.

Make no mistake: Social Security is facing a shortfall sometime in the next 35-50 years. We need to make changes to ensure that future generations enjoy the core financial stability Social Security gives today’s workers and retirees.

But the privatization plan proposed by President Bush will not do that. Instead, it will cause the government to borrow trillions of dollars to pay for “transitional costs,” lower guaranteed benefits for all workers under 55, and open the door to political manipulation of Social Security funds.

Worst of all, President Bush’s privatization plan simply does not solve the problem. We must find one that protects all generations.

When talking about the future of Social Security, it is easy to get lost in the numbers, not to mention the concepts on which these numbers are based — wage indexing, price indexing, actuarial assumptions. Fortunately, we know where to find experts who can analyze the Social Security question with the best interests of workers in mind. The Economic Policy Institute Web site (www.epi.org) provides numerous examples of what would happen under Bush’s plan.

We cannot let the Social Security debate distract us from supporting legislation that helps our members and our union.

For example, the president proposes using price indexing instead of wage indexing to calculate benefits of future retirees. An article on EPI’s Web site shows how this change could have a negative impact on retiree benefits.

The current Social Security benefit for a worker retiring in 2005 with average earnings over his lifetime is $15,336 per year, which replaces 42 percent of his pre-retirement income. But if price indexing were used instead of wage indexing, the EPI calculates that same 2005 retiree would receive only $6,180 per year, replacing just 17 percent of his income — a 60 percent cut in benefits.

Workers have many allies in our effort to protect Social Security from the radical overhaul proposed by President Bush. Among them are at least 29 Republicans in the House of Representatives, with more joining every day. They agree with us that the president’s plan to partially privatize Social Security will not fix the shortfall problem and they want to wait until we find a plan that will. Let’s do that.

In the meantime, we cannot let Social Security totally consume our attention, or we risk ignoring many other issues that affect our members and our country. For most Americans, access to affordable health care is a far more pressing issue than Social Security reform. In fact, rising health care costs threaten the future of another vital program for seniors, Medicare. Yet media attention has been shifted from health care to Social Security because of the president’s proposal.

The president’s proposed budget for next year is another issue that we must not overlook. President Bush’s budget will cut 150 programs, while increasing our federal debt by $533 billion. We need to follow the budget approval process closely and try to save good programs where possible.

In his second term, the president will have the opportunity to appoint numerous federal judges and two members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). We must keep on top of these developments to ensure we get fair treatment from the NLRB and federal courts. Democrats in the senate have been criticized for opposing some of the president’s nominations, but that is their duty to their constituents.

The approval process required by the U.S. Constitution provides important checks and balances so that those persons placed in high positions represent a broad section of the voting public, not just the interests of the president and his close inner circle.

We must not allow our opposition to President Bush’s Social Security plan to detract from the good relationships we have with many Republicans in both the House and the Senate. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) and Congressman Rob Simmons (CT-2nd, R) have done much to help our shipyard members. We look forward to working with them more in the future.

And we will support all measures that we determine are good for our members and the country. For example, after much study we have determined that President Bush’s Clear Skies initiative will help to clean up the air while creating jobs that will help our country’s economic recovery. Boilermakers legislative representative Abe Breehey testified on exactly those points to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Our union’s mission is to protect our members in the workplace, to protect their livelihoods and lifestyles. Ensuring that all workers continue to enjoy the core financial security provided by Social Security is an important goal, but it is not our only goal.