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Dec 01 2011

Manchin: This is our Moment to Stand Up for Social Security

Calls on President, Congressional leaders to work on real fiscal reform instead of jeopardizing Social Security funding for a failed policy

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on the Senate floor today that he will not vote to take hundreds of billions of dollars out of Social Security’s funding stream to pay for an extension of a payroll tax cut that has failed to create jobs. 

“Americans pay for one thing with our payroll tax. One. Social Security,” Senator Manchin said. “Yet at a time when our nation faces a death spiral of debt – when we should be talking about how we can come together to fix a fiscal nightmare that will threaten the very programs we care about like Social Security – instead, we’re talking about undermining the very foundations of our longest-standing retirement program ... This is our moment. At this critical moment in our history, we must get our financial house in order, and letting Americans believe that we don’t have to pay for Social Security is wrong. It is dead wrong. It is the wrong policy, it is wrong for our seniors and it is wrong for our future, and I will not vote for it. Period.” 

In addition to damaging Social Security, the payroll tax extension has failed to create the jobs that proponents of the plan promised when it first became law last year. 

“We tried this payroll tax cut last year, and I supported it,” Senator Manchin said. “But I will not double down on a failed policy – especially one that jeopardizes the future of Social Security.” 

Under the existing payroll tax cut, the average West Virginia family pays $14 a week less into Social Security than they normally would. 

“For a lot of people, that’s a lot of money,” Senator Manchin said. “But the few West Virginians who even realize that they’re getting help say that they would give that up in return for a reliable Social Security safety net – or for real tax reform that cuts rates across the board and ensures that every American, especially the wealthy, start paying their fair share.” 

Instead of discussing temporary measures that haven’t worked and do long-term damage to the country’s finances, Senator Manchin said it’s time for the President and leaders of Congress to come together on real, long-term fiscal reforms that will create certainty in the economy. Along with a broad bipartisan group of Senators and Members of the House, Senator Manchin strongly supports the recommendations from the Bowles-Simpson Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The commission released its recommendations exactly one year ago today. 

“I simply want a commonsense tax system that ensures everyone pays their fair share, especially the wealthy, who have benefited the most from our failed tax system,” Senator Manchin said. “Real tax reform that will lower the tax rates for everyone as we close the loopholes, credits and offsets that allow some corporations and some Americans to avoid paying their fair share. Now, some will say that is impossible, that it can’t be done. I think they’re wrong. It requires leadership from the White House to every corner of Congress and it requires each and every one of us to be willing to sacrifice our political futures for the nation’s future. I, for one, am willing to do just that. ” 

Full text of Senator Manchin’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below. 

“These are very strange days in Washington and in this Congress.  

“This esteemed body's approval rating is at 9 percent – now I don’t know who the 9 percent is, but it seems to me that the only thing we're working hard on is whether we can get that approval rating to zero. 

“We fight over political solutions that can’t pass and – more importantly – won’t solve this nation's grave problems. 

“We fight for political points and mistakenly believe that the American people care who is up or down, but let me tell you: they do not.   

“Well, I did not come to Washington for the purpose of playing games, taking names or keeping score. And that’s not what the people of West Virginia sent me to do. I came here to fix things. 

“I did not come here to worry about my next election, or whether Republicans or Democrats are up or down. I came here to do what I could to improve life for the next generation.

“I, for one, am willing to sacrifice my next election so that the next generation can win. And if that means losing, so be it. 

“And, so I rise today to speak about the next chapter of this sad state of affairs which the American people are forced to witness – whether or not we should extend and expand a payroll tax cut that will cost more than 240 billion dollars in a year. 

“Now, many accusations are being thrown back and forth in the debate over this so-called tax cut – or tax increase, depending on which side that you’re on – but one very basic fact is missing from this important conversation.

“Americans pay for one thing with our payroll tax. 

“One.

“Social Security.

“Social Security isn't just another government program. It was established in 1935 to provide economic security for our nation’s seniors who worked hard and earned their retirement benefits. They worked their whole lives to provide our generation and those that will follow with a better and greater America.  

“Yet, at a time when our nation faces a death spiral of debt – when we should be talking about how we can come together to fix a fiscal nightmare that will threaten the very programs we care about, like Social Security – instead we’re talking about undermining the very foundations of our longest-standing retirement program. 

“And right now, Social Security is on a collision course. By 2037, according to the trustees, if we don’t do anything, benefits for everyone will have to be cut by 22 percent. 22 percent. And yet we’re digging a deeper hole by destabilizing its funding. 

“All in return for what? A temporary measure that has already cost nearly 120 billion dollars and has – at best – created few, if any, jobs. 

“In the real world, when policy doesn’t work, you stop and try something else. Apparently, in Washington, you double down. 

“Why would we do this? Why would we double down on policy that didn’t work? 

“The answer is simple – for the sake of short-term political gain, leaders of both parties and the President are willing to fight over how we should pay for a failed program that jeopardizes the fundamental way that we pay for retirement security in this country.

“That doesn’t make any sense to me and it doesn’t make sense to the good people of West Virginia. 

“Now, I know that in the coming days, you’ll hear a lot of politicians talk about extending the payroll tax. 

“And what they’re saying sure sounds good: more money in your pocket. In fact, politicians will offer assurances that Social Security won’t be hurt at all.

