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On the issue of Social Security the contrast between Wisconsin’s two candidates for the U.S. Senate could not be greater. Russ Feingold (D) and Ron Johnson (R) are polar opposites on what should be done with this highly successful and popular program.
In last week’s Reader, my article discussed Senator Johnson’s positions on Social Security (Duluth Reader web site, “Attacks on Social Security Continue in Wisconsin” HYPERLINK “http://duluthreader.com/articles/2016/07/13/7560_attacks_on_social_security_continue_in_wisconsin”http://duluthreader.com/articles/2016/07/13/7560_attacks_on_social_security_continue_in_wisconsin).
By chance, former Senator Russ Feingold visited Superior this week to talk about Social Security and Medicare. I attended the “listening” session Monday, July 11th at the Superior Senior Center. Russ sat down with about 30 people to listen to their concerns and respond to questions. The following is a summary of Russ’ remarks.
Feingold began by emphasizing his desire to protect and expand Social Security. He said many seniors around Wisconsin are having financial difficulties. Cuts to Social Security would only make matters worse for them. Many seniors rely heavily on Social Security for income. Inflation, increased medical costs, the high cost of drugs, and the 2008 stock market crash have all contributed to the problems.
Feingold said he has three areas of disagreement with Johnson on Social Security and Medicare.
Cutting Social Security benefits. He is opposed to cuts and advocates increasing benefits. Feingold believes Social Security must remain a “public program” and should not be privatized. Johnson has supported legislation that included cuts to some Social Security benefits and would have raised the retirement age. Johnson has advocated for privatizing the program by allowing individuals to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market.
Medicare Vouchers. Feingold believes Medicare should also remain a public program. He opposes individual vouchers to buy your own Medicare coverage. Johnson supports converting to a voucher system.
High cost of prescription drugs. Feingold said controlling prescription drug costs is essential to seniors. He believes the best way to do this is to overturn the Republican imposed ban on negotiating drug prices. If the Federal government could negotiate prices with the big pharmaceutical companies “we could save $123 billion a year.” Johnson has consistently advocated “free market” solutions to all health care issues.
In responding to questions Feingold remarked that cost savings could be found in reduced drug company advertising. The drug companies pay more for advertising than for new drug research and development. He also believes medical costs could be reduced by paying medical providers for “total care” rather than on a fee-for-service basis.
Feingold has in the past been a strong supporter of a “single payer” national healthcare program. Responding to a question on the Affordable Care Act, he said working to improve “Obamacare” was the best way to expand health insurance coverage. He said advocating for single payer at this time is not likely to succeed due to opposition from Republicans. He still support s the idea of single payer but political reality requires solidifying the gains of the Affordable Care Act. Johnson has opposed the Affordable Care Act and publicly stated that government health insurance is an assault on “individual liberty.”
Polls have consistently shown that the American public strongly support (by 70% or more) Social Security regardless of party affiliation or demographic differences. Studies say they are willing to pay more to preserve and to improve the benefits. Large majorities of Americans say they don’t mind paying Social Security taxes. The stable income the benefits provide to retirees, disabled individuals, children and widowed spouses is worth it. Nationwide over 59 million people receive Social Security benefits.
Given the popularity of Social Security, one wonders why any politician would suggest messing with it. One would think that would be political suicide. So why do people continue to to vote for conservative Republicans? Why do people vote against their own best financial interests?
These questions have been discussed and written about for a long time. Recently in “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness and the Rise of Scott Walker” by UW-Madison Professor Katherine Cramer discusses the rural vs urban resentment that divides Wisconsin. Many rural and small town people think their tax dollars go to lazy “others” in the cities while their jobs and communities decline. They feel short changed, powerless, and disrespected. They blame government, public employees, unions, environmentalists and welfare recipients. Of course, these perceptions are often not true. Rural areas in Wisconsin do get a higher return per capita on their taxpayer dollars than cities. But divide-and-conquer tactics work and cause people to vote against their own financial interests.
When it comes to Social Security, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act it is crystal clear which candidate supports these programs and which one does not. Which agenda prevails in the legislative process could have a profound impact on your future financial security. It could have a profound impact on all of us and on Wisconsin’s economy.
If your think there is no difference between candidates and voting doesn’t matter...think again.