Here is a quote from a speech given by a leading Republican about a recently passed federal law that introduced a major new government program. "It [the new program] is a glaring example of the bungling and waste that have characterized this administration's attempts to fulfill its benevolent purposes. In my own judgment — and I have examined it most carefully — this law is unjust, unworkable, stupidly drafted and wastefully financed."
Was this House Majority Leader John Boehner denouncing the Affordable Care Act? Was it Senator Ted Cruz slamming the same act, better known as "Obamacare," during his recent filibuster charade?
No and no. The quote comes from a speech given my Governor Alf Landon in September 1936 following the passage of the Social Security Act. Landon, the Republican nominee for President that year, who would go on to be defeated in a landslide to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was leading the charge of Republican politicians who were bound and determined to repeal Social Security — a program they thought was a misguided intrusion of the federal government into the lives of American citizens.
Just as today's Republicans are convinced that Americans don't need help getting health insurance, the Republicans in the 1930s were sure that people didn't need the government's help to set aside money for their old age. They thought people should and would provide their own retirement nest eggs. Of course, the fact that most Americans were not doing that was a point they glossed over. And that fact that almost half of all senior citizens were living below the poverty level was an issue that didn't seem to bother them.
I bring this up because as I am writing this, the federal government is into the early stages of a foolhardy and totally avoidable shutdown. This action was prompted by the Republican-dominated House of Representative's insistence on tying the passage of government funding bills to a delay in implementing the Affordable Care Act, which is just the first step in their campaign to repeal the same act.
I am going to stay out of the politics of this issue, except to ask these questions. Were the Republicans wrong in 1936 to try to repeal the Social Security Act? Are the Republicans wrong in 2013 to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act? You can be the judge for now. But I think history has provided the answer to the first question. And time and history will provide the answer to the second.
In the meantime, the shutdown looms over our country. As most people know, a government shutdown will not impact the payment of Social Security benefits. Nor will it totally shutdown local Social Security offices. People will still be able to file new Social Security and Medicare claims or ask for appeals of claims that were previously denied. These are considered essential government services.
By the way, about 20 years ago during the last government shutdown fiasco, I was a decidedly non-essential employee of the Social Security Administration. At the time, I was serving as the speechwriter to the Commissioner of Social Security. She certainly didn't need me putting words into her mouth during the shutdown period so I, along with thousands of other employees, was sent home on an "unpaid furlough." However, when I was finally recalled back to work, I learned that I would be paid for the entire length of the furlough period. So were all other federal employees. This further demonstrates the folly and waste of a government shutdown. Millions of government workers essentially got a paid vacation!
This time around, the biggest service that SSA provides that is considered non-essential is the replacement of lost or damaged Social Security and Medicare cards. So if you need a new SSN or Medicare card, you will just have to wait until the government (and SSA) is back up and running at full strength. This latter point leads me to include this question in today's column.
Q: I recently had the need to go to my local Social Security office to turn in my birth certificate for a claim for retirement benefits that I had filed earlier in the week on the Internet. And I was absolutely shocked by what I saw. There were probably 50 people in the waiting room, but there were only a handful of senior citizens. The room was packed with mostly young people and a lot of kids. I thought I was in a welfare office. If you ask me, this is a glaring example of what is wrong with Social Security. What was supposed to be a program only for retirees has turned into a giveaway for vagrants, tramps and ne'er-do-wells.
A: What you and many visitors to Social Security offices do not realize is that the vast majority of customers you will encounter are not there to file for Social Security benefits. They are there to replace lost or stolen Social Security cards, or to get new cards for young children. My educated guess is that 80 percent of the folks you see in a Social Security office waiting room are there to do just that.
In addition, those people you unkindly referred to as "vagrants" and "tramps" were probably down-on-their-luck folks there to file for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, benefits. As I've pointed out hundreds of times in this column, SSI is a federal welfare program that SSA runs for the government. But SSI is funded by general tax revenues, not Social Security taxes. I will admit that the SSI program can bring a colorful cast of characters into the waiting rooms of many Social Security offices. They are there because they don't have the luxury of filing for benefits, as you did, from the comfort of home using a computer