“What you won’t hear them say, though, is that reducing payroll taxes – even temporarily – would take more than 240 billion dollars out of Social Security’s funding stream, if we approved the President’s proposal. 

“And you certainly won’t hear them say that the way they would repay those hundreds of billions of dollars is through our general revenue fund. And if we extend the cuts this year – what about the next year and the year after that? When does it stop? 

“When do we have the political will to finally say that we better start paying again for Social Security?  

“Our approval rating is at 9 percent and we’re rapidly losing the support of our family members. Just how many Americans really believe that Congress will make sure our general fund is solid enough to live up to the responsibility of funding Social Security?  

“If the payroll tax cut is extended as it stands this year, the average family in West Virginia will pay $14 less per week. For a lot of people, that's a lot of money. 

“But the few West Virginians who even realize that they’re getting help say that they would gladly give that up in return for a reliable Social Security safety net – or for real tax reform that cuts rates across the board and ensures that every American, especially the wealthy, will start paying their fair share.

“They would gladly do that.

“Let me be clear. As a country, we can't expect that Social Security will remain secure if we keep telling Americans that we don't have to pay for it – and that is exactly the conclusion people will reach if we keep reducing their contributions.

“Social Security is one of our highest priorities as a country, and we shouldn’t let the federal government undermine Social Security by convincing Americans that they don’t really have to pay for it.

“Then again, there are some in Washington who want you to believe that the very act of reducing your contributions to Social Security will spur job creation.

“Unfortunately, the reality is very different. 

“We tried this payroll tax cut last year, and I supported it. But I will not double down on a failed policy – especially one that jeopardizes the future of Social Security. 

“Truth be told, over the last year, I traveled more than 18,000 miles in my state and I have yet to find very many West Virginians who even know they're getting a discount; let alone business owners who say that they will hire anybody if you give them a discount for one year.

“What business owners do tell me is what they want more than anything is some certainty and some confidence in our economy.

“Instead, the President and leadership from both parties are trying to give them more of the same failed policies – taking steps that will further undermine our finances, worsen our debt crisis, and jeopardize hundreds of billions from Social Security’s regular funding stream – all without the reality that it will create jobs.

“And with this great nation now more than $15 trillion in debt – expected to hit $17 trillion just next year and $21 trillion in 2021 – we simply can't afford to double down on failed attempts.

“As for taxes, don't get me wrong. I don't want to see Americans paying higher tax rates. 

“I simply want a commonsense tax system that ensures that everyone pays their fair share, especially the wealthy, who have benefited the most from our failed tax system that we have right now.

“Real tax reform that will lower tax rates for everyone as we close the loopholes, credits and offsets that allow some corporations and some Americans to avoid paying their fair share.

“It’s time to stop all of that.

“Now, some will say that it is impossible. That it can't be done. 

“I think they're wrong. It requires leadership from the White House to every corner of Congress and it requires each and every one of us to be willing to sacrifice our political futures for the nation's future. 

“I, for one, am willing to do just that. 

“This is our moment. 

“At this critical moment in our history we must get our financial house in order, and letting Americans believe that we don’t have to pay for Social Security is wrong.

“It is dead wrong. 

“It is the wrong policy, it is wrong for our seniors, and it is wrong for our future, and I will not vote for it. Period. 

“For the sake of the next generation, we must get our fiscal house in order and we can do that if we are willing to make difficult decisions. 

“So, I will not vote for either of these proposals to extend the payroll tax cuts. 

“Looking forward, for the sake our nation, I hope that we will begin to work on a proposal that makes the hard decisions, while also protecting the programs and commitments we value as a nation. 

“For myself, and I believe many of my colleagues, there is bipartisan path forward that can help save this nation.  

“The best path forward, I believe, is based on the framework and recommendations outlined in the Bowles-Simpson proposal. 

“When those recommendations were laid out a year ago today, I had been a U.S. Senator for less than a month. But what I saw in that report gave me great hope that we could identify our problems and willingly tackle them together. 

“As a brand-new member, I was so encouraged that such a responsible, bipartisan group of people put together by the President offered a no-holds-barred report on our fiscal situation and some pathways to fix it. 

“Then the proverbial air came out. 

“Not only did this President and his Administration walk away from these bipartisan proposals, but leadership in both Chambers of Congress failed to pick up this report and run with it. 

“Here we are a year later, and if anything, our problems are worse. We’re going to be forced to make deeper cuts than we wanted to – all because our leadership wouldn’t confront the enormous problems we face with a comprehensive long-term solution. 

“But the Bowles-Simpson plan is still the only proposal that enjoys strong bipartisan support and strives to cut our deficits in responsible and balanced manner. 

“It is not perfect. No plan is. I do not agree with everything it proposes, but no plan can be everything to everyone. 

“So with today being the one-year anniversary of the unveiling of that proposal, I am urging – and will continue to urge – our President and the leadership of both Chambers to support any and all efforts not only to pick up this report but also to put their resources behind drafting and passing this legislation into law. 

“I ask that we all remember the great opportunity we have before us to do what is right. 

“I don’t want to be part of the first generation that leaves this great nation in worse shape for the next generation. And I don’t think that any Member of Congress or our President wants to fail the next generation, either. 

“Thank you, and I yield the floor.”

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