Tag Archives: Social Security Act of 1935

Reading FDR’s Mind: “Full Funding” and the Original Intent of Social Security

What kind of a program did Franklin Delano Roosevelt want Social Security to be? A narrowly designed, fully self-funded system, or a more expansive institution whose funding sources might change over time? Today’s three-way struggle between progressives, conservatives, and the center-right over Social Security’s future makes the question of FDR’s “original intent” more timely than ever.

When I was writing The People’s Pension, my history of the past 30 years of the Social Security debate, I sidestepped – for the most part – the question of what Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s precise intentions were for the program he signed into law in 1935. The early history of Social Security is extremely tangled. The political context was unique. FDR himself was a complex and contradictory figure, and Social Security was much changed by the time my story began, in 1980. But activists on all sides continue to evoke the debates that took place within and around the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s to defend their particular visions of what Social Security should be. In spite of myself, I got interested – and started forming opinions.

So have a lot of other people, at a time when Continue reading Reading FDR’s Mind: “Full Funding” and the Original Intent of Social Security

Demanding the Possible from Social Security

The dead-end debate over Social Security’s solvency has long stymied any discussion of how to improve the program for its participants. Now may be the time to break that logjam. Here’s a way that progressive lawmakers can help to do so.


Hard as it is to conceive, the last time a significant improvement was made for a broad swath of Social Security participants was almost 30 years ago. Enacted as part of the 1983 Amendment to the Social Security Act, those changes – four modest benefit boosts for widows and divorced spouses – were swamped in the news coverage by the larger effort to keep the program funded. Thus has it been ever since.


The result, tragically, is that the national conversation over Social Security has been bottled up in a never-ending wrangle over how best to “save” the program. If it’s true – per Clausewitz, Jack Dempsey, or Mao Zedong, depending on your source – that “a good offense is the best defense,” then perhaps it’s time for progressive friends of Social Security to go on the offensive.


Continue reading Demanding the Possible from Social Security

Progressives Learn to Love ObamaCare

“ObamaCare” – actually two complex pieces of legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and the Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 – started life as an unloved orphan. The right hated it passionately and comprehensively, and still does. Progressive Democrats, who’d been working for something like it for a century, were disappointed that it came out a patchwork of baby steps, not a full-fledged reinvention of American health care.

Last month’s policy conference of the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) in Washington brought together a group of health care reformers, some of whom have been in the game for a long time. If their comments are anything to go on, progressive Democrats are finally learning to love ObamaCare. If they go so far as to Continue reading Progressives Learn to Love ObamaCare

Changing the Direction of the Social Security Debate

When it comes to Social Security, the best defense is a good offense. A new study by the National Academy of Social Insurance, arguing for restoration of survivor benefits for college students, creates an opportunity for the program’s defenders to get out of their defensive crouch.

Reagan budget director David Stockman dismissed it as “dogs and cats”: just another relatively small, miscellaneous expenditure that could easily be chopped to pay for the new president’s upper-income tax cuts. And so it was in 1981, when the Senate voted to eliminate Social Security survivor benefits for young adults who remained in college until age 22.

Continue reading Changing the Direction of the Social Security Debate

75 Years Later, Social Security Is Still America’s Core Domestic Program

The Campaign for America’s Future holds its annual conference, this year titled America’s Future Now!, June 7-9 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington. The politics of Social Security runs like a thread through the entire agenda.

The titles of the various sessions tell the story.

“The Great Debate: Progressive Strategy in the Obama Era.” With its deficit commission, the administration is precipitating a new face-off within the Democratic Party over Social Security “reform”: Continue reading 75 Years Later, Social Security Is Still America’s Core Domestic Program

Health Care Reform, Act II

Progressives should be happy their health care reform bill came out far from perfect. In some ways, it’ll benefit them more than if they’d got all they wanted.

Conservatives are denouncing health care reform as a ruthless power grab, propelled by “the single purpose of permanently expanding the American entitlement state.” They know whereof they speak. Ever since the New Deal, the great engine of Democratic electoral success has been the creation of new and improved services by government that the private sector cannot or will not provide in an equitable way.

Social Security, unemployment and disability insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, a vast expansion of public education: all were products of the great period of Democratic political dominance in the U.S. that stretched from the Roosevelt through the Johnson administrations. These programs directly benefited millions of working families and sealed their loyalty to the Democratic Party.

None were perfect from Day One. And that was the beauty of it.

Take Social Security. It didn’t much resemble today’s program when it was first passed in 1935. Benefits were tiny and not indexed to inflation. About the only category of individuals who were well covered were white, male industrial workers. Although it started collecting payroll tax contributions right away, benefits weren’t even supposed Continue reading Health Care Reform, Act II